Books by Elizabeth Oram

Released: April 22, 1999

An evolutionary biologist's view of family life serves as a cautionary demonstration of the limitations inherent in rigidly interpreting evidence according to a single scientific viewpoint. Biologist Baker (Sperm Wars, 1996) and freelance journalist Oram want to shed new light on couples' disagreements regarding parenthood and on family conflict once children arrive. Instead, they inadvertently provide an excellent lesson on the intellectual danger of single-minded devotion to a solitary principle, in this case, the idea that all human behavior is the result of genes that are solely devoted to perpetuating the human race. For each of their topics, from pregnancy and labor through infant care and on to later family life, Baker and Oram begin with a fictional scenario. The florid prose is off-putting ("The man, still half-naked, his legs shrouded in mist, was running round and round . . . his shirt flattened over his shrunken penis and flapping against his bottom"), and in some cases (incest and abuse) the scenarios themselves are offensive. The authors look at how these fictional couples/families fit their thesis of striving for reproductive success, finding that sources of conflict abound. From men wanting to impregnate as many women as possible vs. women looking for a single strong protector/provider, to the —war— between the parents' genes when the baby is in utero, the authors fit their cases too neatly to their thesis, describing those who fail to accept their evidence as emotionally unable to accept the fact that behavior has firm biological roots. Few readers will buy Baker and Oram's analysis of the other end of life: a grandmother forced by tragic circumstances to raise her grandchildren will not only be fulfilling the biological task of helping her genes survive, they argue, but "will probably find her post-menopausal life more rewarding than that of the majority of her contemporaries." For an unbiased, vastly better supported discussion of similar ground, see instead Bruce Bagemihl's Biological Exuberance (1999). A narrow-minded argument, poorly presented. Read full book review >