Forsyth, Adrian. A Natural History of Sex. Firefly Books, 2001. ISBN 978-1552094815 192 pp. $
The unsexy side of sex is presented here as natural science writer and biodiversity scientist Adrian Forsyth reveals the weird diversity of sexual behavior in insects, fish, and mammals from whales to rabbits. Even in nature, there is rape, transvestites, orgasm, incest, love ’em and leave ’em types, and males who literally leech onto females.
This collection of essays covers everything from attraction to competition to fertilization, highlighting real species that have the ability to change their sex, who compete for mates, and who murder their mates. Each essay begins with some anecdote and includes quirky facts about exploding genitals, testicle size and its relationship to sperm production, species that die in or after the act of mating, and pheromones.
The theme that we are all connected governs the collection. Forsyth recommends that we only look at life around us to discover why humans act the way they do. An essay titled Milk and Honey discusses the impact of fat on reproduction, and why specific percentages of body fat in female animals are required for reproduction, just as human females require specific percentages of body fat for menarche, pregnancy, and nursing. An essay on natural abortion in plants leads to a discussion of genocide in cultures around the world.
Quotes from leaders in the field such as Darwin and Gould abound, demonstrating the interdependence of the scientific community. The bibliography is divided by chapter into a further reading appendix, and the index is extremely complete. A great supplement to biology or psychology textbooks, students interested in natural history will enjoy browsing the essays, or reading the book as a whole. Especially recommended for students considering going into the field of biology or animal behavior, this is a strong addition for public, high school, and college library collections.
Review by Beth Gallaway