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Sex and War: How Biology Explains Warfare and Terrorism and Offers a Path to a Safer World Hardcover – Nov 10 2008

3.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 457 pages
  • Publisher: BenBella Books; First edition edition (Nov. 10 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933771577
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933771571
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 3.9 x 23.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 680 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #28,143 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"Potts and Hayden make an important contribution as they explore our evolutionary origins and make suggestions as to how human society might reduce warfare in the future."  —Jane Goodall, primatologist and environmental activist

"Will transform your outlook on war, peace, and what needs to be done to secure a safer world."  —Sean B. Carroll, author, Endless Forms Most Beautiful and The Making of the Fittest

"In this impressively comprehensive treatment, Potts and Hayden step as far back as possible from the human race to assess the root causes of social upheaval."  —Randy Olson, author and director, Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus

"Worth reading, and arguing about."  —The Toronto Star

About the Author

Malcolm Potts, MB, BChir, PhD, FRCOG, is the Bixby Professor at the University of California, Berkeley. A graduate of Cambridge University and trained as an obstetrician and research biologist, his profession has taken him all over the world. Potts led a medical team into Bangladesh immediately after the War of Liberation in 1972, and he has worked in many other war-torn places including Vietnam and Cambodia, Afghanistan, Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Liberia, and Angola. His most recent books are Queen Victoria’s Gene and Ever Since Adam and Eve: The Evolution of Human Sexuality.

Thomas Hayden is a freelance journalist who writes frequently about science, medicine, and culture. Formerly a staff writer at Newsweek and US News & World Report, his articles and reviews have appeared in more than 20 publications, including National Geographic, Nature, and The Washington Post. He is coauthor of On Call in Hell: A Doctor’s Iraq War Story, a 2007 national bestseller. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and fellow writer, Erika Check Hayden.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In my opinion Malcolm Potts & Tom Hayden's Sex and War is a must read. The authors have impeccable credentials as authors of this text, Potts as a physician who has worked in many troubles areas of the world and led the drive to give women freedom of reproductive choice many years ago, Hayden as an award winning science writer. The racy title does not fully show the content, which is a very serious look at the whole story of men (not women) and war. Of course women are mentioned at length (almost always as victims), but it is we men that create the problems, and the authors constantly refer back to chimpanzee aggression. This is a serious & disturbing book, but Potts & Hayden do offer glimmers of hope & solutions to prevent the slide into anarchy that we may be facing. The book opens with a chapter on the horrible aftermath of the Bangladesh secession, in which Potts was involved as a physician. He tells us that it may have been the greatest case of mass rape in history. Many other horror stories about war, its combatants and its victims are used to show very clearly how Homo sapiens is destroying its own species and with it, the planet we inhabit. They offer glimpses of hope and solution, but caution that such hope is ephemeral.
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Format: Hardcover
The authors of this books have completely discredited themselves and stained their professions by publishing this piece of fiction. The arrogance required to make sweeping generalization from ethological theories and limited personal experiences as well as the strategy to invoke authority of the scientific method while presenting nothing but speculations are nothing new, of course.

If you pride yourself in your analytical capacity, I encourage you to diligently research this subject matter and refuse to be treated like an idiot by these two irresponsible individuals. You can start by looking at the following texts available at amazon and your nearest library: and

You can also look for the Seville Statement on Violence adopted by UNESCO and produced by an international community of scientists. Here is the brief:

1. "It is scientifically incorrect to say that we have inherited a tendency to make war from our animal ancestors."
2. "It is scientifically incorrect to say that war or any other violent behaviour is genetically programmed into our human nature."
3. "It is scientifically incorrect to say that in the course of human evolution there has been a selection for aggressive behaviour more than for other kinds of behaviour."
4. "It is scientifically incorrect to say that humans have a 'violent brain'."
5. "It is scientifically incorrect to say that war is caused by 'instinct' or any single motivation."

Look at the 4 decades worth of research into human aggressive system, not chimpanzee's mind you, published by Dr. David Adams and available at his website.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars 34 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not exactly a new argument, but well done nonetheless Aug. 9 2009
By Steven Peterson - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The thesis of this book, co-authored by Malcolm Potts and Thomas Hayden, is summarized thus (Page 2): "This book is about war. It is about terror, and cruelty, and the biological origins and long, brutal, vicious, and destructive history of organized aggression. Perhaps most importantly, it is not just about the depths to which human beings can sink, but also how we came to be this way and what we can do about it."

In short, the book addresses the human nature of violence, why it came about, and what tools might be available to us to reduce the carnage coming from our evolutionary background. Up front, I will simply note that there is not much in this book that is new. Arguments such as this have been around for some time. What is positive about this book is that it is well written and accessible to wider audiences than some of the more academic works. As one example of "déjà vu," Potts and Hayden argue that having more women in positions of power would likely reduce state created warfare and violence. The argument follows from the arguments presented, but Glendon Schubert made a similar argument a decade and a half ago (I did not see Schubert's work mentioned, although I could have missed the relevant footnote--there are over 500, after all!).

The book provides a perspective based on reproductive success being the key to evolutionary change and the understanding of what behaviors any species deploys. Among humans, team aggression (groups of males working together) and reproductive success are linked to make intergroup violence a default option for humans. The book notes the analogy with intergroup violence among Pan troglodytes (the chimpanzee), humankind's closest relatives in nature, further suggesting an evolutionary background to this behavior.

The chapter titles summarize key points made: "We band of brothers" (human males "bond" with one another in warfare and cooperate to protect one another), "Terrorists," "Women and war," "Raids into battles," "War and the state," "War and technology," "War and the law," "Evil," "The Future of war," "Women and peace," and "Stoner age behaviors in the twenty-first century."

The last chapter explores what might be done to reduce the extent of human violence and warfare. On page 368, some suggestions are summarized in a table. Among these: increase the number of women in parliaments and legislatures, empower women (including preventing unwanted pregnancies), ensure universal science education, encourage knowledge of history and evolution, maintain a free media, and don't supply potential enemies with weapons. Would some combination of these actually work? That's a good question. I am not so optimistic, but the listing (and the discussion of these in the final chapter) at least gets readers to reflecting on the subject. If that leads to broader discussion--whatever the reader thinks of the book's arguments--then it has made a contribution.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Goose Bumps Aug. 2 2009
By Gabriel Orgrease - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If one truly feels alive in their most dangerous exposure to war, to armed conflict, to death and the risk of their own sudden death, to dealing out death in the killing of others then how can people who never experience war ever feel themselves to be alive?

This is a question that I have become obsessive to understand, and it is a very strong reason for my fascination in reading books about war, and in many respects this book has provided me with the most insight of any that I have read.

"If you want peace, understand war." - Basil Liddell Hart [found on page 367]

I strongly believe that an answer to my question, above, would provide a clue to how humans can figure a way to manage to survive on this planet. I say manage to survive as in even to address the question of how we humans can find a way to survive in our environment on a closed planet system. So much of war, as is brought home over and over in this book is about resources as a means to survival, and about the connection of human sexuality to the flow, and control of resources. And with this book we come to a better understanding of just how closely tied sexual politics is to the maintenance of peace.

But human aggression is not solely limited to war, it is as simply manifested as relationship of husband to wife (or wives, depending on the culture), and of husbands to bands of husbands, or that boys will be boys, in troops, gangs, gaggles even as they appear to mimic the aggressive and organized nature of chimpanzees. One needs to accept a general awareness of evolutionary theory in order to relate with the underlying thesis of this book, which in short is that, our male aggressive behaviors, in war and in sex, were developed through the natural selection of the surviving specimens. The man animal that has been able to kill more, enslave more, destroy more, capture rape and pillage more has also been in general the one who has been able to have the most sexual relations, and the most surviving offspring. It may not be always the case, but enough so that the next Jr. that comes along that kills off their siblings and the siblings of as many around them as they can possibly manage will, obviously, feel alive both with the sword and in the saddle.

I read somewhere that playing with money, as occurs in lower Manhattan that commerce built not on physical labor but on outwitting the opposition through the manipulation of numbers creates not only Masters of the Universe, but sexual dynamos who take their aggressive hunger for the thrill of the hunt out in the bedroom. That can all be bullmonkey -- but I would be curious to read a study by Potts of the relationship of Sex and Commerce, or to learn that politics is sex by other means.

As I have read in other reviews, the book does wander though I find things such as a footnote that says that it has been reported that an American manning a rocket silo once demonstrated that with a piece of string and a spoon he could override the carefully designed system requiring two men to initiate firing a missile - well, this just makes me feel all tingly and goose bumpy all over... and we are even told elsewhere where goose bumps come from.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sex and War: How Biology Explains Warfare and Terrorism May 10 2009
By Patrick McHugh - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If there was a 10-star rating, I would give this book all of them. I will try not to go too far over the top, but this is a great book. If you ever seriously wanted to do your part in making our world a more peaceful place to live, then you need to read this book. The authors (I am guessing they assumed their thesis would be attacked on multiple fronts) loaded the book with more than enough examples and historical events to defend any intellectual argument against their thesis. In all sincerity, I wish every politician in the United States would be required to read this book. If Congress embraced the reality of our species' evolutionary development, I believe they would begin making a series of decisions that would lead to a more peaceful world.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sex and War Offers Sage Advice For Planetary Survival Dec 28 2008
By Donald A. Collins - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
From: Donald A. Collins

Book Review: Sex and War: How Biology Explains Warfare and Terrorism and Offers a Path to a Safer World" by Malcolm Potts and Thomas Hayden (Benbella Books,
Dallas, TX 2008)

TEXT: With endorsements high profile people such as Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and world's leading expert on our nearest to human primate, the chimpanzee, one can fully expect to find this book scientifically credible. It is a highly readable must read.

Sex and War will no doubt excite attention from all among the human species who still can read and think. Since that is quite a small minority, my fear is that its urgent and insightful theme will enjoy even among that sliver only an Andy Warholian 15 minutes of fame. Better not!

You may not be surprised to be told that the authors show with solid empirical proof that it is primarily male humans who bring us war, but perhaps you are unaware or unmindful of the driving force of male war making tendencies since the dawn of human history, the sex drive.

British born and Cambridge educated, Dr. Potts, now Bixby Professor at UC Berkeley, an obstetrician and research biologist has pursued his humanitarian work worldwide, including helping women in Bangladesh after the War of Liberation in 1972, then in countless other climes torn by conflicts. I met Malcolm in the 1960's when he was the first Medical Director of International Planned Parenthood Federation in London and since have served on several boards and done many travels with him. His co-author, Hayden, a freelance journalist, who is no relation to the Vietnam War Berkeley firebrand, Tom Hayden, also co-authored a 2007 book "On Call in Hell: A Doctor's Iraq War Story" with Cdr Rick Jadick, whose experience in ministering to wounded there brought high accolades from readers.

Rather ironically Hayden's book truly may have helped spark his participation in Sex and War, for while tales of heroism and selfless bravery in battle are the historical standards for all such stories, "Sex and War" reminds us of our biological evolution. After all, for much of human history the most successful and dominant males went to war, took the spoils and raped women in asserting that dominance. You know, Genghis Khan, etc.

One can see why Goodall could be so enthusiastic about this book, since Sex and War shows how close to chimpanzee behavior humans are. Bands of young males raid rival territories, finding the fittest females in classic Darwinian behavior, and thus benefitting the next generations.

The step up description from chimps to humans allows the authors to cite similar behavior found in tribal wars, among inner city street gangs, and then in full warfare, whose aftermath Potts personally helped deal with in Bangladesh when helping war-raped women. Terrorists in our day obviously are imbued with stories of heroic male behavior, which is more powerful than the reported financial inducements. A comparatively benign manifestation of aggressive male behavior can be observed at NFL football games both on the field and in the stands.

Potts' understanding of the urgency of dealing with our now overpopulated planet leads to explanations of how that crowding leads to wars, again entered into often with enthusiasm by young males, motivated by patriotism, excitement over battle, or even escape from dull underemployment or unemployment. The authors then most logically point to one way of cutting terrorism and the risk of wars (of which we now see so many going on around the world) and "a path to a safer world" among nations we now can see are "failed" or getting close to failing is by lowering birth rates through planned parenting, birth control, and, yes, abortion. The authors clearly show that rarely in history have women been combatants.

Understand that Potts' wife, Martha Campbell, who co-authored significant chapters, like her husband brings extensive scholarship and worldwide travel to bear on illuminating a modern woman's view. While such views remain still far from full acceptance in many cultures, including our own, the book's strong recommendation for more women's education as a major contributor to better family planning availability and fewer unplanned pregnancies surely is de rigueur among anyone doing strategic thinking about solving our pressing global problems.

The deep biological nature of human evolution will not be altered easily. The world remains dominated by male leaders who all too often feel so bloody good about solutions than seem to require bloodletting. One could point to our Iraq invasion and countless prior sorties into battle which could have been avoided by less testosterone dominated negotiations.

Perhaps as the number of nations armed with nuclear weapons grows, as it surely will, major powers may be more globally fixated on planetary survival by means proposed by the authors. But then again, perhaps not. And of course people who purport to bring us absolute security have in history often lead us to absolute tyranny.

Potts had co-authored with world renowned anthropologist, Roger Short, a ground breaking earlier book, "Ever since Adam and Eve: The Evolution of Human Sexuality' in 1999 which I reviewed for Amazon, writing "that the main evolutionary drive for humans and mammals generally has been and is SEX, for the key to our existence is the need to produce the BEST next generation. For many this book will prove an epiphany of understanding, a creation of more reverence for life, but one not based on the mythology of religion, but on the clear facts of science." Now in the nuclear age, where planetary destruction looms in multiple forms both nuclear and environmental we best find a new modus vivendi one which will provide a workable form of making love, but without war.

About the author: Collins is a free lance writer living in Washington, DC. His views are his own.
55 of 59 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Kudos for Women, Guys...Take a Break Jan. 9 2009
By Smith's Rock - Published on
Format: Hardcover
What's this book about? Let's let co-author Malcom Potts, double doctorate (MD, PhD) obstetrician and research biologist, pose the theme in his own words: "Why do we humans, remarkably social animals with extremely large brains, spend so much energy on one thing---deliberately and systematically killing other members of our own species?" Accessing information from a very broad (if at times disorganized) variety of sources, co-authors Potts, Hayden, and Campbell lay out a scaffolding to address this theme, a scaffolding composed of biological, anthropological, archaeological, and sociological elements.

Laced with potent examples of human on human aggression, (e.g. Maori warriors that first pierce the feet of their women captives so that they can't run away, rape them, then post-coitally murder them), Sex and War is a serious, often engaging, frequently horrifying examination of why the human race is the uncontested champ of same-species killing in the vertebrate world. Linking information drawn from historical, demographic, gender study, and evolutionary biology sources, Potts, Hayden, and Campbell provide a plausible hypothesis for the behavior of Nature's most dangerous gender and animal: the male Homo sapiens.

Sound like sociobiology? You betcha, in fact the father of sociobiology, E.O. Wilson, is frequently referenced, as is Wilson's concept of consilience (a unity of knowledge). If you subscribe to sociobiology, you'll find yourself nodding assent, and uttering an "Aha!" with regularity. If you think that human behavior cannot be at least partially explained by our biological and evolutionary roots, this book will most certainly make you think again.

Do men take a beating in this book? Q. How many of the several hundred gang murders in Los Angeles each year are attributed to women? A. Usually, none. Q. How many historical incidences can be found of women banding together on genocidal missions to burn down villages, and kill every man, woman and child in that village? A. None Q. How many pillage and burn revolutionary armies have been composed of and led by women? A. Well, one gets the picture. Are women part of the solution? Absolutely, say the authors. Family planning, education and economic advancement of women are factors almost invariably accompanied by a decrease in armed conflict. High birth rates, economic oppression of women, poverty: the dark horse of war is saddled and ready to ride.

There is an old Star Trek episode in which the starship Enterprise is captured by a conglomeration of superior beings. The crew of the Enterprise stands proxy for the human race, and is put on trial to see if humans should be allowed to continue to develop, or should be wiped out of the galaxy for being dangerous vermin. Much of War and Sex could be cited by the prosecuting attorney in such a trial, yet Potts, Hayden, and Campbell speak up: "Not so fast." A nine point plan entitled "How to Make Peace Break Out" is included, each of the points being based on research rather than pious yearnings or maudlin hope.

The authors are not under any illusions that Sex and War will launch an urgent and immediate campaign to eliminate warfare. As Solzhenitsyn said "If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?" As a male human primate, genus and species Homo sapiens, laying down aggression as a means of obtaining my perceived needs would indeed be destroying a piece of my heart. And yet, after reading this book, and absorbing the daily news from Iraq, Darfur, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Somalia, I think "Yes, Mr. Solzhenitsyn, I'm willing to destroy a piece of my own heart."