Books  Evolutionary Biology  Human Evolution & Anthropology 

Out of Eden: The Surprising Consequences of Polygamy

  • Combines a rich array of evidence from evolutionary biology, animal behavior, and anthropology to document the extent of human polygamy
  • Argues that humans are not naturally monogamous, but that we have the capacity to overcome our biological inclinations and predispositions

By: David P Barash(Author)

Oxford University Press USA

Hardback | Mar 2016 | #227812 | ISBN-13: 9780190275501
Availability: Usually dispatched within 1 week Details
NHBS Price: £27.99 $38/€32 approx

About this book

In this changing world of what is socially and politically "correct", polygamy is perhaps the last great taboo. Over the last thousand years, monogamy – at least in name – has been the default setting for coupledom and procreation in the Western world. And yet, throughout history, there have been inklings that "one-man, one-woman" is an uncomfortable institution for human beings. The consistently high rate of marital "cheating" by both sexes, plus the persistent interest in a variety of sexual partners – on the part of women as well as men – suggest strongly that monogamy isn't easy, and certainly isn't "natural", for either sex.

Esteemed writer and evolutionary biologist David P. Barash tackles this uncomfortable finding: that humans are actually biologically and anthropologically inclined toward polygamy. Drawing on decades of research, Barash presents a remarkable array of scientific evidence from evolutionary biology and cross-cultural studies that guide the reader through the hidden impacts of polygamy on such crucial behavior as violence, parenting, sexual preferences, adultery and efforts at monogamy itself, along with mind-bending speculation about the possible role of our polygamous predisposition when it comes to human genius, homosexuality and even monotheism. But take heart, monogamists! Although our species has long been Out of Eden, this fascinating read is ultimately reassuring that "biology is not destiny".

"Hooray! At last! A book of serious science, accessible to non-scientists, that tells the truth about our own sexuality. Religious conservatives hate the fact that we evolved. Social conservatives hate the fact that we aren't naturally monogamous. But as Out of Eden makes clear, not only have we evolved, but we've evolved to be sexually frisky. At the same time, this eye-opening book makes sense of more than just evolution or sex alone; it gives important new perspectives on violence, parenting, adultery, childhood, homosexuality and the mysteries of monotheism as well as – surprisingly, perhaps – human genius. And it's great fun to read!"
– Pepper Schwartz, professor of sociology, University of Washington and author (with Martha Kempner ) of 50 Great Myths of Human Sexuality

"An incredible percentage of human drama, sturm, drang, excitement, deflation, betrayal, poetry and misery are due to a simple fact – we are not a monogamous species; instead, we float confusedly somewhere between classic zoological monogamy and polygamy. In The Myth of Monogamy, David Barash, one of our finest scientist/science writers, showed that to be the case based on anthropological, physiological, anatomical and genetic findings. Now, in Out of Eden, Barash explores the surprising implications of this fact, taking us to unlikely corners of the human psyche and behavior. This is a wonderfully interesting, thought-provoking and readable book."
– Robert Sapolsky, author of A Primate's Memoir, and The Trouble With Testosterone.

"David Barash is a moralist of the highest and most engaging kind, one who grasps the realities of human nature as a scientist but insists on our power to transcend it. Out of Eden proves the male polygamous tendency, tainted with violence, only to show how culture can outrun both and lead to a better world – but only if we understand our starting point. An absorbing, powerful book."
– Melvin Konner, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Anthropology and Behavioral Biology at Emory University, and the author most recently of Women After All: Sex, Evolution, and the End of Male Supremacy

"Professor Barash has written a faultlessly sensible and balanced report on what the study of evolution of other animals and human evolution can tell us about what humans did in the past, do now, and why. In an agreeably written and informative telling of the great Darwinian story he offers surprising new insights about our social and sexual lives and well-justified scorn of those who flap around beyond the evidence. The book is at once important, serious, and a pleasure."
– Lionel Tiger, Charles Darwin Professor of Anthropology Emeritus, Rutgers University, and author of Men in Groups and The Pursuit of Pleasure

"In centuries past if you wanted to understand human emotions, love, sexuality, adultery, parenting, violence, and war you turned to novelists or theologians. Today science offers us answers that have the distinction of being grounded in data instead of anecdotes. First among equals in explaining that science is David Barash, who has the advantage of being an evolutionary psychologist, the science most equipped to understand human nature. Out of Eden is Barash's most ambitious work, covering as it does such a broad swatch of the human condition. Destined to become a classic in the study of human nature."
– Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, author of The Moral Arc and Why Darwin Matters


Chapter 1. Polygamy 101
Chapter 2. Violence
Chapter 3. Sex
Chapter 4. Why Monogamy?
Chapter 5. Infidelity
Chapter 6. On the Origin of Homosexuality: a hypothesis
Chapter 7. Parenting
Chapter 8. Genius
Chapter 9. Ethics and Morality
Chapter 10. Our Bodies, Our Brains, Our Selves
Chapter 11. The Hare and the Tortoise, revisited
Chapter 12. Individuality and Freedom
Chapter 13. Losing Illusions

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David P. Barash is an evolutionary biologist and professor of psychology at the University of Washington. He has specialized in the ecology and evolution of animal and human social behavior, has written more than 250 peer-reviewed articles and 38 books, plus numerous op-eds in the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, as well as regular pieces in Aeon, Nautilus, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, among others.

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