A fascinating and timely study of the hormone testosterone and its varied effects on individuals and society.
Dabbs (Psychology/Georgia State Univ.) takes us from construction sites to law firms to the sidelines of the NFL and beyond to measure testosterone levels in men and women from across the socioeconomic spectrum. Levels were measured in saliva, which was all that the subjects needed to donate. Trial lawyers gave it up on the spot; corporate lawyers spat in private. Some film crew types wanted to wait around for their results—for bragging rights on how high their levels were. (While most believed having high testosterone to be a good thing, Dabbs makes clear that, while it may make for a faster life, it also makes for a shorter one.) In addition, he provides us with examples from other species, as well as from classical and pop references, to illustrate his points. Was Oedipus high testosterone? John Wayne? As entertaining as Dabbs can be, he has definite theories on the effects of testosterone on civilization (there would be none without it) and the similar yet utterly different roles it plays in men and women. High-testosterone men tend to be single-minded, goal-oriented, and competitive, but not particularly verbal or faithful in romance—great assets during evolution, but less attractive in a society that values consensus and team play. Testosterone in women seems to augment the action of estrogen—the most successful post-menopausal hormone replacement therapy includes testosterone. Dabbs makes clear that the nature of testosterone is tempered over the fires of culture and nurture, and anyone who has ever raised or cared for both male and female children will find their heads bobbing up and down at the author’s genealogy of the very real differences—remarkably predictable—between boys and girls. While there may be some who disagree with his hypotheses and conclusions, Dabbs never indulges in facile stereotyping.
Dabbs’s writing is wonderfully accessible, with a voice like that of a favorite professor whose class you never want to miss.