Eve's Seed: Biology, the Sexes and the Course of History

 
9780071355285: Eve's Seed: Biology, the Sexes and the Course of History

In this provocative reinterpretation of the human experience, noted historian Robert S. McElvaine bridges the gap between evolutionary biology and history to create a new approach he terms "biohistory." Here for the first time he presents a startlingly fresh thesis: misperceptions about sexual difference and procreative power have, along with misleading sexual metaphors, been the major forces in history.In a bold departure from the methods of conventional history, McElvaine draws on a wide range of sources, from biology, anthropology, archaeology, mythology, religion, and popular culture, to show how the interplay between our evolutionary heritage and changing environments has shaped the course of history, from hunter-gatherers to the contemporary world. Doubly controversial for its method and its contention that "prehistoric" developments devalued men, subordinated women and continue to misshape our lives, Eve's Seed is sure to engender debate.

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From the Back Cover:

"After reading Eve's Seed you'll never look at a farm, the bible, feminism, rock 'n' roll lyrics, mass consumption, or Bill Clinton in the same way. The two groups this book will appeal to most are men and women." - Paul R. Ehrlich, Bing Professor of Population Studies, Stanford University, and author of Human Natures: Genes, Cultures, and the Human Prospect.

"As Marx turned Hegel upside down, so McElvaine overturns, among others, Aristotle, Marx, Freud, and even Darwin in showing us how biological and cultural evolution need no longer see men and women as opposites or unequal. Eve's Seed is a minor revelation, engagingly and imaginatively written and...filled with fresh and challenging interpretations." - Carl N. Degler, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, Stanford University, and author of In Search of Human Nature.

"I admire the way that Robert McElvaine uses humankind's deep history to illuminate recent cultural trends. It's fabulous that it took an historian...to explain to a sociobiologist just why misogynist themes are so prevalent in the writing of today's evolutionary psychologists!" - Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, author of Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection.

"I still recognize a powerful, learned and provocative work when I see it! This is a radical revision of traditional visions of human history...a real eye opener! I must now rethink my understanding of the Neolithic 'revolution' with Melamine's help." - William H. McNeill, Emeritus Professor of History, University of Chicago, and author of The Rise of the West and Plagues and Peoples.

"Working with his scholar's training and his feminist sensibility, Robert McElvaine...holds out hope that the similarities between men and women can in time alter the relationship [between the sexes] to make for better lies for all of us." - Mary Jean Tully, Former President of the N.O.W. Legal Defense and Education Fund and long-time women's rights advocate.

This is a brilliant and completely original analysis...McElvaine's argument prompts a shock of recognition." - Tracy Fessenden, Association Professor of Religious Studies and Women's Studies, Arizona State University.

"Eve's Seed pours forth extremes in a manner that stirs the blood and challenges the reader to think, think, think," - Howard Bloom, founder, International Paleopsychology Project; author, The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History and Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind From the Big Bang to the 21st Century.

In this provocative reinterpretation of the human experience, Robert S. McElvaine contends that centuries of historical orthodoxy have told only half the human story, because it has ignored our evolutionary heritage laid down in what is commonly dismissed as "prehistory." Evolutionary biology, despite its current popularity, fares no better, for it extrapolates human nature directly from animal behavior, ignoring the effect of 10,000 intervening years of cultural evolution. In Eve¿s Seed, McElvaine bridges the gap between evolutionary biology and history to create a new approach he terms biohistory.

Working from the assumption that among the most basic and obvious aspects of our evolutionary heritage are the biological differences between the sexes and the psychological disparities they engender, McElvaine develops a startlingly fresh thesis: that misperceptions about sexual difference and procreative power have, along with misleading sexual metaphors, been the major forces in history. Women can do some essential things that men cannot: bear, give birth to, and nourish children. Hence many men suffer from "womb envy" or what the author dubs the "non-menstrual syndrome." To compensate for what they cannot do, men tell women what they may not do. Men falsely define man as the opposite of woman. A "real man" is seen as "notawoman."

Anchored by its unforgettable reinterpretation of the story of Adam and Eve as an allegory for women inventing agriculture, Eve¿s Seed is a book of multiple heresies and transgressions. At that pivotal moment in history, which McElvaine designates the Agricultural Mega-Revolution, what later seemed to have been a hunter-gatherer paradise was lost. The traditional male role as hunter was devalued and the relatively tranquil sexual parity of the Stone Age was upset, setting in motion a sequence of events that continues into the modern world.

As McElvaine says, "hell hath no fury like a man devalued" ¿ and unfortunately women have borne the brunt of that fury throughout history. McElvaine reveals how the legacy of men¿s need to define themselves as notwomen has given rise to ten thousand years of bloodshed and oppression ¿ from the rise of the great classical civilizations, through the birth of Christianity, the chivalry of the Middle Ages, the early modern era and the Mobility Mega-Revolution it brought, up through the volatile events of the 20th Century. The result is an unforgettable reinterpretation of our culture, full of neologisms and startling revelations. From its portrayal of the brutal misogyny of ancient Greek and Roman culture, to its inspiring examination of the teachings of Jesus as an effort to promote feminine values, to its perceptive look at military conflict as sexual display, and its disturbingly provocative analysis of the psychology behind contemporary vulgar language, Eve¿s Seed will push every button.

Drawing on a wide range of sources, from biology, anthropology, archeology, mythology, religion, and popular culture, McElvaine shows how the interplay between our evolutionary heritage and changing environments and between the sexes have shaped the course of history, from hunter-gatherers to the contemporary world. From the Holy Spirit to the Invisible Hand of free trade economics, he deconstructs many of our most persistent myths to reveal the grim sexual politics at their core.

A book that offers unsettling insights into many of our most time-honored notions of ourselves and the "natural order," Eve¿s Seed will compel everyone who reads it to view the world in a radically new light.

About the Author:

Robert S. McElvaine, Ph.D., is Elizabeth Chisholm Professor of Arts and Letters and chair of the Department of History at Millsaps College. He is the author of six previous books, two of which were named among "Notable Books of the Year" by the New York Times.

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