Battle of the Sexes: The Natural History of Sex

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9780756766412: Battle of the Sexes: The Natural History of Sex
Review:

There is nothing more important in life than sex. No, this is not the assertion of another frustrated male of the species displaying signs of sex mania nor, for that matter, an American political commentator, but a factual statement. Perhaps it would be more apt to say there is nothing more important to life, for--daily sustenance and self-preservation excepted--there is no instinct as strong as the one to reproduce and continue one's line. Battle of the Sexes, which accompanies the BBC TV series of the same name, surveys all the weird and wonderful ways the inhabitants of Earth go about "doing the business," bringing together a remarkable wealth of information for the layman with an interest in natural biology.

There is a tendency to see our own reproductive efforts as altogether different from those of the "natural world." (Thankfully, they are in many ways: the sex lives of some animals described here are very unappealing, particularly for the male who sadly--and all too often--seems to become redundant once his seed is released.) This is largely due to our attribution of concepts like love and romance to our own actions. However, as John Sparks demonstrates in this highly accessible book, colorfully illuminated with an extensive selection of excellent wildlife photography, there is a common ground in the figurative bedroom of nature; sex is not a romantic or cooperative affair, but is selfish, aggressive, and competitive. So we humans are not the only ones, it seems, for whom sex, and the overwhelming desire to seek it out, can lead to a great deal of trouble and strife, bizarre rituals, and absurd behaviors that don't seem to tally with our best interests--think of the poor old male praying mantis or marsupial mouse, for whom the sexual act is likely to be his last in this world. All in all, looking at the amazing diversity of variations around the same basic theme, it does seem that humans got a good deal from Mother Nature--nonfatal (generally), pleasurable, not too messy or painful, etc., though some among us may still envy the barnacle, with a penis 20 times its body length, or the amorous pair of lions from the Serengeti who were seen to mate 157 times in just two and a half days. Wow, indeed! Not even a president could match that. --Alisdair Bowles, Amazon.co.uk

From Publishers Weekly:

Coupling dramatic photographs with the insights of top scientists, this book portrays sex in the natural world as a kind of gorgeous warfare, hardly the cuddly bonding ritual that some humans wish it to be. "The recurring theme of this book is that the opportunities created by sex differ for males and females," writes Sparks, producer of the award-winning BBC Life on Earth series and author of 11 books. Sparks illustrates the tremendous differential with panoramic sweep and arresting detail. Sperm is virtually countless in males of every species while female eggs are comparatively precious and few, so males compete, often savagely, to inseminate as many females as possible. Females, meanwhile, go for quality, seeking "perhaps the most elegant dancer, the most accomplished hunter or simply the biggest and most belligerent male." In witty, literate language, Sparks describes the sometimes incredible complexity and risk involved in the apparently harmonious act of sexual intercourse. His description of the coupling of millipedes sounds like the docking of alien space craft. The shape of the male's organs is surreal, "designed to twist and turn like a trowel inside the female's vulva. What the male is doing is waging war on alien sperm!" A female elephant seal can die from the crushing weight of a male on her back, and those same bulls "can expect to breed for only a year or two before being beaten by younger and more virile males." Spark takes readers for an eye-opening walk on the wild side, ensuring that the mystery of sex will never seem tame again. Color photos throughout.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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