Maternal instinct--the all-consuming, utterly selfless love that mothers lavish on their children--has long been assumed to be an innate, indeed defining element of a woman's nature. But is it? In this provocative, groundbreaking book, renowned anthropologist (and mother) Sarah Blaffer Hrdy shares a radical new vision of motherhood and its crucial role in human evolution.
Hrdy strips away stereotypes and gender-biased myths to demonstrate that traditional views of maternal behavior are essentially wishful thinking codified as objective observation. As Hrdy argues, far from being "selfless," successful primate mothers have always combined nurturing with ambition, mother love with sexual love, ambivalence with devotion. In fact all mothers, in the struggle to guarantee both their own survival and that of their offspring, deal nimbly with competing demands and conflicting strategies.
In her nuanced, stunningly original interpretation of the relationships between mothers and fathers, mothers and babies, and mothers and their social groups, Hrdy offers not only a revolutionary new meaning to motherhood but an important new understanding of human evolution. Written with grace and clarity, suffused with the wisdom of a long and distinguished career, Mother Nature is a profound contribution to our understanding of who we are as a species--and why we have become this way.
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Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection should be required reading for anyone who happens to be a human being. In it, Hrdy reveals the motivations behind some of our most primal and hotly contested behavioral patterns--those concerning gender roles, mate choice, sex, reproduction, and parenting--and the ideas and institutions that have grown up around them. She unblinkingly examines and illuminates such difficult subjects as control of reproductive rights, infanticide, "mother love," and maternal ambition with its ever-contested companions: child care and the limits of maternal responsibility. Without ever denying personal accountability, she points out that many of the patterns of abuse and neglect that we see in cultures around the world (including, of course, our own) are neither unpredictable nor maladaptive in evolutionary terms. "Mother" Nature, as she points out, is not particularly concerned with what we call "morality." The philosophical and political implications of our own deeply-rooted behaviors are for us to determine--which can be done all the better with the kind of understanding gleaned from this exhaustive work.
Hrdy's passion for this material is evident, and she is deeply aware of the personal stake she has here as a woman, a mother, and a professional. This highly accomplished author relies on her own extensive research background as well as the works of others in multiple disciplines (anthropology, primatology, sociobiology, psychology, and even literature). Despite the exhaustive documentation given to her conclusions (as witness the 140-plus-page notes and bibliography sections), the book unfolds in an exceptionally lucid, readable, and often humorous manner. It is a truly compelling read, highly recommended. --Katherine FergusonFrom the Publisher:
"Sarah Hrdy's magisterial survey of childbearing through the ages sets a new standard for the graceful blending of scholarship, field research and personal experience. As meticulously documented as the book is, it never loses the human touch...Mother Nature is one of those landmark books that forces you to rethink everything you thought you knew about human nature..."
-- San Francisco Chronicle
"This is a superb book. It is beautifully and clearly written, by one of the nation's leading primatologists and sociobiologists, without sacrificing intellectual rigor; it is the best introduction I know to both fields. It establishes more convincingly than any other work with which I am familiar the relevance of the study of (other) primates and of human evolution, to urgent current issues of public policy involving women, children, and the family."
-- Richard Posner, Chief Judge, US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
"A magnificent synthesis of ideas about motherhood, this is a book brimming with warmth, wisdom, and wit. It is not easy in a polarised academic world to keep a foot in the feminist camp and another in evolutionary psychology, nor to bridge the arts and sciences so effortlessly. But Sarah Blaffer Hrdy achieves these feats."
-- Matt Ridley, author of The Origins of Virtue : Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation
"Hrdy has given us a truly monumental work, as elegant as it is insightful. It took a woman scientist to find the rightful place of our species in the matrix of the animal kingdom, and Hrdy has done so brilliantly. This is by no means the usual psychobabble or hodge podge of animal behavior that other authors so often use to define us -- here is a clear and telling examination of a hitherto almost unknown organism -- the human female. Any woman wanting to know who she really is will find out in the pages of this tremendously important work of real science by a real scientist."
-- Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
"This is a brilliant, liberating book on a profoundly important subject. Sarah Hrdy, the leading scientific authority on motherhood, is also, to the benefit of us all, one of the best stylists now writing on any subject in science."
-- E.O. Wilson
"Mother Nature is a pioneering reassessment of key assumptions in debates about human evolution. By demonstrating how female strategies as mates and mothers have shaped the evolutionary process throughout nature, Hrdy succeeds in overturning some of the most entrenched theories in this scientific domain. A worthy companion to Darwin's Descent of Man, and an endlessly fascinating read, Mother Nature reflects a lifetime of bold research and judicious thought by one of the foremost primatologists of our day."
-- Frank Sulloway
"Mother Nature is a stunning achievement. The book reveals the highest scholarship with an unparalleled breadth in the use of the comparative method. Hrdy expertly uses the comparative method. Hrdy expertly uses the comparative method to illustrate her points by contrasting biology and behavior across species and orders, and by making full use of human variation both through evolutionary and historical time and across space and cultures. This book is a very accessible, scientific discussion of the evolutionary history of maternal care written by a first rate scientist."--Jane B. Lancaster, Editor of Human Nature
"By demolishing superstitions that have long clouded our true natures, Sarah Hrdy shows how knowledge may be our best tool for achieving justice among women, men, and the generations that follow. Clear-eyed science can equip us for this liberating journey, far better than any rigid ideology. Mother Nature takes us one bold step along that road."
-- David Brin, author of Glory Season and The Transparent Society
"This is a deep and brilliant work, a masterful account of mother nature and the nature of motherhood, with a superb selection of photos, built on a powerful logic by someone who easily and clearily sees life both from the inside and the outside."
-- Robert Trivers, Professor of Anthropology and Biological Sciences, Rutgers University
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