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Other titles in the Animals, History, Culture series:
Looking for a Few Good Males: Female Choice in Evolutionary Biology (Animals, History, Culture)by Erika Lorraine Milam
"Erika Milam's Looking for a Few Good Males is a timely and welcome history of female choice and sexual selection. Sexual selection is the part of evolutionary biology that explains why male peacocks have fancy tails and male deer have large antlers; it also offers an evolutionary rationale for courtship behavior. Psychology and the general public have now widely assimilated sexual selection's gendered narratives." Joan Roughgarden, American Scientist (Read the entire American Scientist review)
Synopses & Reviews
Why do female animals select certain mates, and how do scientists determine the answer? In considering these questions, Erika Lorraine Milam explores the fascinating patterns of experiment and interpretation that emerged as twentieth-century researchers studied sexual selection and female choice.
Approaching the topic from both biological and animal-studies perspectives, Milam not only presents a broad history of sexual selection — from Darwin to sociobiology — but also analyzes the animal-human continuum from the perspectives of sex, evolution, and behavior. She asks how social and cultural assumptions influence human-animal research and wonders about the implications of gender on scientific outcomes.
Although female choice appears to be a straightforward theoretical concept, the study of sexual selection has been anything but simple. Scientists in the early twentieth century investigated female choice in animals but did so with human social and sexual behavior as their ultimate objective. By the 1940s, evolutionary biologists and population geneticists shifted their focus, studying instead how evolution affected natural animal populations. Two decades later, organismal biologists once again redefined the investigation of sexual selection as sociobiology came to dominate the discipline.
Outlining the ever-changing history of this field of study, Milam uncovers lost mid-century research programs and finds that the discipline did not languish in the decades between Darwin's theory of sexual selection and sociobiology, as observers commonly believed. Rather, population geneticists, ethologists, and organismal biologists alike continued to investigate this important theory throughout the twentieth century.
"In Milam's hands, the issue of female choice becomes a useful sampling device for revealing the distinctive methods and values of biologists of different stripes as they contended for intellectual jurisdiction over evolutionary theory and what came to be called 'organismal biology.' This is a fresh and fascinating book." Angela N. H. Creager, Princeton University
"An invaluable synthesis for historians of biology, scientists, and those with a popular interest in animal studies." Science
"The discussion of how female choice in humans was treated throughout this time period is especially illuminating, as is the contention that there has never been a lull in interest on this topic. Highly recommended." Choice
"An excellent and fascinating history." PsycCRITIQUES
"Erika Milam's book is an accessible and important contribution to the history of an active topic of biological research today, and it should be read by evolutionary biologists as well as by historians and philosophers of biology." American Scientist
Book News Annotation:
Female choice of mates has been a hotly contested topic since Darwin presented his theory of sexual selection after his theory of natural selection. Milam (history, U. of Delaware) traces the history of scientific ideas and their reception on how a hen "chooses" a rooster for a mate, from Darwin's belief in aesthetic comparison in humans and other animals, through geneticists' rejection of cognitive choice in non-humans, to renewed interest by sociobiologists, organismal field biologists, and some feminists in a Darwinian model of female mating behavior as a mechanism for evolutionary change. Annotation ©2010 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
About the Author
Erika Lorraine Milam is an assistant professor in the Department of History at the University of Maryland.
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