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A Natural History of Families

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Description

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.

From Publishers Weekly

May 09, 2005 – Forbes's repetitive and disorganized treatise is pinned on a fascinating thesis: that observing the family behavior of birds, ants, pandas and a variety of other animal species can help our own species better understand sibling rivalry, parental favoritism, twin births and Down syndrome. Human behaviors may have deep evolutionary roots, he argues, and his correlations between a beetle's cannibalism of offspring and human child abuse, for example, will make readers feel queasy and engaged. But despite dozens of such intriguing associations, Forbes's work is clouded with organizational and stylistic problems. His prose ranges from insightful to incomprehensible to flippant. "I could use myself as an example (babies really should come with owner's manuals) but instead will defer to brown-headed cowbirds," he remarks in a chapter called "Parent Blame." Such twisty lines-combined with the fact that Forbes doesn't adequately defend his sociobiological approach until late in the book-detract from his arguments for the benefits of such cross-species studies. (How, for example, looking at parent-offspring conflict in birds can lead to a better understanding of morning sickness in human mothers and even to new treatments for cancer.) A shorter and more straightforward version of this volume would surely have garnered a wider audience. As it is, this one seems destined for academic libraries. 18 line illustrations.
A Natural History of Families
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  • $20.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Life Sciences
  • Published: Jan 02, 2007
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Seller: Princeton University Press
  • Print Length: 256 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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