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Publisher's Summary

In this innovative celebration of diversity and affirmation of individuality in animals and humans, Joan Roughgarden challenges accepted wisdom about gender identity and sexual orientation. A distinguished evolutionary biologist, Roughgarden takes on the medical establishment, the Bible, social science--and even Darwin himself. She leads the reader through a fascinating discussion of diversity in gender and sexuality among fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals, including primates. Evolution's Rainbow explains how this diversity develops from the action of genes and hormones and how people come to differ from each other in all aspects of body and behavior. Roughgarden reconstructs primary science in light of feminist, gay, and transgender criticism and redefines our understanding of sex, gender, and sexuality. A new preface shows how this witty, playful, and daring book has revolutionized our understanding of sexuality.

©2004 Joan Roughgarden (P)2012 Audible, Inc.

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  • L. J.
  • Golden, CO USA
  • 03-25-14

Problematic, unscientific and poorly edited

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 Her description if human sex differences in the brain is both outdated and marred by cultural biases, while her anthropological work is highly superficial, and, like her scientific work, makes exaggerated claims without the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

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  • Susie
  • Santa Cruz, CA, United States
  • 04-29-13

Queer, Kinky Animal Kingdom

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

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A Great New Take on an Old Topic

Is gender dimorphic? Like most Americans, that is my culture taught me. Like most biologists, that is exactly what I have been taught since my first classes. Dr. Roughgarden challenges this core assumption made by most of us. Extraordinary claims that go against the conventional norms require extraordinary arguments, and Dr. Roughgarden provides a wealth of evidence for just such arguments. She makes an excellent case for the presence of multiple genders in many species, including one species of isopod that has three distinct morphological types that we lump together as biologically "male." In some species, these different sexual types can succeed in the reproduction game, and how partnerships between morphotypes can improve their reproductive chances, allowing members of a pair to father more eggs than either could alone.

I found the most intriguing sections to be the chapters on mimicry. We have assumed that males that look like females to us can also fool "dominant" males or females. Roughgarden points out that we have not demonstrated that the "alpha" males are fooled, or that they "mimic" has tapped into a fixed action pattern. Without such proof, another viable explanation is that a territorial alpha accepts the presence of the beta male because his presence benefits the alpha. The sneaker male may also not really be sneaking. His presence could be sought by females for a number of reasons that the author discusses in detail.

I consider the weakest argument in the book to be her argument against sexual selection. I believe that she defines sexual selection too narrowly and that the interpretation usually used by most ethologists today could include most aspects of her cooperation model.

Despite my disagreement on this one point, she makes a good case that we need to re-examine our assumptions about sexual competition. Once we allow for more than one successful way of expressing sexuality, then we open the door to the possibility that other modes of sexual interactions, beyond hoarding eggs, can lead to reproductive success.

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a new view of animals bodies and behaviours

interesting book, well researched by a competent author. this book dispels myth about the rigidity of gender and sex behaviour and expression in non human animals. I find myself thinking of it often and reccomending it to others.

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Eye Opening, Personally Helpful

Sometimes getting the facts and scientific backing gives one all the confidence needed to come out. I can't thank Joan Roughgarden enough for her personal quest and sharing of her work to enlighten and educate. I just wish everyone could read this book and garner this knowledge.