Reproduction is among the most basic of human biological functions, both for our distant ancestors and for ourselves, whether we live on the plains of Africa or in North American suburbs. Our reproductive biology unites us as a species, but it has also been an important engine of our evolution. In the way our bodies function today we can see both the imprint of our formative past and implications for our future. It is the infinitely subtle and endlessly dramatic story of human reproduction and its evolutionary context that Peter T. Ellison tells in On Fertile Ground.
Ranging from the latest achievements of modern fertility clinics to the lives of subsistence farmers in the rain forests of Africa, this book offers both a remarkably broad and a minutely detailed exploration of human reproduction. Ellison, a leading pioneer in the field, combines the perspectives of anthropology, stressing the range and variation of human experience; ecology, sensitive to the two-way interactions between humans and their environments; and evolutionary biology, emphasizing a functional understanding of human reproductive biology and its role in our evolutionary history.
Whether contrasting female athletes missing their periods and male athletes using anabolic steroids with Polish farm women and hunter-gatherers in Paraguay, or exploring the intricate choreography of an implanting embryo or of a nursing mother and her child, On Fertile Ground advances a rich and deeply satisfying explanation of the mechanisms by which we reproduce and the evolutionary forces behind their design.
Peter T. Ellison is John Cowles Professor of Anthropology and Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University.
Table of Contents
Surviving the First Cut
A Time to Be Born
The Elixir of Life
Why Grow Up?
The Arc of Life
The Body Builders
The Journey and the Procession
List of Illustrations
What People are Saying About This
Because of the many subfields it covers, not to mention the contradictory claims made by its practitioners, human reproduction has been a difficult topic for non-specialists to master. Peter Ellison has now turned a fearsome set of data-rich puzzles into a single elegant story. On Fertile Ground shows readers where the intellectual problems lie, what's wrong with past solutions, and why his views are right. On Fertile Ground is a riveting tale of adaptation and a major contribution to mammalian evolutionary ecology. It shows science at its best. Richard Wrangham, author of Demonic Males
Joel E. Cohen
Ellison gives a clear, beautifully written account of human reproductive physiology in relation to human evolution and ecology. His very readable narrative--including his stands on some still controversial questions--will enlighten anyone interested in reproduction, population, and people's place on the planet. Joel E. Cohen, Professor of Populations at The Rockefeller University and Columbia University, New York and 1999 winner of the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement
On Fertile Ground is a fine overview of the role of hormones in human reproduction, and of the way hormones and behavior interact. Authoritative and lively, it is the best place to start. Melvin Konner, Emory University
Sara Blaffer Hrdy
A splendid synthesis by one of the pioneers in the study of the evolution of the human reproductive system. Ellison provides a readable, marvelously informative account of the physiology of reproduction as it relates to women's lives. Sara Blaffer Hrdy, author of Mother Nature