BOOK REVIEW: "Sex At Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality", by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha', HarperCollins Publishers, (c) 2010, ISBN 978-0-06-170780-3, 400 pages, $25.99.
This is a very powerful book that I believe will transform how our society thinks about polyamory. I give it my highest recommendation. I have just read the public libraries' copy and intend to buy a copy for my own. The book, particularly the last chapter, is very poly friendly.
The book basically explodes the 'standard narrative' of human sexual evolution. (Namely, primitive women traded sexual favors for the support and protection of a single man. Thus monogamy is built into our genes.) Since sexual practices don't leave artifacts for archeologists to find, I did not expect there to be much hard evidence to support their thesis. I was wrong. There is a surprising amount of data which suggests that humans evolved using multi-male with multi-female social groupings as our standard behavior.
I don't intend to recap the arguments in the book. (There are too many and the arguments are too subtle for a short review to do them justice.) But I wanted to explain why I feel that the book will transform society.
Now many people who are putting the most effort into 'defending monogamy' are going to be unaffected by this book. For example, a typical radical Christian is not likely to hear about this book. If they do hear about it, they are unlikely to read it. If they do read it, they are not going to change their opinions based on scientific evidence which they don't understand and don't respect. They reject evolution for gosh sakes, where the evidence is many times stronger. If you can reject evolution, what weight will you give this book that takes evolution as its starting point of discussion? Given my opinion above, why do I think this book won't vanish with out a trace?
First of all, it is a wonderful read. It is funny, lively and literate. At times the author's anger at the sloppy science defending monogamy comes thru. At other times, they seem loving and encouraging by turn. Like the best books, the sense of the author's personality(s) shines.
Tho it is carefully documented (there are 66 pages of small font print giving notes and references supporting their arguments) it is not aimed at a professional anthropological audience. The book is for interested lay people, and it includes plenty of examples and jokes from popular culture to help it connect with every-man.
Sex at Dawn is wonderfully organized. Step by step, foundations for later idea are laid. So when some truly exotic material is presented, the ideas building to it are already in place and documented. I consider the arguments iron clad. Some small bits may be adjusted with new data, but I can't see the major thesis of the book being overturned.
It has already reached critical mass. It will be very hard for any student of Evolutionary Psychology to ignore this book. (Someone reviewing a PhD thesis simply has to say, "your argument does not address the issues raised in "Sex at Dawn". Redo your thesis.") It is being read by professional psychologists and social workers who DO believe in evolution and WILL take the arguments of this book seriously. Therefore I think that we will soon see a lot more poly friendly marriage councilors. Two professionals I know each have PhD's in Psychology own this book. One of them does social work and she takes what is in this book very seriously.
Expanding on my last point, revolutions in scientific thought (called paradigm shifts), are greatly helped if there are 3 things:
-- A critical number of scientists supporting the new idea.
-- Some key work which organizes and promotes the new idea.
-- A theory that explains the evidence better than the old theory.
I feel that Sex at Dawn fulfills all three of these, and will be a touchstone for years to come.
Finally the arguments of the book are honest. Weak points, where evidence is missing, are explicitly highlighted in the text and the author's call for further research in these areas. This demonstrates the integrity of the authors.
I suggest you read the book and encourage your local libraries and poly friendly groups to get copies.
Warm regards, Rick.
Last edited by RickPlus; 01-23-2011 at 12:18 AM.