Satisfactory proof that the prehistoric war of the sexes was a standoff.

THE INVISIBLE SEX

UNCOVERING THE TRUE ROLES OF WOMEN IN PREHISTORY

A jauntily written reevaluation of women’s roles in human evolution.

Adovasio (The First Americans, 2002), Soffer (Anthropology/Univ. of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana) and science writer Page (In the Hands of the Great Spirit, 2003, etc.) reject the traditional view that men hunted the mammoth and women were passive consumers. Women made important contributions to the fiber arts and the invention of language and agriculture, they point out; it was bias in the days when men dominated the field of archaeology that led experts to ascribe the use of stone tools and weapons exclusively to men. Until recently, archaeologists weren’t even trained to look for evidence of women’s use of more perishable artifacts such as string and netting. The authors begin with Darwin’s theory of natural selection and the timeline leading to hominid evolution. Erect posture allowed hominids to walk long distances and carry things, such as babies, while the larger human brain evolved from changes in diet and reduction in size of “bite muscles,” allowing more room for thought. However, in the authors’ view, the notion that brain size was “the definitive key to humanness . . . played into the hands of male chauvinists.” Women’s brains are smaller than men’s, but they have the same number of neurons, organized differently. Moreover, the divergence in male and female brains may have resulted in part from the development of protospeech used by mothers to communicate with infants. The authors pursue all kinds of interesting theories, such as Bryan Sykes’s postulation that there are seven descendants of protowoman Eve. They argue for the central importance of the String Revolution, otherwise known as the Fiber Revolution, which began some 26,000 years ago in Eurasia. The impact of fiber, for making tools like nets and baskets, had “profound effects on human destiny—probably more profound than any advance in the technique of making spear points, knives, scrapers and other tools of stone.”

Satisfactory proof that the prehistoric war of the sexes was a standoff.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-06-117091-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Smithsonian/Collins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2006

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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