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Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People

3.99  ·  Rating Details ·  453 Ratings  ·  59 Reviews
In this innovative celebration of diversity and affirmation of individuality in animals and humans, Joan Roughgarden challenges accepted wisdom about gender identity and sexual orientation. A distinguished evolutionary biologist, Roughgarden takes on the medical establishment, the Bible, social science—and even Darwin himself. She leads the reader through a fascinating dis ...more
Paperback, 474 pages
Published April 1st 2009 by University of California Press (first published January 1st 2004)
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This is an entertaining, educating, and fairly persuasive book. Roughgarden is very deliberately writing this book primarily to make an argument, and secondarily to educate. This is sometimes a slightly infelicitous mix; she uses general, rather than scientific vocabulary, most of the time, sometimes to the detriment of the argument she is making.

Roughgarden is an evolutionary biologist, and some of the arguments she is making are are far more relevant to the field than to the layperson, so I ma
Prithvi Shams
Feb 05, 2014 Prithvi Shams rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book seemed a bit unpalatable at first as I was not used to seeing gender and sexuality as something that defies rigid categorization. The merit of this book lies in convincing the reader that gender is not necessarily affixed to sex, that gender need not be a binary phenomenon. Transgendered, intersexed, bisexual and homosexual people are not "diseased" merely because they're different from the heterosexual norm; these people are just different colours on the rainbow of gender and sexualit ...more
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
I mostly read/flipped through this in a systematic fashion, hunting for information on specific topics (hermaphrodism and sexed/gendered division of reproductive labor). The rest of this though ... argh. Keep your politics out of my science please? (Even though in general I likely agree with the author's basic perspective.) And stop stretching things and inaccurately applying your paradigms to make points, even if they're points I agree with?
Aug 15, 2012 Nathan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very fascinating read all around - the first third has a lot of technical information, which I actually appreciate, even if I don't completely understand what is being said about the effects of chromosomes and genes and their interaction, or if I have a hard time digesting statistical data. This aspect of the book might turn off a layperson, but it is balanced out with well-written anecdotal explanations.

The book is split into three parts - the first describes and illustrates diversity in natu
Sep 16, 2014 Becca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Louisa! You must read this book!
Recommended to Becca by: Henry
I had some extreme ambivalence about this book. Ultimately, it is an extremely ambitious book with a broad scope, aiming to be one of the major pieces of gender and sex literature for several groups, including biologists, educators, trans, intersex/people with differences in sexual development and genderqueer individuals, queer groups debating whether to include trans issues, politicians and doctors. So the fact that it was a little weak on some of these fronts was to be expected and cannot be s ...more
May 16, 2013 Danika rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is more engaging for what it could be than what it is. It skims wonderful ideas, but tries to take on too much, encompassing gender and sexuality in culture, zoology, and human biology. This is an impossible task for one book, considering that more than a dozen books have been written about Two Spirited people, for example, which is just one cultural take on gender. I found the author slightly unreliable, especially when it came to the cultural aspects of gender.

That being said, I thi
Feb 19, 2012 Rachel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology-brain
I LOVED the first two-thirds of the book. The author made a wealth of scientific information not only readable but fascinating. Her arguments for modifying evolutionary theory are convincing. As she points out, theories are affected by cultural assumptions. Looking at biology and animal behavior through a lens of cooperation for mutual benefit, rather than one of domination and trickery, gives rise to many interesting possibilities, some of which seem to be a better fit with reality. I also love ...more
Jul 24, 2007 Roxanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very ambitious, yet readable, work. Roughgarden takes on the binary in sex, gender and sexuality. She takes to task Darwin's sexual selection theory, evolutionary biologists, social scientists, psychologists and physicians.

She spends a lot of time at the beginning laying out dozens of examples of non-binary social and sexual arrangements in nature. This could get tedious, but I suggest sticking it out as best you can; she makes a convincing argument for reworking the sexual selection t
Aug 21, 2014 Danny rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Roughgarden is incredibly biased, and she admits as much from the get-go. Nonetheless, there were many moments during this book that her clear sense of bias made me question the validity of the claims she was making. Some chapters in particular seemed to be included so that she could share her opinions on a given topic that didn't necessarily feel as if it contributed to her overall arguments.

This book is dense and she covers a lot of ground. It's a good read, but be sure to get a degree in biol
Nathan Cottrell
Oct 04, 2010 Nathan Cottrell rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is not science. While it's good to see that someone is trying to dispel myths about human sexuality and encourage acceptance of all people, to make the claim that this is science is beyond understanding.

The author claims that she has "disproved" Darwinian Sexual Selection, but this is not the case at all.

Does anyone really believe that one "gender" of bullfrog is an immature non-mating male and another "gender" of bullfrog is the same male as an adult???? Ridiculous. This isn't shifting gen
Feb 03, 2016 Daniella rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Didn't actually have time to finish reading it. The science still isn't there, but she raises incredibly good questions and had a very good analysis. My professor might not like her, but I think she raises important questions that need to be investigated.the second portion delves more into sociology and such which was interesting, but not my focus was on the evolutionary biology portion. The cell developmental bio was odd. I like how she was very open about her motivations and unafraid of being ...more
Mar 15, 2008 Karli rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Humanists cannot continue to theorize gender and sexuality without a nod to science. Joan Roughgarden provides the fuel for the feminist fire in breaking down the sex/gender binary and paving the way for a spectrum of gender and sexual expression across the species in the animal kingdom, and yes, that includes humans!
If you have not read this book you are missing out on a vital debate

I have found very few non-fiction books that are so readily gripping. Not only is Roughgarden addressing a fundamental issue that affects us and all creatures, but she is presenting an extremely important argument against one of the founding principals of our societies. A pleasure to read, a pleasure to pause and muse on what was just read and a pleasure to resume.

This book is organized in an incredibly efficient way, the way
Jan 01, 2017 Kara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015-challenge
Didn't finish. Made it about halfway through, but really liked what I did read!
Amirhossein Alesheikh
It was not a book that I agreed with all the way, but the parts I agreed with, was from my opinion more than awesome. And It is a book in need of attention more than it has right now. I strongly suggest this book to any and all scholars out there.
I shall reread this book in the future.
Mar 10, 2008 lynnvariety rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: if you are seeking talking points to astound the uninformed and annihalate the transphobic
Recommended to lynnvariety by: "Bust" magazine
Fascinating scientific writing about gender in nature that is accessible to laypeople. Turns out, there's several well-documented species out there with genders beyond male and female. What's more, it seems that sexual practices amongst several species include more than just a coupling of male and female for the purpose of procreation.

The first chapters of this book permanently changed the way I think about gender. Reading that nature provides so much variety in gender expression, anatomy, and s
Stanford researcher and biology theorist Joan Roughgarden boldly challenges the core tenets of evolutionary biology, dispelling generalizations about intraspecies interactions for sexual reproduction. She persuasively heaps evidence against assumption after misguided assumption, building her case ultimately to question the key tenet of evolutionary biology: competition drives change over long periods of time. Rather, Roughgarden argues that cooperation - whether between organelles of a cell, bet ...more
The Black Cat Researcher
Joan documents that seemingly abberant sexuality in the animal/human kingdom is fairly common and serves a purpose of social-sexual cohesion. She(a transwoman herself) argues a case for 'social selection' to account for the obvious aberrations that academia/Darwin's sexual selection theory ignore or inanely interprets in black/white gender binary views. There is an article entitled, 'We, Like Sheep', in part I, Chapter 8(Same-Sex Sexuality) about a functioning society of gay rams that live separ ...more
Jun 24, 2013 Jordany rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is great, immediately after finishing it I thought "So it's not that penguins have recently been discovered to participate in homosexual relations, but that scientists have become less heterosexist!" I mean even transgender fish are being discriminated/erased! Well actually its more that scientists view nature through a heterosexist (read:patriarchal) framework (thanks darwin!) so fish (and other animals) doing things that don't relate to re productivity (or complicate it) are seen as ...more
May 29, 2008 Kaliseviltwin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in gender issues and/or biological evolution
Recommended to Kaliseviltwin by: Dr. Carrington
If you want to know more about the sex and gender issues of birds and fish than you even thought possible, this is the book for you.

I was skeptical after the first chapter of this book about whether the author's presentation of data would be objective. Although the author clearly has an agenda, which she never tries to hide, the assertions in the book are backed by science and reason.

The concepts in the book firmly reside in biological evolution. It is mercifully devoid of the new trend of anal
Jan 16, 2010 Ryan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As I read this book, I found myself rooting in favor of her campaign to explain and embrace the diversity of gender and sexuality found throughout the natural world. I also commend her crusade to combat heterosexism and bigotry; nevertheless, I still find myself remaining skeptical of her claims against sexual selection. As one reviewer said, "Perhaps what Darwinian theory needs is not a radical revision but rather a simple expansion to take sexual diversity more seriously."

The book also seemed
All in all a very informative book. Compared to what it covers albeit very short of course.
Many of the information regarding the different genders in many species is very interesting.
However, I don't agree with everything and especially her definition of what defines a genetic disease is a bit naive in my eyes and only applicable under the conditions of natural selection. In animal breeding many breeders could claim that all those degenerations are adaptive and bind the animals closer to them,
Joshua Black
May 25, 2016 Joshua Black rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book is 1 part cool biological things and 2 parts biological justification for queerness. Queerness needs no justification, so it seems of the book is useless to me.

The author took a fascinating subject and turned it into her soapbox to justify her "transgender-ness." Every other sentence justifies why it's ok to be non-human-normatively gendered. I DON'T CARE ABOUT YOUR GENDER or the fucking social acceptability of it!!!!!

I just wanted to read about cool nature shit.

This book is probabl
Jan 12, 2011 Francesca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've read this only once & I intend to go back, but I remember feeling super pumped that someone (at stodgy-ass Stanford, no less!) was researching sexual diversity and publishing their work for a common audience. I was taking a lot of forensic anthropology classes at the time & was reading so much shitty stuff about evolution and sexual selection that seemed biased and wrong, so I ended up doing a short paper on this book in response.

It's been a long time, but I distinctly remember disa
Dec 14, 2014 Nathan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
this book has three main sections, the first concerning non-human animals, the second concerning human biology, the third concerning human culture.

the first section was awesome, as was much of the third, and I liked the 2nd for the most part, but it contained a rant seemingly out of nowhere against genetic engineering. there was some overt christianity in parts of the book that was somewhat cloying but could have been worse, I guess.

in sum: important criticism of heteronormativity in the science
Tobias Trapp
Aug 05, 2012 Tobias Trapp rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Do you know what the definition of "sex" is? Do you know that there are species with multiple male and female sexes? The book introduces the diversity of nature by describing social and mating behavior concisely. Moreover it proves the Darwinan and contemporary gender theories wrong that believe that "male" and "female" are universal templates, "handsome warrior get discerning damsel" or economical believe "sperm=cheap egg=expensive". Nature is much more complex and biology is only beginning to ...more
Part One "Animal Rainbows" was my favorite part of this book because I learned more about this planet's diversity, which is always fascinating. I think "Animal Rainbows" was also where the author's passion and authority as a biologist really shone through. Part Two "Human Rainbows" was interesting, but lacked some of the intensity of "Animal Rainbows." The examples of cultural diversity in Part Three "Cultural Rainbows" made the final section worth reading. Overall, this was a good book, but not ...more
Thought-provoking, and I will certainly use it as a guide as I think about my future research projects and collaborations. However, the book would have benefitted from a good round of editing. Many long passages, sentences that could have been worded better. The two halves of this book also deal with rather disparate topics, and might have benefited from being split into two books or better integration.
Aug 10, 2007 Angela rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an intriguing book for people with various interests. It offers a controversial assessment of evolutionary theory, an interesting look at the diversity of approaches to sex and roles played by sex in the animal kingdom, and grounds to reevaluate assumptions about what's "natural" with regards to human gender and sexuality.

It's an easy book to get through, you'll have fun reading it, and it will provide you with lots of little cocktail-party-worthy facts along the way.
Jun 09, 2013 Toni rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gender
great explanation of "diversity,gender and sexuality in nature and people". however, its a big book and very detailed in its explanations. Its not a book to sit down and read until you finish it, needs to be devoured chapter by chapter.
Despite these nitpicks, I amazed at the depth and width of its coverage and I gained a huge insight into subjects about which I have sought scholarly information and answers over a long period of time.
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American ecologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Hawaii and Stanford University. She is well known for her theoretical and field work in community ecology and her critical studies on Charles Darwin's theory of sexual selection.

She is the author of 8 non-fiction books, over 180 scientific articles & the upcoming SciFi novel Ram-2050 a futuristic retelling of the Hindu epic Ram
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“Evolution's Rainbow
Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People
Joan Roughgarden
“an interesting situation has occurred in the Dominican Republic, where enough intersexed people lived in several villages to have produced a special social category, the guevedoche.” 0 likes
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