A Natural History of Parenting: From Emperor Penguins to Reluctant Ewes, a Naturalist Looks at Parenting in the Animal World and Ours

A Natural History of Parenting: From Emperor Penguins to Reluctant Ewes, a Naturalist Looks at Parenting in the Animal World and Ours

by Susan Allport
     
 

"We humans parent our young longer than any other animal on earth. For us, parenting is such an essential part of reproduction that we tend to think of parenting as an essential part of all reproduction. . . . Most creatures living on the earth today do not bother with such things at all. Beyond producing good-sized eggs and finding, perhaps, a suitable spot

Overview

"We humans parent our young longer than any other animal on earth. For us, parenting is such an essential part of reproduction that we tend to think of parenting as an essential part of all reproduction. . . . Most creatures living on the earth today do not bother with such things at all. Beyond producing good-sized eggs and finding, perhaps, a suitable spot to lay them, most animal parents never give their young any kind of care. They never even see their young. And were they to see them, they would be much more inclined to eat them than to offer them food, protection, or guidance."

In A Natural History of Parenting,Susan Allport, a naturalist and science writer, explores the exciting and often startling dynamics of maternal and paternal behavior among the species.
  
When one of the ewes Allport was raising refused to mother her new lamb, she was forced to reconsider many of her preconceptions about the world of parenting. She  began to explore the roots of parental instincts across the broad spectrum of the animal kingdoms. In A Natural History of Parenting, she examines the awesome diversity of nature to reveal what we share with insects, birds, and other animals, and, just as important, how we differ from them.

Allport's study takes the reader from caves in Texas filled with twenty million bats to huge tanks of beluga whales at the New York Aquarium, from the icy reaches of East Greenland where Arctic wolves raise their young to ant nests where huge labor pools have led to primitive infant care. Along the way, she gathers research on myriad creatures—beavers and wasps, birds and elephants, frogs and humans—to show usa magnificent variety of parental behavior among species, from a male emperor penguin forgoing nourishment to spend weeks protecting an egg balanced on the top of his feet to the manifestations of the human female's "nesting instinct.

Susan Allport is the best kind of science writer—knowledgeable, inquisitive, and entertaining. This invaluable book will ensure that you never again think in the same way of how and why we nurture our young.

"Susan Allport tackles a complex subject head on with penetrating analysis. Her acute observations, introspection, and logical conclusions capture the essence of the whole spectrum of understanding parenting, and make major contributions to the delicate art of rearing children. Allport has given parenting a fresh and exciting direction. The next century will need just such courageous and responsive attention to the underpinnings of the human society. "        
—Kenneth A. Chambers, zoologist at the American Museum of Natural History and author of A Country Lover's Guide to Wildlife

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
In Sweden, it is thought "unethical" not to breast-feed a baby. In the U.S., an average of 1000 newborns per months are left in hospitals by their parents. A female eel's job as a mother ends when she lays her millions of eggs, whereas a human child is dependent on his parents for nearly two decades, longer than any animal on earth. Allport (Sermons in Stone: The Stone Walls of New England and New York) discusses these matters and more, exploring and contrasting parenting among animals and humans, in this exhaustive exploration of a myriad of species-pipe-organ wasps, cichlid fish, free-tailed bats, beluga whales and beavers among them. She details lactation and milk ("the miracle brew"), birthing, nesting, incubation, fertilization, care and abandonment. Allport is most compelling when writing about the sheep she raises on her acres in upstate New York, the bluebirds she has lured to her land and her daughters. Her writing is clear and often lovely, if occasionally too technical for the average reader. A thorough bibliography is included in this erudite look at a subject that necessarily affects everyone.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In Sweden, it is thought "unethical" not to breast-feed a baby. In the U.S., an average of 1000 newborns per months are left in hospitals by their parents. A female eel's job as a mother ends when she lays her millions of eggs, whereas a human child is dependent on his parents for nearly two decades, longer than any animal on earth. Allport (Sermons in Stone: The Stone Walls of New England and New York) discusses these matters and more, exploring and contrasting parenting among animals and humans, in this exhaustive exploration of a myriad of speciesDpipe-organ wasps, cichlid fish, free-tailed bats, beluga whales and beavers among them. She details lactation and milk ("the miracle brew"), birthing, nesting, incubation, fertilization, care and abandonment. Allport is most compelling when writing about the sheep she raises on her acres in upstate New York, the bluebirds she has lured to her land and her daughters. Her writing is clear and often lovely, if occasionally too technical for the average reader. A thorough bibliography is included in this erudite look at a subject that necessarily affects everyone. (Mar.)
School Library Journal
YAWithin the natural world, survival is the primary objective. This fascinating book looks at the reproduction and parenting patterns of a variety of birds, fish, and mammals and examines the ways in which these animals adapt to maximize their odds of reproducing successfully, even if that means abandoning offspring. In a clear and lively manner, Allport explores such topics as how and where various animals build nests, why most primates give birth at night, and the specific composition of various mammal's milk. YAs will learn about biology, sociology, anthropology, and family organization, and how humans compare with other species in the basic areas of reproduction, parenting, and nurturing.Judy Sokoll, formerly at Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Kirkus Reviews
The many faces of parenting, from doting to feckless, are given a mulling in this fine exegetic study from Allport (Explorers of the Black Box, 1986, etc.).

Allport raises sheep, and one of them was an unenthusiastic mother, which gave her pause. If maternal behavior is instinctive, why does it sometimes fail, why does "this most ordinary, most extraordinary of things" go haywire? Is it a hormonal failure, immaturity, a behavioral short circuit, a simple mistake? What are the tethers that bind child to parent? Why are some born with parenting skills, while others must learn, and still others just never make the connection? Allport tackles these quandries by turning to theoretical literature: to the research of such figures as psychologist John Bowlby and biologist Robert Trivers; to mother's milk and attraction theory; to the work that has been done on bats, beluga whales, and birds. She also deploys good old common sense, intuition, and the knowledge she gains from watching her backyard bestiary to connect the parenting dots, culling what she feels are erroneous Freudian and behavioralist influences. She scours some pretty scientific terrain in prose that is not just splendid, but inviting and clarifying. She is fascinating when discussing the parenting style of sea horses, bluebirds, and (knowing what will most strongly hold the attention of readers) homo sapiens, detailing patterns in child care and parenting behavior that are as much a signature as plumage on a bird: the need to form attachment to a caregiver; the loose bonds (at first) that make adoption so successful; the slackening of allegiance in industrial society, where men and women are not so critical to each other's survival. Heady, roiling, gutsy stuff, which Allport handles with aplomb.

It is a wondrous dance, this parent-child two-step, and Allport perfectly catches the magic nature of the bond.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780517707999
Publisher:
Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/12/1997
Pages:
238
Product dimensions:
6.27(w) x 9.27(h) x 0.95(d)

Meet the Author

SUSAN ALLPORT is a writer specializing in history and science. Her books include Sermons in Stone: The Stone Walls of New England and Explorers of the Black Box: The Search for Cellular Basis of Memory. Allport obtained her M.S. in biology from Tulane University. She lives with her husband and two children in Katonah, New York.

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