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What would have made Evolution’s Rainbow better?
This book would have been improved by serious revision. As a transgender man with a graduate degree in biology, I certainly wanted to like it. The first part of the book, dedicated to dismantling sexual selection stories, suffers from telling fanciful "what if" stories without providing experimental evidence for Dr. Roughgarden's theories, or clearly outlining how the predictions of her hypotheses differ from those made by classical sexual selection theory. This gross, unscientific oversight leads her book to read like a political tract rather than a scientific critique. As the book progresses further, Roughgarden makes a number of basic biological mistakes (for example, her explanation of evolutionary developmental biology is convoluted and misrepresents the discipline), and while there are certainly some interesting tidbits hidden within the book, the overall impression is of stories cherry-picked from the literature and grossly reinterpreted without experimental evidence to back up those reinterpretations. Her description if human sex differences in the brain is both outdated and marred by cultural biases, while her anthropological work is highly superficial, and, like her scientific work, makes exaggerated claims without the benefit of good evidence; for example her description of Joan of Arc as a transgender man, which conveniently ignores Joan's own explanations of WHY she wore the clothing that she did, and imposes a twentieth century American viewpoint onto a fourteenth century French woman. Finally, her own understanding of gender theory seems markedly flawed, as her anthropological survey of human gender expression completely erases those people who do explicitly identify as nonbinary.
Any additional comments?
In addition to the book's problems, the audio is poorly narrated. Several times, phrases (especially scientific names) are repeated as the narrator tries to get the pronunciation right --- these repeats should have been edited out, and are the signs of a sloppy production.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
If you've ever read stories about “gay dolphins” and the like, you can thank the work of evolutionary biologist Joan Roughgarden.
Roughgarden's book Evolution's Rainbow has caused huge amounts of controversy since it was first published in 2004, depicting a natural world in which animals' lives are teeming with the same variety in their sex lives and behaviors as any human being— but without the moral outrage.
Alfred Kinsey supposedly once said that "The only unnatural sex act is that which you cannot perform." Roughgarden takes that sentiment and runs with it, giving example after example of just how broad the spectrum of "natural" sex and gender really is in the animal world.
For instance, meet the bighorn sheep: macho males live apart from the females and have lots of anal sex to keep them occupied during the mating off-season. Then they rely on feminine males to broker sex between them and the ladies.
Same-sex swan couples happen to be far better parents than their hetero counterparts. Fish bros work together to get laid. Those doves aren’t actually monogamous. Through impeccable empirical evidence, Roughgarden opens up a world where humans aren’t the center of the universe, and animals have their own dramas and life cycles to get through.
Roughgarden also explores the world of science itself, shining a light on scientists who have refused to acknowledge that animals engage in homosexual behavior, or any gender roles that deviate from the classic Darwinian model of promiscuous males competing for picky females. Sometimes, it's just the opposite!
2 of 3 people found this review helpful