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Woman: An Intimate Geography [Hardcover]

Natalie Angier
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (124 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 6 1999
A Pulitzer Prize-winner offers a book about femaleness --- in body and mind --- that could prove as important as The Second Sex or Our Bodies, Our Selves and as fresh as Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom. With the clarity, insight, and sheer joy of language that has secured her reputation as one of the New York Times's premier stylists, Natalie Angier lifts the veil of secrecy from that most enigmatic of evolutionary masterpieces, the female body, exploring the essence of what it means to be a woman. Angier's thoughts on everything from organs to orgasm evince her famously playful originality, yet stand their ground in scientific fact. She also dives into hot topics such as menopause and evolutionary psychologists' faddish views of "female nature," creating a sparkling, fresh vision of womanhood.

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Despite scientific evidence to the contrary, as far as the health care profession is concerned the standard operating design of the human body is male. So when a book comes along as beautifully written and endlessly informative as Natalie Angier's Woman: An Intimate Geography, it's a cause for major celebration. Written with whimsy and eloquence, her investigation into female physiology draws its inspiration not only from scientific and medical sources but also from mythology, history, art, and literature, layering biological factoids with her own personal encounters and arcane anecdotes from the history of science. Who knew, for example, that the clitoris--with 8,000 nerve fibers--packs double the pleasure of the penis; that the gene controlling cellular sensitivity to male androgens, ironically enough, resides on the X-chromosome; or that stress hormones like cortisol and corticosterone are the true precursors of friendship?

The mysteries of evolution are not a new subject for Angier, a Pulitzer Prize-winning biology writer for the New York Times whose previous books include The Beauty of the Beastly and Natural Obsessions. The strengths of Woman begin with Angier's witty and evocative prose style, but its real contribution is the way it expands the definition of female "geography" beyond womb, breasts, and estrogen, down as far as the bimolecular substructure of DNA and up as high as the transcendent infrastructure of the human brain. --Patrizia DiLucchio

From Publishers Weekly

Did postmenopausal women invent the human race? Are males more similar to females than females are to males? These are among the many stimulating questions at the core of Angier's provocative "scientific fantasia of womanhood," a spirited and thoroughly informedAif admittedly biasedAstudy of how the body is "a map of meaning and freedom." Angier (The Beauty of the Beastly; Natural Obsessions) presents new theories on the evolution of women's anatomy, physiology and social behaviors. She points out, for example, that the X chromosome has a "vastly higher gene richness" than the Y, which by contrast is "a depauperized little stump," and she champions the argument of anthropologist Kristen Hawkes that the role of postmenopausal grandmothers, who could help younger females nurture their weaned but still dependent offspring, "invented youth.... And in inventing childhood, they invented the human race. They created Homo imperialis, a species that can go anywhere and exploit everything." With wit and verve, Angier discusses such topics as ovulation, conception and birth; the social and physiological functions of breasts; orgasm, mate selection and child-rearing behavior; the complex workings of estrogen; hysterectomy; muscle strength; and female aggression and bonding. Her wide-ranging celebration of the female body engages the intellect but, more importantly, also offers a rigorous challenge to male-oriented theories of biology. BOMC selection; author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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PUT A FEW ADULTS in a room with a sweet-tempered infant, and you may as well leave a tub of butter sitting out in the midday sun. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding science writing Feb. 7 2004
This book a wonderful combination of science, opinion, and well-honed wit - the wit and opinion being so much better for being so well based in fact. The writing is filled with first-person passion: not the grim, militant kind, but affection that can afford a good laugh at its subject. Best of all, Angier's affection for her topic (herself included) seems equally based on romanticism and research.
Being in a species with two sexes is interesting, but news from the other side is rarely balanced, complete, or even comprehensible. I value Angier's eloquence and clarity. I also value her ability to incorporate new information into her views, instead of shouting down whatever doesn't match some political manifesto.
The only fault I find in this book is that there is not more of it. The years since she wrote the book have added intriguing facts to the pile such as the genes in embryonic brains that express differently in male and female, long before hormonal effects take hold. Even when "Woman" was written, though, there was plenty of information about matrilineal mitochondria that she could have used - it would have enriched her discussion of genetics. Also, she omitted discussion of the relatively rare women who succeed in the hard sciences. Keeping with her tone, there would have been no need to compare them to the men in the field. They would have been interesting enough in their own right.
I am not a woman myself, just an admirer, companion, co-worker, and occasional visitor. I was very happy to see a writer who not only has such agreeable views, but brings such a wealth of knowledge to the discussion and brings herself, too. Brava!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Journalistic Examination of Woman-ness Feb. 11 2004
By Sarah_A
Even though I haven't actually read this book in a couple of years, I constantly refer to it and recommend it to any woman I know. Angier's holistic examination of all things female--from biology to mythology (and/or nasty rumors)--encourages both pride and amazement in the female body and psyche. If you're female, you definately *need* to read Angier's book, which should be required reading in high school.
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4.0 out of 5 stars I am WOMAN... Nov. 11 2003
I love this book. From the history of hysterectomy to the evolution of the breasts, this book covers at least a thousand things you (especially if you're a woman, too) really ought to know about biological womanhood. Even better than that, it's written by a (female) science writer who can really write, and while it does at times get difficult (well, it's a science book), having to reread a paragraph every once in a while won't kill you -- in fact, it'll help you understand yourself.
Better still, this is an empowering book. Natalie Angier is no 1960s feminist theorist; she's a thoroughly modern lady scientifically pointing out why the female body/mind is different, similar, complicated beyond our wildest dreams, ultimately beautiful and eminently worthy of praise.
Drawing on anthropology (my thing, so I loved that), biology, psychology, genetics, and a host of other fields, Ms. Angier introduces facts, fallacies, theories, hypotheses, and the data itself, and while she sometimes draws her own conclusions, a great deal is left for the reader to make up her (or his -- men can read this book too!) own mind. She includes a healthy dose of speculation, but -- and this is crucial -- she recognizes in the text that she is speculating, she points out the actual data, and again she leaves us to agree with her, modify her ideas, or not.
Bottom line: WOMAN is a treat and a half.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A book both women AND men should read Sept. 3 2003
Angier ties together, in a highly readable manner, the complexities of the human body very, very well all the while never loosing site of the whole.
I disagree with her on a few points. I don't think she sufficiently looked at human relationships as far as she could but, overall, this is minor.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome book Sept. 3 2003
By A Customer
Ms. Angier rocks. This book was great, I highly recommend it. It's heaven for those into science but also quite interesting for those who don't want something too technical or clinical. It's really just a lot of fun.
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1.0 out of 5 stars This is science writing? June 6 2003
Although the premise of this book is promising and there are a few interesting little facts any real value is obscured by Angier's tired attempts at stylistic wit, complete failure to appropriately cite scientific findings, and blatantly opinionated feminist rhetoric. I was looking forward to learning more about the science behind the mystery of the female body. Needless to say, I was very disappointed.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Anatomy with a twist! April 4 2003
This is a really interesting book written by a woman for women. I learned all kinds of things! Although it does get a little slow towards the middle, it is a good read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous Feb. 20 2003
One of my very favorite books. Love Angier's science writing in the New York Times and can't recommend this book enough. If high school biology had been this fun, we'd all be scientists. Angier deconstructs the myths, explains the truths, and does it all with beautiful writing and a racy kick. A woman or want to understand one better? Read it.
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