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How We Do It: The Evolution and Future of Human Reproductionby Robert Martin
Synopses & Reviews
Despite our cultures seemingly endless fascination with both sex and parenting, the origins of our reproductive lives remain a mystery to most of us. Why are a quarter of a billion sperm cells needed to fertilize one human egg? Why do women, apes, and monkeys menstruate while most other mammals do not? Are women really fertile only during a few days in each menstrual cycle? Whats natural in human pairing: monogamy or promiscuity? Does morning sickness have a purpose? What about breastfeeding?
In How We Do It, biological anthropologist Robert Martin draws on forty years of research to trace our sexual past. He examines the procreative history of humans as well as that of our nearest primate kin, and his analysis of our two-hundred-million-year pedigree unearths some surprising facts about everything from the average length of copulation in humans (five minutes, the short duration of which may explain why modern men lack the penis bone present in mandrills and macaques) to the increased tips of lap dancers during the fertile phase of their cycle.
But this is not just the story of remote reproductive origins—Martin looks ahead to the future of human reproduction, calling attention to possible consequences of practices we currently take for granted. For example, if dog breeding is any guide, the use of caesarian sections for childbirth may be putting us on a track toward making vaginal birth impossible, as babies heads are getting too large for the birth canal. Neonatal ICUs might be making premature births more common, and in-vitro fertilization might be encouraging reproduction by competitively inferior sperm.
We dont and wont live life like our ancestors did. But How We Do It shows that once we understand our evolutionary past, as mammals, primates, and great apes, we can consider what worked, what didnt, and what it all means for the propagation of the human species.
"Martin, an anthropologist and curator at Chicago's Field Museum, covers every aspect of human reproduction — from fertilization to infant care — in this thoughtful, well-written book. He takes an evolutionary approach throughout, exploring similarities and differences between humans, our primate relatives, and mammals in general, in an attempt to understand the origins of many of our behaviors and physiological patterns, and how these have changed, and continue to change as time goes on. Martin discusses the production of gametes (sperm counts have experienced a significant and shocking decline over the past 50 years), the patterns and purpose of menstruation, the value and cost of breast-feeding, and various mechanisms of contraception, among other interesting topics. His comparative analysis and expertise permits him to draw compelling conclusions, as he does in his examination of the reproductive tracts of mammals: 'All evidence combined indicates that the reproductive systems of both men and women are adapted for a one-male mating context with little sperm competition.' But he also raises thought-provoking questions, such as why so many sperm — on the order of 250 billion — are released when only one can inseminate the egg. The only disappointment is that, despite the book's subtitle, Martin spends less than a single page looking at the 'future of human reproduction.' Glossary. Agent: Esmond Harmsworth, Zachary Shuster Harmsworth. (June 11)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Despite the widespread belief that natural is better when it comes to sex, pregnancy, and parenting, most of us have no idea what natural” really means; the origins of our reproductive lives remain a mystery. Why are a quarter of a billion sperm cells needed to fertilize one egg? Are women really fertile for only a few days each month? How long should babies be breast-fed?
In How We Do It, primatologist Robert Martin draws on forty years of research to locate the roots of everything from our sex cells to the way we care for newborns. He examines the procreative history of humans as well as that of our primate kin to reveal whats really natural when it comes to making and raising babies, and distinguish which behaviors we ought to continue—and which we should not. Although its not realistic to raise our children like our ancestors did, Martins investigation reveals surprising consequences of—and suggests ways to improve upon—the way we do things now. For instance, he explains why choosing a midwife rather than an obstetrician may have a greater impact than we think on our birthing experience, examines the advantages of breast-feeding for both mothers and babies, and suggests why babies may be ready for toilet training far earlier than is commonly practiced.
How We Do It offers much-needed context for our reproductive and child-rearing practices, and shows that once we understand our evolutionary past, we can consider what worked, what didnt, and what it all means for the future of our species.
Despite our seemingly endless fascination with sex and parenting, the origins of our reproductive lives remain a mystery. Why are a quarter of a billion sperm cells needed to fertilize one egg? Are women really fertile for only a few days each month? How long should women breast-feed? In How We Do It, primatologist Robert Martin draws on forty years of research to locate the origins of everything from sex cells to baby care—and to reveal whats really natural” when it comes to making and raising babies. He acknowledges that although its not realistic to reproduce like our ancestors did, there are surprising consequences to behavior we take for granted, such as bottle feeding, cesarean sections, and in vitro fertilization. How We Do It shows that once we understand our evolutionary past, we can consider what worked, what didnt, and what it all means for the future of our species.
About the Author
Robert Martin is the A. Watson Armour III Curator of Biological Anthropology at the Field Museum in Chicago, as well as a member of the Committee on Evolutionary Biology at the University of Chicago. He was previously on the faculty of University College London, a visiting professor of anthropology at Yale, a visiting professor at the Musée de lHomme, Paris, and the director of the Anthropological Institute in Zurich.
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