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Female-controlled reproduction of groups is a great 'given,' throughout the animal world, that we have barely explored, and yet we females of the human species seem to have surrendered this control completely."" So laments English anthropologist Elia in an afterword to this excellent survey of the female animal. It seems that human females are the last word in the evolutionary development of two-sexed species; the irony is that females continue to be exploited and could even become superfluous in the wake of genetic engineering technology. These dark thoughts follow an absorbing and meticulous tracing of evolutionary currents and countercurrents from conjugating bacteria to copulating chimpanzees. It all begins with the egg, Elia declares (not the chicken!). Female animals produce eggs-marvelous objects able to engulf and incorporate other genetic material and support growth and development. From that origin springs the legacy of ""mothering""--of nurturing and protecting and eventually communicating, caring, socializing, educating Elia develops these themes through successive chapters detailing the behavior of the most primitive forms of life, on to the various classes of vertebrates: fishes, amphibians, and reptiles (together called ""herptiles""), birds and mammals. Within mammals she further distinguishes the prosimians, primates, hominids, and Homo sapiens. She is quick to point out that within each class, and even within a single species, there are widely variant behaviors--aphids may be parthenogenetic, egg-laying, or give birth to live offspring, for example. In this way she introduces the many environmental facttors--sunlight, temperature, food supply, competitors--that affect all aspects of behavior, as well as the internal controls: the pheromones and hormones--especially the steroids--that exert powerful influences on behavior and sexuality. There have been many books dealing with evolution and sexual behavior--many with all-too-obvious male or female bias. Elia's is different. While clearly emphasizing the adaptive values of mothering in the course of evolution, she speaks with a quiet voice that carries both conviction and authority.

Pub Date: June 30th, 1988
Publisher: Henry Holt