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A Natural History of Families [Hardcover]

Scott Forbes

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Book Description

9 May 2005

Why do baby sharks, hyenas, and pelicans kill their siblings? Why do beetles and mice commit infanticide? Why are twins and birth defects more common in older human mothers? A Natural History of Families concisely examines what behavioral ecologists have discovered about family dynamics and what these insights might tell us about human biology and behavior. Scott Forbes's engaging account describes an uneasy union among family members in which rivalry for resources often has dramatic and even fatal consequences.

In nature, parents invest resources and control the allocation of resources among their offspring to perpetuate their genetic lineage. Those families sometimes function as cooperative units, the nepotistic and loving havens we choose to identify with. In the natural world, however, dysfunctional familial behavior is disarmingly commonplace.

While explaining why infanticide, fratricide, and other seemingly antisocial behaviors are necessary, Forbes also uncovers several surprising applications to humans. Here the conflict begins in the moments following conception as embryos struggle to wrest control of pregnancy from the mother, and to wring more nourishment from her than she can spare, thus triggering morning sickness, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Mothers, in return, often spontaneously abort embryos with severe genetic defects, allowing for prenatal quality control of offspring.

Using a broad sweep of entertaining examples culled from the world of animals and humans, A Natural History of Families is a lively introduction to the behavioral ecology of the family.

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One of Choices Outstanding Academic Titles for 2005

"Forbes's writing is lively. . . . He explains evolutionary theory lucidly and well. . . . Forbes is good at explaining the subtlety and frequent counter-intuitiveness of current thinking on these topics."--Seamus Sweeney, Times Literary Supplement

"This absorbing read is an entertaining but sober addition to the library of anyone who is interested in family conflict and the natural world."--Biology Digest

"All will welcome [this book] as an interesting, well-researched, extraordinarily well-written, and occasionally humorous work in behavioral ecology."--Choice

"This is certainly worth reading if this is an area that you are interested in. Forbes obviously knows his subject."--Nicola Vollenhoven, Biologist

"I found much of the medical material new. A Natural History of Families is recommended to anyone interested in evolutionary medicine, wanting a better understanding of pregnancy, or after a genetic perspective on family conflicts."--Danny Yee, Danny Reviews

From the Inside Flap

"This book is excellent. Having started reading it, I could not put it down but read it all at one go in a day. Extremely readable, it deals elegantly and succinctly with some of the more complex issues and topics in behavioral ecology of parental investment strategies. It will appeal not only to general readers with an interest in animal and human behavior but to students and academics as well."--Robin Dunbar, University of Liverpool, author of Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language

"An outstanding contribution to the literature on the evolution of human social behavior, this book breaks new ground and, most importantly, frames the family exactly where it should be--in an evolved pattern of behavior in which parents seek to enhance their reproductive success, sometimes at the expense of some of their children."--Craig B. Stanford, University of Southern California, author of Upright: The Evolutionary Key to Becoming Human

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
ON SEPTEMBER 25, 1994, Lele, a giant panda at the Beijing Zoo, gave birth to twins. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic 5 Oct 2010
By onfire24seven - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I bought this book for a graduate level behavior class ay my university and I was impressed. At first, I was skeptical of the writing style after being used to reading labs but I was hooked once I got into it. The writing level is easily understandable yet remains intelligent. Also the author draws fantastic comparisons to history and pop culture to relate to all readers.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A lot of nature and families, but not much history 5 April 2007
By Newton Ooi - Published on Amazon.com
This book examines the different modes of reproduction and different types of family structures in the natural world, with an emphasis on vertebrates, especially birds and mammals. The goal is to see how different behavioral patterns and reproductive modes found in different species help to further the evolutionary survival of each species. The book examines this topic from multiple standpoints such as genetics, phenotypes, embryology, ecology, statistics, and common sense. The title of the book is a misnomer as there is little history in that the author does not examine extinct species, but only presently occurring species. The author also concentrates on how things exist now, and does not delve deep into how breeding patterns, courtship rituals, family structures and other issues related to sexual reproduction evolved over time.

The book repeats many points over and over again, which though tedious, makes the text helpful for the novice reader. This repetition also provides smooth transitions from one chapter to the next. As a book based on science, there is a lot of references to scientific literature, which is good. There are also sufficient diagrams, which is good. The book should have included more examples from non-vertebrates, such as invertebrates, plants, and maybe even fungi, if examples are possible. Overall, an interesting read.
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