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Sex & War [Paperback]

Malcolm Potts
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Jun 2010
Combining exhaustive research and rich personal experience, Sex and War shows that war, terrorism slavery and the subjugation of women have common roots deep in humans' biological history. Evolution is not destiny, however, and the authors, with the crucial contributions of Martha Campbell, show how relatively simple strategies can help the biology of peace win out over the biology of war. In doing so, they lay out a rational roadmap to make war less likely in future and less brutal when it does occur. Now available in paperback

Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: BEN BELLA; 1 edition (3 Jun 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1935251708
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935251705
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 15.7 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,101,963 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


"Worth reading, and arguing about." --"The Toronto Star"

About the Author

Malcolm Potts, MB, BChir, PhD, FRCOG, is the Bixby Professor at the University of California, Berkeley. A graduate of Cambridge University and trained as an obstetrician and research biologist, his profession has taken him all over the world. Potts led a medical team into Bangladesh immediately after the War of Liberation in 1972, and he has worked in many other war-torn places including Vietnam and Cambodia, Afghanistan, Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Liberia, and Angola. His most recent books are Queen Victoria's Gene and Ever Since Adam and Eve: The Evolution of Human Sexuality. Thomas Hayden is a freelance journalist who writes frequently about science, medicine, and culture. Formerly a staff writer at Newsweek and US News & World Report, his articles and reviews have appeared in more than 20 publications, including National Geographic, Nature, and The Washington Post. He is coauthor of On Call in Hell: A Doctor's Iraq War Story, a 2007 national bestseller. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and fellow writer, Erika Check Hayden.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Food for thought 1 Feb 2013
I cannot remember exactly why I bought this book, but having done so I decided I really ought to read it. I am so very very glad that I did, and will certainly read it again (probably in about 6 months, after I have had time to digest it the first time, for there is a wealth of information to take in).

I won't bother with the synopsis, other reviewers have provided that already. Instead, I will just say that I thought I had a pretty good grip on the major issues affecting the earth in the 21st century (and as an Army Officer, war was certainly amongst them), but Potts' insight into the issues of population growth, family planning and how these affect war and effect global crises was truely novel (for me). I would certainly recommend fact I would recommend CGS or Philip Hammond pick up a copy too.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By Dennis Littrell TOP 500 REVIEWER
Potts' main thesis is that all men have the potential to kill other people to get what they want or because they are told to kill or because they have dehumanized their victims. All men--you, me, and Professor Potts himself, but for the grace of God, could be in Darfur slicing people up with machetes. All that is required is that the victims be seen as members of an outgroup as opposed to the ingroup to which we belong.

This is a startling thesis, one that sets the standard social science model, in which it is said we have to be carefully taught to kill, on its head. What Potts says is that the violence we have seen throughout human history is innate, an evolved trait that was once useful for hominids in the tribal setting. This is also the thesis of evolutionary psychology. Instead of learning to kill, or being taught to kill, we need to be taught NOT to kill. We don't usually kill members of our family or friends because they are part of an ingroup with which we identify.

Potts has a solution, which is why he has written this fascinating and exhaustive treatise on war and its causes. His solution begins with an understanding that our psyches are governed by evolved Stone Age emotions similar to what we see in chimpanzees as they conduct their horrific raids on isolated individuals from neighboring groups, ripping and tearing their victims apart with their bare hands and teeth. Potts calls this "team aggression," a strategy that has been perfected in human beings. Men bond together and use their greater numbers to kill members of other tribes so as to gain resources such as territory, slaves and women to impregnate.

In the modern world we have men with Stone Age brains in positions of power with their fingers on weapons of mass destruction.
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The general ideas here are accepted in most of the scientific community they are embraced with joy by the pseudo-science community where the only group you can attack is the male in general.
At the very start I was uneasy about the scientific vigor of this book when they talked about the patrilineal inheritance from Genghis Khan but call it simply inheritance which implies that woman have no role in passing genetic material to their offspring. I note Wikipedia does this as well maybe that is where they obtained their information. It is interesting that this despite all their efforts with their Men bad Women good message they subconsciously believe in part of their mind that only the male matters in inheritance. In reality it is quite possible to believe that well over a billion people are descended from Genghis Khan when you include both patrilineal and matrilineal inheritance. Actually I am sure (at least I hope so) understood this and were just being sloppy for the general reader. They probably don't have to fight in genetics tutorials to correct this sloppiness. The was also the general statement about people we do not share genes with. Who are they, I ask? Certainly not human beings! Firstly they should say alleles and even then people share many of the same alleles. Again I think sloppiness for a general audience as they talk about the lack of diversity in human populations, I think to show keep them on the politically correct genre. I will now I am sure be told I am just picking up small important points but accuracy in Science is tantamount and should not be undermined.
I am not an expert in behavioral genetics but I got the feeling that examples were being picked to prove their point and some of the book would not stand peer review.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb 24 April 2009
This book is a masterly synthesis of a very wide range of studies that explores the hypothesis that our aggressive nature is a relic of the behaviour of the warring groups of Hom saps from 160,000 years ago. It has enormous relevance to tackling wars, gangs and poverty. Very readable and well-referenced - buy it! read it!
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50 of 54 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Kudos for Women, Guys...Take a Break 9 Jan 2009
By Daniel Murphy - Published on
What's this book about? Let's let co-author Malcom Potts, double doctorate (MD, PhD) obstetrician and research biologist, pose the theme in his own words: "Why do we humans, remarkably social animals with extremely large brains, spend so much energy on one thing---deliberately and systematically killing other members of our own species?" Accessing information from a very broad (if at times disorganized) variety of sources, co-authors Potts, Hayden, and Campbell lay out a scaffolding to address this theme, a scaffolding composed of biological, anthropological, archaeological, and sociological elements.

Laced with potent examples of human on human aggression, (e.g. Maori warriors that first pierce the feet of their women captives so that they can't run away, rape them, then post-coitally murder them), Sex and War is a serious, often engaging, frequently horrifying examination of why the human race is the uncontested champ of same-species killing in the vertebrate world. Linking information drawn from historical, demographic, gender study, and evolutionary biology sources, Potts, Hayden, and Campbell provide a plausible hypothesis for the behavior of Nature's most dangerous gender and animal: the male Homo sapiens.

Sound like sociobiology? You betcha, in fact the father of sociobiology, E.O. Wilson, is frequently referenced, as is Wilson's concept of consilience (a unity of knowledge). If you subscribe to sociobiology, you'll find yourself nodding assent, and uttering an "Aha!" with regularity. If you think that human behavior cannot be at least partially explained by our biological and evolutionary roots, this book will most certainly make you think again.

Do men take a beating in this book? Q. How many of the several hundred gang murders in Los Angeles each year are attributed to women? A. Usually, none. Q. How many historical incidences can be found of women banding together on genocidal missions to burn down villages, and kill every man, woman and child in that village? A. None Q. How many pillage and burn revolutionary armies have been composed of and led by women? A. Well, one gets the picture. Are women part of the solution? Absolutely, say the authors. Family planning, education and economic advancement of women are factors almost invariably accompanied by a decrease in armed conflict. High birth rates, economic oppression of women, poverty: the dark horse of war is saddled and ready to ride.

There is an old Star Trek episode in which the starship Enterprise is captured by a conglomeration of superior beings. The crew of the Enterprise stands proxy for the human race, and is put on trial to see if humans should be allowed to continue to develop, or should be wiped out of the galaxy for being dangerous vermin. Much of War and Sex could be cited by the prosecuting attorney in such a trial, yet Potts, Hayden, and Campbell speak up: "Not so fast." A nine point plan entitled "How to Make Peace Break Out" is included, each of the points being based on research rather than pious yearnings or maudlin hope.

The authors are not under any illusions that Sex and War will launch an urgent and immediate campaign to eliminate warfare. As Solzhenitsyn said "If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?" As a male human primate, genus and species Homo sapiens, laying down aggression as a means of obtaining my perceived needs would indeed be destroying a piece of my heart. And yet, after reading this book, and absorbing the daily news from Iraq, Darfur, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Somalia, I think "Yes, Mr. Solzhenitsyn, I'm willing to destroy a piece of my own heart."
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sex and War Offers Sage Advice For Planetary Survival 28 Dec 2008
By Donald A. Collins - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
From: Donald A. Collins

Book Review: Sex and War: How Biology Explains Warfare and Terrorism and Offers a Path to a Safer World" by Malcolm Potts and Thomas Hayden (Benbella Books,
Dallas, TX 2008)

TEXT: With endorsements high profile people such as Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and world's leading expert on our nearest to human primate, the chimpanzee, one can fully expect to find this book scientifically credible. It is a highly readable must read.

Sex and War will no doubt excite attention from all among the human species who still can read and think. Since that is quite a small minority, my fear is that its urgent and insightful theme will enjoy even among that sliver only an Andy Warholian 15 minutes of fame. Better not!

You may not be surprised to be told that the authors show with solid empirical proof that it is primarily male humans who bring us war, but perhaps you are unaware or unmindful of the driving force of male war making tendencies since the dawn of human history, the sex drive.

British born and Cambridge educated, Dr. Potts, now Bixby Professor at UC Berkeley, an obstetrician and research biologist has pursued his humanitarian work worldwide, including helping women in Bangladesh after the War of Liberation in 1972, then in countless other climes torn by conflicts. I met Malcolm in the 1960's when he was the first Medical Director of International Planned Parenthood Federation in London and since have served on several boards and done many travels with him. His co-author, Hayden, a freelance journalist, who is no relation to the Vietnam War Berkeley firebrand, Tom Hayden, also co-authored a 2007 book "On Call in Hell: A Doctor's Iraq War Story" with Cdr Rick Jadick, whose experience in ministering to wounded there brought high accolades from readers.

Rather ironically Hayden's book truly may have helped spark his participation in Sex and War, for while tales of heroism and selfless bravery in battle are the historical standards for all such stories, "Sex and War" reminds us of our biological evolution. After all, for much of human history the most successful and dominant males went to war, took the spoils and raped women in asserting that dominance. You know, Genghis Khan, etc.

One can see why Goodall could be so enthusiastic about this book, since Sex and War shows how close to chimpanzee behavior humans are. Bands of young males raid rival territories, finding the fittest females in classic Darwinian behavior, and thus benefitting the next generations.

The step up description from chimps to humans allows the authors to cite similar behavior found in tribal wars, among inner city street gangs, and then in full warfare, whose aftermath Potts personally helped deal with in Bangladesh when helping war-raped women. Terrorists in our day obviously are imbued with stories of heroic male behavior, which is more powerful than the reported financial inducements. A comparatively benign manifestation of aggressive male behavior can be observed at NFL football games both on the field and in the stands.

Potts' understanding of the urgency of dealing with our now overpopulated planet leads to explanations of how that crowding leads to wars, again entered into often with enthusiasm by young males, motivated by patriotism, excitement over battle, or even escape from dull underemployment or unemployment. The authors then most logically point to one way of cutting terrorism and the risk of wars (of which we now see so many going on around the world) and "a path to a safer world" among nations we now can see are "failed" or getting close to failing is by lowering birth rates through planned parenting, birth control, and, yes, abortion. The authors clearly show that rarely in history have women been combatants.

Understand that Potts' wife, Martha Campbell, who co-authored significant chapters, like her husband brings extensive scholarship and worldwide travel to bear on illuminating a modern woman's view. While such views remain still far from full acceptance in many cultures, including our own, the book's strong recommendation for more women's education as a major contributor to better family planning availability and fewer unplanned pregnancies surely is de rigueur among anyone doing strategic thinking about solving our pressing global problems.

The deep biological nature of human evolution will not be altered easily. The world remains dominated by male leaders who all too often feel so bloody good about solutions than seem to require bloodletting. One could point to our Iraq invasion and countless prior sorties into battle which could have been avoided by less testosterone dominated negotiations.

Perhaps as the number of nations armed with nuclear weapons grows, as it surely will, major powers may be more globally fixated on planetary survival by means proposed by the authors. But then again, perhaps not. And of course people who purport to bring us absolute security have in history often lead us to absolute tyranny.

Potts had co-authored with world renowned anthropologist, Roger Short, a ground breaking earlier book, "Ever since Adam and Eve: The Evolution of Human Sexuality' in 1999 which I reviewed for Amazon, writing "that the main evolutionary drive for humans and mammals generally has been and is SEX, for the key to our existence is the need to produce the BEST next generation. For many this book will prove an epiphany of understanding, a creation of more reverence for life, but one not based on the mythology of religion, but on the clear facts of science." Now in the nuclear age, where planetary destruction looms in multiple forms both nuclear and environmental we best find a new modus vivendi one which will provide a workable form of making love, but without war.

About the author: Collins is a free lance writer living in Washington, DC. His views are his own.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read 27 Dec 2008
By Dr. Jerry Haigh - Published on
In my opinion Malcolm Potts & Tom Hayden's Sex and War is a must read. The authors have impeccable credentials as authors of this text, Potts as a physician who has worked in many troubles areas of the world and led the drive to give women freedom of reproductive choice many years ago, Hayden as an award winning science writer. The racy title does not fully show the content, which is a very serious look at the whole story of men (not women) and war. Of course women are mentioned at length (almost always as victims), but it is we men that create the problems, and the authors constantly refer back to chimpanzee aggression. This is a serious & disturbing book, but Potts & Hayden do offer glimmers of hope & solutions to prevent the slide into anarchy that we may be facing. The book opens with a chapter on the horrible aftermath of the Bangladesh secession, in which Potts was involved as a physician. He tells us that it may have been the greatest case of mass rape in history. Many other horror stories about war, its combatants and its victims are used to show very clearly how Homo sapiens is destroying its own species and with it, the planet we inhabit. They offer glimpses of hope and solution, but caution that such hope is ephemeral.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not exactly a new argument, but well done nonetheless 9 Aug 2009
By Steven A. Peterson - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The thesis of this book, co-authored by Malcolm Potts and Thomas Hayden, is summarized thus (Page 2): "This book is about war. It is about terror, and cruelty, and the biological origins and long, brutal, vicious, and destructive history of organized aggression. Perhaps most importantly, it is not just about the depths to which human beings can sink, but also how we came to be this way and what we can do about it."

In short, the book addresses the human nature of violence, why it came about, and what tools might be available to us to reduce the carnage coming from our evolutionary background. Up front, I will simply note that there is not much in this book that is new. Arguments such as this have been around for some time. What is positive about this book is that it is well written and accessible to wider audiences than some of the more academic works. As one example of "déjà vu," Potts and Hayden argue that having more women in positions of power would likely reduce state created warfare and violence. The argument follows from the arguments presented, but Glendon Schubert made a similar argument a decade and a half ago (I did not see Schubert's work mentioned, although I could have missed the relevant footnote--there are over 500, after all!).

The book provides a perspective based on reproductive success being the key to evolutionary change and the understanding of what behaviors any species deploys. Among humans, team aggression (groups of males working together) and reproductive success are linked to make intergroup violence a default option for humans. The book notes the analogy with intergroup violence among Pan troglodytes (the chimpanzee), humankind's closest relatives in nature, further suggesting an evolutionary background to this behavior.

The chapter titles summarize key points made: "We band of brothers" (human males "bond" with one another in warfare and cooperate to protect one another), "Terrorists," "Women and war," "Raids into battles," "War and the state," "War and technology," "War and the law," "Evil," "The Future of war," "Women and peace," and "Stoner age behaviors in the twenty-first century."

The last chapter explores what might be done to reduce the extent of human violence and warfare. On page 368, some suggestions are summarized in a table. Among these: increase the number of women in parliaments and legislatures, empower women (including preventing unwanted pregnancies), ensure universal science education, encourage knowledge of history and evolution, maintain a free media, and don't supply potential enemies with weapons. Would some combination of these actually work? That's a good question. I am not so optimistic, but the listing (and the discussion of these in the final chapter) at least gets readers to reflecting on the subject. If that leads to broader discussion--whatever the reader thinks of the book's arguments--then it has made a contribution.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sex and War--on the Mind 9 Jun 2009
By Michael Anthony - Published on
Coming from a military family, (Four brother, a sister, myself, my father, and both grandfathers) being in the military, I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up: Sex and War.

At first when I started reading I was really skeptical, and didn't want to believe what they were saying (Simply put...I thought it was a bunch of bull$*%#) I didn't want to believe that the things they spoke of were possible. That perhaps there was a reason for joining the military-separate than the altruistic reason I had built in my head.

But the further I read, and the more I looked around at myself and my fellow soldiers, I realized that Potts and Hayden were right. During my time in Iraq, I can think back and see illogical ill-emotional things that happened, things without explanation. And, it wasn't until I read this book that I was able to see the first glimmer of an explanation of why we are in Iraq fighting the war. Sure, maybe it was 'weapons of Mass Destruction', maybe it was oil', or maybe it was something deeper, perhaps something ingrained in our biology.

Mass Casualties: A Young Medic's True Story of Death, Deception, and Dishonor in Iraq
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