Getting our rocks off for four billion years
July 11, 2009 12:32 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone recommend a good book about the evolution of sexual reproduction?

I'm interested in the basic physiological explanation (how did single-cell organisms lead to sexually binary species, etc), big-picture explanations (why is sexual reproduction advantageous as opposed to asexual reproduction, etc), and maybe a good overview of the differing sexual characteristics of disparate species the world over (four-headed echidna penises, etc). Caveat: I have hardly any scientific background, so too-technical books aren't great, although I am a pretty fast learner if the book makes a decent effort (I made it through DFW's Everything and More despite not having done any math since high school calculus).

I've seen this question but I'm more interested in getting a whole dang book than just receiving answers to particular questions.
posted by shakespeherian to Science & Nature (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

The best most approachable overview, that I know of is Dr. Titania's Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson.
She also writes the Wild Side column in the NYTimes these days.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 12:40 PM on July 11, 2009

Best answer: Check out Matt Ridley's The Red Queen
posted by Midnight Rambler at 1:46 PM on July 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

See also Bonk, by Mary Roach.
posted by judith at 6:33 PM on July 11, 2009

I wouldn't buy it, but a good book to check out at the library as a beginning resource is, aptly, Beginnings by Isaac Asimov. There is a section that addresses your questions in a very non-technical way. Also, I'd check out some of Stephen Jay Gould's writings. The Red Queen, as suggested by Midnight Rambler, is on point but I found it pretty dry reading (my 2 cents).
posted by notcomputersavvy06 at 5:02 AM on July 12, 2009

Best answer: Lynne Margulis (Carl Sagan's ex) is the seminal (ha) figure in this area. For example 'Origins of Sex : Three Billion Years of Genetic Recombination' and 'What is sex'.
posted by communicator at 10:01 AM on July 12, 2009

Seconding Midnight Rambler's recommendation of The Red Queen. It is full of detail, which might be why notcomputersavvy06 found it dry, but I really appreciated getting the whole story without oversimplification.
posted by drdanger at 2:27 PM on July 12, 2009

what about the Jared Diamond books Why Is Sex Fun? The Evolution Of Human Sexuality and The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal?

I always Jared Diamond to be a captivating and informative writer about the human species and all it's foibles.
posted by Philby at 9:43 PM on July 12, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks all! I picked up a copy of The Red Queen today and I'm going to be on the lookout for Margulis's Origins of Sex. If anyone else has any ideas, please share.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:22 PM on July 13, 2009

Response by poster: Note to future generations of AskMe searchers who come upon this question:

The Red Queen indeed answers most of my questions as detailed above. However, be aware that for several of the last chapters, Ridley begins spouting inane EvoPsych stuff about women belonging in the kitchen and men being innately polygamous and so forth and largely ignoring and/or ridiculing sociology and anthropology, which was fairly disappointing. The rest of the book is very good, however.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:03 AM on July 30, 2009

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