Giving stars to rate this book is misleading. The book deserves five for style, but no more than three for content. Diamond is a convincing writer with an excellent prose style. He delves fully into his topics, presenting them lucidly, demonstrating an ability to think deeply before presenting his ideas to the reader. His GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL deserved every accolade it received. THE THIRD CHIMPANZEE was a fine example of innovative thinking, presented with clarity. He deserves full marks for challenging readers to consider their opinions and reflect on options previously unconsidered. You don't need to be a scientist to read him, you only need an open mind.
Diamond's theme is that human sexuality is not just different from that of the other animals, but almost drastically so. Reproductive strategies range from 'r' [sow 'em and forget 'em] through 'K' [no sacrifice is too great] with humans almost the ultimate K practitioners. Evolutionary pressures on a creature that wasn't a good predator but fine prey led us down a path resulting in a massive investment in raising offspring.
What are the implications of our version of sexual techniques? Human beings have evolved in a way that natural sexual signals have been buried out of sight. It's called concealed ovulation and methods of pinpointing when a woman was likely to conceive weren't developed until this century. Fish, birds, and other mammals [particularly baboons] exhibit colours, engage in ceremonial displays or have other visible indications that the time is right! But humans keep it a big secret. Is there a valid reason?
And when a sexual coupling has generated a foetus, we put more time, energy and resources to its birthing and upbringing than nearly any other animal. Almost from the instant of conception the foetus and the mother are at war over resource allocation. Mum and babe each want the calcium, iron and other factors required by the one for survival and the other for growth. All this is pretty draining on Mum, who still has a life to lead while carrying that powerful parasite in her womb.
And where's Hubby during all this? That is a major part of Diamond's account of human sex relations. Males invest minimal resources in producing offspring and in most mammal species, decamp after coupling. Human males, however, form part of the renowned 'nuclear family'. In the chapter "What Are Men Good For?" Diamond shows how and why human males are bonded to mates in a way few other species exhibit. One major aspect of this bond, of course, is the nearly constant availability of a sexual partner [NOT 'object']. From that derives that since human women can conceal their ovulation so well, he'd better stick around to ensure any other offspring are indeed his. Since she is receptive all the time and can conceive at some indeterminate time, he'd better be there at the right time. That this situation doesn't always keep males in line is exemplified by the study showing that up to 20 per cent of British babies were conceived by someone other than the purportive parent.
Diamond goes to some effort to make human males more captive to their familial role than they might wish. As stated, the minimal expenditure of some sperm to occupy a mate for a year or so isn't always enough to foster a strong sense of responsibility in men. However, Diamond's proposed solution is one of the most astonishing ideas submitted by anyone yet. He suggests that hormonal treatments for men, inducing lactation and giving men the chance to learn the meaning of nurturing. How much more 'politically correct' can one be? One hopes this chapter was written because of Marie adopting a Lysistratian role, witholding favours until Diamond acceded to her demand for its inclusion. That, or some life- threatening gesture are the only acceptable reasons for a man of Diamond's qualifications trying to reverse the whole course of evolution and make humans even more unique among the animals than they already are. There are enough feminists out there trying to reverse the status evolution has given us. Diamond's suggestion nearly invalidates an otherwise captivating and informative book. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]