Sex, Time, and Power: How Women's Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution

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9780142004678: Sex, Time, and Power: How Women's Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution

As in the bestselling The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, Leonard Shlain’s provocative new book promises to change the way readers view themselves and where they came from.

Sex, Time, and Power offers a tantalizing answer to an age-old question: Why did big-brained Homo sapiens suddenly emerge some 150,000 years ago? The key, according to Shlain, is female sexuality. Drawing on an awesome breadth of research, he shows how, long ago, the narrowness of the newly bipedal human female’s pelvis and the increasing size of infants’ heads precipitated a crisis for the species. Natural selection allowed for the adaptation of the human female to this environmental stress by reconfiguring her hormonal cycles, entraining them with the periodicity of the moon. The results, however, did much more than ensure our existence; they imbued women with the concept of time, and gave them control over sex—a power that males sought to reclaim. And the possibility of achieving immortality through heirs drove men to construct patriarchal cultures that went on to dominate so much of human history.

From the nature of courtship to the evolution of language, Shlain’s brilliant and wide-ranging exploration stimulates new thinking about very old matters.

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Review:

This book sets out to explore why and when people evolved so far away from other mammals in several key ways, all of which Dr. Shlain ties to the biological differences between men and women. As in his excellent prior work The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image (which holds that there are links between the ascendancy of patriarchy and written language and the descent of matriarchal societies and goddess-based religions), some of the concepts proposed in this book might seem a bit of a stretch. And they are—whether or not they turn out to be factual. Shlain contends, for instance, that women essentially invented the concept of time due to their experience of menses. Whatever conclusions the reader comes to, the author exposes the underlying gender biases in so many scientific assumptions; the result is one of those books that cannot help but alter one's perceptions. A consistently engaging writer, Shlain traces the course of his own evolving ideas with what might be called a didactic wit: bold statements are first writ large, then Dr. Shlain reveals how he came upon them, frequently with colorful anecdotes that show these are questions he's been wrestling with for many years. It's difficult to tell whether this fascinating thinker will be viewed as the next Darwin or as a crank, but there's no denying this is an audacious work in the realm of evolutionary biology. --Mike McGonigal

About the Author:

Leonard Shlain is the author of Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time & Light, and The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image. He is the chief of laparoscopic surgery at California Medical Center in San Francisco.

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