How We Do It: The Evolution and Future of Human Reproduction

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Overview


Despite the widespread belief that natural is better when it comes to sex, pregnancy, and parenting, most of us have no idea what ?natural? really means; the origins of our reproductive lives remain a mystery. Why are a quarter of a billion sperm cells needed to fertilize one egg? Are women really fertile for only a few days each month? How long should babies be breast-fed?

In How We Do It, primatologist Robert Martin draws on forty years of research to locate the roots of ...

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How We Do It: The Evolution and Future of Human Reproduction

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Overview


Despite the widespread belief that natural is better when it comes to sex, pregnancy, and parenting, most of us have no idea what “natural” really means; the origins of our reproductive lives remain a mystery. Why are a quarter of a billion sperm cells needed to fertilize one egg? Are women really fertile for only a few days each month? How long should babies be breast-fed?

In How We Do It, primatologist Robert Martin draws on forty years of research to locate the roots of everything from our sex cells to the way we care for newborns. He examines the procreative history of humans as well as that of our primate kin to reveal what’s really natural when it comes to making and raising babies, and distinguish which behaviors we ought to continue—and which we should not. Although it’s not realistic to raise our children like our ancestors did, Martin’s investigation reveals surprising consequences of—and suggests ways to improve upon—the way we do things now. For instance, he explains why choosing a midwife rather than an obstetrician may have a greater impact than we think on our birthing experience, examines the advantages of breast-feeding for both mothers and babies, and suggests why babies may be ready for toilet training far earlier than is commonly practiced.

How We Do It offers much-needed context for our reproductive and child-rearing practices, and shows that once we understand our evolutionary past, we can consider what worked, what didn’t, and what it all means for the future of our species.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Martin, an anthropologist and curator at Chicago’s Field Museum, covers every aspect of human reproduction—from fertilization to infant care—in this thoughtful, well-written book. He takes an evolutionary approach throughout, exploring similarities and differences between humans, our primate relatives, and mammals in general, in an attempt to understand the origins of many of our behaviors and physiological patterns, and how these have changed, and continue to change as time goes on. Martin discusses the production of gametes (sperm counts have experienced a significant and shocking decline over the past 50 years), the patterns and purpose of menstruation, the value and cost of breast-feeding, and various mechanisms of contraception, among other interesting topics. His comparative analysis and expertise permits him to draw compelling conclusions, as he does in his examination of the reproductive tracts of mammals: “All evidence combined indicates that the reproductive systems of both men and women are adapted for a one-male mating context with little sperm competition.” But he also raises thought-provoking questions, such as why so many sperm—on the order of 250 billion—are released when only one can inseminate the egg. The only disappointment is that, despite the book’s subtitle, Martin spends less than a single page looking at the “future of human reproduction.” Glossary. Agent: Esmond Harmsworth, Zachary Shuster Harmsworth. (June 11)
From the Publisher

“This is one of the best books about sex, and having babies, you're likely to read....If you want to know things like why men have nipples or why it takes a quarter of a billion sperm cells to fertilize one human egg, you should take this white-knuckle ride back through evolutionary time, across continents, into science labs and around your most private parts. It will make you laugh. Your jaw will drop. And the sight of the mismatch between the lives we lead and the bodies we live in will start you thinking.”NPR Books

“[An] amiable information tour through the evolutionary history of mating, pregnancy, birth, and babies…. an intelligent, open-minded guide to the animal processes that somehow seem to make us most fully human.”Boston Globe

“Mr. Martin's humble but crucial acknowledgment that biology is unavoidably complicated—that we can't capture millennia of evolution or decades of research in glib sayings about the sexes' planetary origins or in single surveys of psychology undergraduates—is what makes How We Do It so compelling....No Mars and Venus, no extrapolations about why we evolved to love—or hate—strip clubs or whether bottle-feeding dooms a child to a life of puerile amusements and a career at the Kwik-E-Mart. Here instead are the facts of life as you may have never thought about them.”Wall Street Journal

“Intriguing .... [filled with] interesting factoids.”Washington Post

“Misconceptions, cultural taboos, misguided assumptions about gender, and general prudishness have held back research on sex and its influence on the evolution of our species. Robert Martin’s How We Do It provides a refreshing account of what we do know about the subject, how we got to this stage of awareness, and where we go next. Starting with an overview of sperm and eggs and ending with birth control and in vitro fertilization, Martin, who has been researching these subjects for decades as curator of biological anthropology at the Field Museum in Chicago, takes off the blinders. He puts human sex into the broad context of the genetic, morphological, and behavioral variation that exists in the animal kingdom.”American Scientist

“Biological anthropologist Robert Martin wields decades of research to get at the evolutionary facts and inform people’s reproductive decisions...Fascinating detours abound—such as the successful, and sensitive, toilet training of six-month-old babies by Kenya’s Digo people.”Nature

“A gold mine of cocktail party trivia… People who are fascinated by humans’ past should read this book.”Science News

"An accessible and affordable, yet rigorously reviewed, scholarly trade book that comes across as a career achievement. Buy it, read it, carefully consider it, and you will be on your way to becoming a cognoscenti in a diversity of fields related to humans and their evolution and reproductive biology.”Evolutionary Psychology

“This fascinating, comprehensive look at human evolution raises important questions about what everything from bottle-fed babies to assisted reproduction means for the future of the species… A must-read for anyone interested in human evolution.”Booklist

“A fascinating treatment of a complex subject.”Kirkus Reviews

“Martin, an anthropologist and curator at Chicago’s Field Museum, covers every aspect of human reproduction—from fertilization to infant care—in this thoughtful, well-written book…. His comparative analysis and expertise permits him to draw compelling conclusions….he also raises thought-provoking questions, such as why so many sperm—on the order of 250 billion—are released when only one can inseminate the egg.”Publishers Weekly

“Robert Martin is one of our leading researchers on human biology and evolution, having made a career of generating novel and game-changing conclusions about why our bodies and organs look the way they do. In How We Do It, he brings his authoritative voice to a compelling, readable, and enlightening account about human reproduction. Read Robert Martin and you will not look at human bodies the same way again.”—Neil Shubin, paleontologist, The University of Chicago, and author of Your Inner Fish

How We Do It is a fascinating account of the natural history of human reproduction. As modern medicine and technology increasingly encroach on conception, childbirth, and infant care, it is eye-opening to learn about how these processes actually evolved in our species. Robert Martin has written the perfect birds-and-bees guide for curious grown-ups.”—Lise Eliot, Associate Professor of Neuroscience, Chicago Medical School, Rosalind Franklin University, and author of What’s Going On In There?: How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life

“I have lectured for years on the topic of this book, and done research on primate reproduction. But even so, I kept coming across information and ideas new to me. The author’s knowledge is encyclopedic. From mating, through pregnancy and birth, to baby care, to contraception and its opposite, we get an absorbing account of the evolutionary and functional biology of reproduction. Buy the book! It’s a fascinating read, a real romp.”—Alexander Harcourt, author of Human Biogeography and coauthor of Gorilla Society

“Here at last is a thought-provoking, accurate, and entertaining account of the origins and present status of human reproduction. Robert Martin, a world authority on evolutionary biology, explores how evolution has shaped the patterns of reproductive physiology and the sexual and maternal behavior that characterize modern humans. He accomplishes this task with great clarity and wit.”—Alan Dixson, Professor of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and author of Sexual Selection and the Origins of Human Mating Systems

“This fascinating book answers not only important questions, like how we can halve breast cancer rates and lower postpartum depression, but also the ones that will make you the star of any cocktail party: why men have nipples, whether women’s brains shrink during pregnancy and nature’s reason for masturbation.”—Tina Cassidy, author of Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born

How We Do It shows not only what we know about the science of sex, but also how we know it. This is a fascinating tour of the latest and best on the birds and the bees.”—Richard Wrangham, Ruth B. Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology, Harvard University, and author of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

Kirkus Reviews
Martin, the curator of biological anthropology at the Field Museum in Chicago, examines reproduction from "the basic biology of sperms and eggs up to the complexities of birth control and assisted reproduction." This comprehensive study covers the evolution of reproductive systems at the biological, social and sexual levels. The author begins with the emergence of single-celled organisms (with proper nuclei) more than 1 billion years ago. This was the point of origin of the chromosomes and mitochondria that govern our human genetic systems. Martin searches out correlatives to human social organization, both monogamous and polygamous, in the anatomy and behavior of primate populations. He advocates prolonged breast-feeding and also addresses the roots of monogamy and incest avoidance. He reprises the social history of our understanding of reproduction, which, he surmises, began with the domestication of animals. It was generally recognized at an early point that some form of conjugation between males and females was necessary for reproduction to occur, but the details remained obscure (as witnessed in some primitive populations). The discovery of sex cells awaited the development of microscopes before the actual mechanisms could begin to be determined. Martin examines the process of human fertilization and the several-days lag that can occur between copulation and conception. He reveals surprising studies in which the time of copulation (or insemination) was accurately determined; these studies showed that conception could occur on almost any day of the cycle (before or after ovulation). This may explain the occurrence of some miscarriages and fetal abnormalities--the assumption being that either the sperm or egg was no longer in prime condition--and also accounts for poor estimates of the true length of a pregnancy. A fascinating treatment of a complex subject.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465030156
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 6/11/2013
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 277,130
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author


Robert Martin is the A. Watson Armour III Curator of Biological Anthropology at the Field Museum in Chicago, as well as a member of the Committee on Evolutionary Biology at the University of Chicago. He was previously on the faculty of University College London, a visiting professor of anthropology at Yale, a visiting professor at the Musée de l’Homme, Paris, and the director of the Anthropological Institute in Zurich.
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