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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
If the clothes make the man, as the cliché goes, what makes the woman? Pulitzer Prize-winning Natalie Angier will tell you in her revolutionary new book, Woman: An Intimate Geography. Breathtaking in its scope and depth, this book by the New York Times Science writer offers meditative and informative essays which champion the "fantasia of the female body and mind," exploring every element of what it means to be a woman.
Angier takes us on a tour of the female body, beginning with the egg, the largest cell in the body at a mere tenth of a millimeter in diameter — a cell she actually gets to see with her own eyes while witnessing an egg donor in action at New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine. From there, she dives into the gene pool to swim to the source of femaleness, the X-chromosome, and introduces Jane Carden, a woman born with Y-chromosomes embedded in some of her genes. Due to a mutation called androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS), Carden's body ignored the male chromosome, and instead "chose to go girl," though she lacks a uterus, fallopian tubes, a cervix, and inner labia. She had testes in her abdominal cavity, which were removed soon after she was born (they were herniated). Despite these factors, "with her breasts and rounded hips and comparatively slender neck, she can't help but strike the world as a woman."
The story of Jane Carden is not only a riveting case study but also serves to demonstrate the abundance of Angier's knowledge and her keen ability to translate bio-talk into laywoman's terms. Some of this can be attributed toAngier'sthorough research, for she turns to science and medicine to "sketch a working map of the parts that we call female"; Darwin and evolutionary theory to "thrash out the origins of our intimate geography"; and history, art, and literature for insight. But what ultimately distinguishes Woman from other books of its kind is its highly personal and personable narrative voice, which interweaves Angier's quirky humor, undeniable enthusiasm for the subject (she brags about being "a female chauvinist"), and poet's ear for language.
Whether Angier is extolling the virtues of the clitoris, a pleasure-only zone with its 8,000 nerve fibers; probing the vagina ("a Rorschach with legs"); likening the uterus to a muscle hero sandwich and the cervix's appearance to a glazed doughnut; or mocking Western culture's fetishization of women's breasts, she does not compromise subject for humor, nor does she lose focus. She broadens her discussion to include menopause and exercise; claim aggression, fury, and strength as female traits; and confront evolutionary psychologists' theories about the nature of orgasms, maternal love, and female competition, constructing her own theories in the process.
While Angier presumes a female readership, whom she refers to as gals ("I keep thinking, against all evidence, that [this word] is on the verge of coming back into style"), Woman: An Intimate Geography is an important book that should be read by men and women alike. Delivered with authority, brio, and witty irreverence, Angier's book is a crucial and distinctive addition to feminist literature, destined to become a classic alongside Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, Adrienne Rich's Of Woman Born, the Boston Women's Health Collective's Our Bodies, Ourselves, Kate Millett's Sexual Politics, and Susan Faludi's Backlash.
— Kera Bolonik