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Robert J. Miller has commented on (1) product.

A Natural History of Love by Diane Ackerman
A Natural History of Love

Robert J. Miller, July 20, 2006

A splendid idea, this. I hear "Natural History" and think of a museum where scientific observation and thought are pulled together to explain the world. Of "Love", I'd like to understand what emotions and feelings birds have as they do their mating dances, or octopi as they flash colors at each other. I say that my dog "loves" me, but is that love like what I feel for my wife? Perhaps we are, like my dog, just pack animals whose nervous systems respond to others of our kind to produce the requisite endorphins of the moment? I've waited for a good book that would help me understand all this.

I'm still waiting.

"Natural History" is a misnomer. Bait and switch, I'd call it. This is a loosely organized collection of history, legends, and stories, better suited to demonstrating Ackerman's erudition than to actually informing. There are excursions into science, but they are thin and sometimes blatantly wrong. A bad example was Ackerman's use of a 1972 study by anthropologist Colin Turnbull of the Ik (pronuunced "Eek") people of Uganda. Here was a tribe that had forgotten how to love, and were therefore headed toward imminent extinction. Ackerman spends five pages on their terrible state and inevitable fate. The only trouble is, this was a put forward as a study with extraordinary conclusions, and that requires replication and extraordinary care to validate the conclusions. That's a rule that serious scientists learn to work by. A Google search turns up several studies from 1986 to 1992 that simply do not support Turnbull's work. Turnbull was wrong. The Ik survive, and are doing better than they were in 1972. Turnbull wrote a sensationalist book and doubtless made money, but it was bad science. Ackerman's five pages on his work look really stupid. If her prose had not been so purple, her conclusions not so magisterial, it would have been excusable, but she is nearer the works of Lord Bulwer-Lytton than to the serious and informative work I noped for.

This is a thoroughly bad book. I read a few chapters, skimmed the rest (with the help of the index) and dumped it into the library's fund-raiser box, along with Ackerman's (unread) "Natural History of the Senses." I don't have time to waste on stuff like this.
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