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

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  630 ratings  ·  74 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
Hardcover, 474 pages
Published May 17th 2004 by University of California Press (first published January 1st 2004)
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Alok Vaid-Menon
Ecologist and evolutionary biologist Joan Roughgarden (who happens to be a trans woman) challenges Darwin’s theory of sexual selection by exposing how human-centric conceptions like heteronormativity and the sex binary have caused scientists to misapprehend both gender and genetic diversity across species. In doing show, she presents a powerful and refreshing approach to biology which understands science as a profound argument for the power and dynamism of natural diversity.

Biology has incorrec
Sep 21, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Dec 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
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?
Mar 31, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
The book gave no explanation about reasons and mechanisms. It was just a loooong handbook of examples.
Aug 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 nat
Jan 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 13, 2012 rated it liked it
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 th
Jul 24, 2007 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
May 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Caitlin H
Apr 17, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: queer, science
I really was hoping to Like this book, with a capital L. And while there's a lot of legitimately interesting things to learn in here, there were things that, ultimately, made me side-eye the author, as well as feel flat-out angry.

I found the first part, detailing gender & sexual variance in animals, the most interesting. I'm not a biologist, but there i did feel Roughgarden made valuable points for throwing out theories based on animals supposedly deceiving each other. It makes sense to me that
Progressive discourse about gender online has become so bold and ubiquitous that it's easy to assume we've come to some kind of consensus about what it is and where it comes from. But if take all of the standard talking points and try to put them together into something coherent, it quickly becomes apparent that they're either misunderstood (gender is a social construct) or simply a repudiation of old concepts (sex is a spectrum, trans, nb, and intersex people are valid, gender can't be assigned ...more
Aug 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a very rigorous scientific book that's definitely a step above in complexity compared to most "pop sci" books. Nonetheless, she does give enough background that a non-biologist could make sense of things (probably with some extra Internet searches).

The main argument here really rams home that animals (and people) WITHIN one species can be drastically different. We then no longer think of "the rule" and some weirdo mutant "exceptions" but start really appreciating the full range of variat
Oct 09, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Dec 23, 2011 rated it liked it
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 rated it did not like it
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 rated it it was amazing
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 13, 2017 rated it liked it
The author did a lot of research, which allows the reader to learn a lot about diversity of gender expression and sexuality in animals and humans. I especially enjoyed learning more about the animal world. I didn't enjoy how opinionated and biased the delivery is throughout the book. I would have appreciated it if the author indicated what her opinion is, but left room for the reader to maker their own conclusions. I think this book might have had a stronger impact among a broader audience if it ...more
Jan 16, 2008 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!
Sep 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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.
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
Rach Wigg
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
I sort of cannot believe this book was written in 2004. Like any innovative book, this was a bit of a mixed bag for me, but overall I would recommend it to folks interested in gender and sexuality. As an ecologist, I found part 1 extremely thoughtful and persuasive. As a scientist, I was more skeptical of some of the arguments in part 2, and I found some of her claims around GMOs to be tenuous. I was especially bothered by the comparisons between GMO foods and genetic modification in humans (tho ...more
Good book for everyone who's ever heard the "but that's just not NATURAL" argument and excellent reference for sci-fi writers who want to do something more creative than the same heteronormative humanoid tropes for their sentient alien species. Unfortunately for me though, I'm not the type who enjoys reading reference books from cover to cover. Which isn't to say the writing style is like a dictionary or even a text book -- it's fairly accessible writing (I'm actually a little uncomfortable with ...more
Aug 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a very interesting and informative read. I only struggled with the section talking about gene make-up specifics. This is definitely worth a read. Understand what you are reading, however. READ THE INTRODUCTION. It is not meant to be a textbook, the author flat out states this is more her personal research and experience. She also states that she is trying to reach a varied type of audience.
Other reviews point this out, but it is stated right at the beginning.

If you want a relatively e
Aug 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
It’s hard to know what to say about this book because my reactions were pretty much as follows: “Really?” “Really!” “REALLY.” “Really?!” It’s 16 years old now, which is a very long time as far as society’s own evolution on gender and sexual diversity. Some parts of the book still feel revolutionary to me (alternatives to Darwin’s theory of sexual selection), some felt boring, some dubious, and some dated. There’s just a lot here to digest and I really want to find some newer books too.
Radiolab asked listeners for their sex ed recommendations.

Eric, a Radiolab listener, says this book "helped me to understand just how common diversity truly is. We are living in a world that is dominated by a particular conservative bias, that continually shapes and represses those that do not fall in line with that paradigm. This book, has to me, become a beacon of logic, reason, and hope for a less hostile future."
Maggie Tokuda-Hall
May 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
The first half of this book is AMAZING, and everyone should read it.

The second half is somewhat less interesting.
Eric Jackson
Nov 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book should be used in AP Biology classes and college classes. It should not be an audiobook. The reader is great, but the detailed science just doesn’t make for good storytelling.
Apr 02, 2007 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
Apr 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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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 Ramayan

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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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