We are tempted to think of maternal instinct as a quality a woman has or lacks. But the belief that mothers instinctively nurture their offspring – one of the West's most cherished ideals and a view widely accepted even in scientific circles – has become increasingly controversial. Mother Nature presents a radical new way of understanding how mothers act and why, and how this new understanding is changing the way scientists think about how evolution works.
Drawing on anthropology, history, literature, developmental psychology, and animal behaviour, Sarah Hrdy examines the distinct biological and genetic elements that constitute maternal instinct. She strips away the biases implicit in conventional stereotypes of female nature to give us very different and provocative perspectives on maternal ambivalence, the links between maturity and ambition, mother love and sexual love, and why age-old tensions between the sexes persist – and are being played out today in efforts to control women's reproductive choices.
Combining decades of research with her own experience as a mother, Hrdy makes clear in this remarkable book what it means – from a historical and evolutionary perspective – to be a mother and explains how this knowledge has transformed our understanding of human development and behaviour.
"This is a superb book. It is beautifully and clearly written, by one of the nation's leading primatologists and sociobiologists, without sacrificing intellectual rigor; it is the best introduction I know to both fields. It establishes more convincingly than any other work with which I am familiar the relevance of the study of (other) primates and of human evolution, to urgent current issues of public policy involving women, children, and the family."
– Richard Posner, Chief Judge, US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
"A magnificent synthesis of ideas about motherhood, this is a book brimming with warmth, wisdom, and wit. It is not easy in a polarised academic world to keep a foot in the feminist camp and another in evolutionary psychology, nor to bridge the arts and sciences so effortlessly. But Sarah Blaffer Hrdy achieves these feats."
– Matt Ridley, author of The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation
"Mother Nature is a book to treasure and to study, both for its impeccable research and for the wise ways that author Sarah Blaffer Hrdy weaves her own experience of motherhood into her text."
– Susan Brownmiller, author of Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape
"Mother Nature is a pioneering reassessment of key assumptions in debates about human evolution. By demonstrating how female strategies as mates and mothers have shaped the evolutionary process throughout nature, Hrdy succeeds in overturning some of the most entrenched theories in this scientific domain. A worthy companion to Darwin's Descent of Man, and an endlessly fascinating read, Mother Nature reflects a lifetime of bold research and judicious thought by one of the foremostprimatologists of our day."
– Frank Sulloway
"Mother Nature is a stunning achievement. The book reveals the highest scholarship with an unparalleled breadth in the use of the comparative method. Hrdy expertly uses the comparative method. Hrdy expertly uses the comparative method to illustrate her points by contrasting biology and behavior across species and orders, and by making full use of human variation both through evolutionary and historical time and across space and cultures. This book is a very accessible, scientific discussion of the evolutionary history of maternal care written by a first rate scientist."
– Jane B. Lancaster, Editor of Human Nature
"Sarah Hrdy's scholarly but readable book on motherhood demonstrates once and for all the power of a Darwinian approach, when combined with an appreciation of cultural differences, for the understanding of human behavior. Providing a comprehensive discussion of diverse aspects of motherhood ranging from the physiological to the sociological, it also faces a crucial problem for many women today – the clash between career and motherhood."
– Robert Hinde, Royal Society Research Professor, Cambridge University
"Hrdy has given us a truly monumental work, as elegant as it is insightful. It took a woman scientist to find the rightful place of our species in the matrix of the animal kingdom, and Hrdy has done so brilliantly. This is by no means the usual psychobabble or hodge podge of animal behavior that other authors so often use to define us – here is a clear and telling examination of a hitherto almost unknown organism – the human female. Any woman wanting to know who she really is will find out in the pages of this tremendously important work of real science by a real scientist."
– Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
"This is a brilliant, liberating book on a profoundly important subject. Sarah Hrdy, the leading scientific authority on motherhood, is also, to the benefit of us all, one of the best stylists now writing on any subject in science."
– E.O. Wilson
"By demolishing superstitions that have long clouded our true natures, Sarah Hrdy shows how knowledge may be our best tool for achieving justice among women, men, and the generations that follow. Clear-eyed science can equip us for this liberating journey, far better than any rigid ideology. Mother Nature takes us one bold step along that road."
– David Brin, author of Glory Season and The Transparent Society
"This is a deep and brilliant work, a masterful account of mother nature and the nature of motherhood, with a superb selection of photos, built on a powerful logic by someone who easily and clearily sees life both from the inside and the outside."
– Robert Trivers, Professor of Anthropology and Biological Sciences, Rutgers University