Natalie Angier's Bookshelf
By Sarah Blaffer Hrdy
Nowadays Charles Darwin is a kind of pop icon right up there with Albert Einstein, and people casually cite "evolution" and "DNA" to explain why we shop too much, cheat on our mates, and have trouble losing weight. Yet when Hrdy wrote this breakthrough book in 1981, biologically flavored explanations for human behavior were decidedly unpopular. A primatologist by training and feminist by predilection, Hrdy asked the basic and in my mind perfectly sensible question: How do women compare to other female primates? What can we understand about our urges, desires, and fears, our sexuality, our relationships with men and with other women, and the near universality of women's second-class status, by examining the lives and loves of our closest nonhuman kin? Among Hrdy's many bracing conclusions: Far from being coy and sexually tepid, as the stereotype has it, women may well have evolved for a restless sort of promiscuity, the better to confuse issues of paternity and thus heighten their children's chances of survival in the hazardous, half-cocked company of men.