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Sex and War: How Biology Explains Warfare and Terrorism and Offers a Path to a Safer World

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  182 Ratings  ·  36 Reviews
As news of war and terror dominates the headlines, scientist Malcolm Potts and veteran journalist Thomas Hayden take a step back to explain it all. In the spirit of Guns, Germs and Steel, Sex and War asks the basic questions: Why is war so fundamental to our species? And what can we do about it?

Malcolm Potts explores these questions from the frontlines, as a witness to war
Paperback, 464 pages
Published June 22nd 2010 by BenBella Books (first published November 10th 2008)
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A long and thoughtful book with the takeaway that giving women control over their reproductive choices will solve more world problems than pretty much anything else. Yes, that simple.

Other things I learned:
* War, terrorism and chimpanzee attacks are all basically the same thing and are called "team aggression against an outgroup"
* Believing your own BS is an evolved trait in males, the benefit being that it makes you a more convincing leader, and thus increased success in your team aggression ag
Feb 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in history, sociology, psychology, economics, and biology. It is the most complete explanation of warfare I've ever read.

The first few chapters seem like misandry but the authors make a convincing argument that men (not women) are biologically programmed to compete for resources such as land, food, and women. The examples of primitive aggression are violent, gross, and upsetting. The good news is that our world has become significantly l
Nov 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in science, history, gender, the military, and world peace
The big idea of this book is that human evolutionary biology helps explain why human beings - almost alone in the animal kingdom - organize groups that go out and intentionally kill other members of our species. But this doesn't mean we are condemned to fight each other endlessly; in fact there are a few major things we could do to stop global violence - such as giving people access to family planning all around the world.

The authors - one of whom is my husband, journalist Thomas Hayden - draw o
Alisi ☆ wants to read too many books ☆
Sex and War is about -- wait for it! wait for it! -- sex and war. In this book the authors attempts to prove that all our violent tendencies were inherited from way back yonder.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It was a fast and interesting and, as such, I feel rather bad at giving it three stars. I couldn't give it more because the research was just terrible. It's so utterly terrible that it makes the read of this book so fun. I kept thinking "what batshit crazy thing are they going to throw
From an interview with the author in Shambhala Sun on Facebook:

"Women will fight very bravely if they or their children are threatened, but we could not find a single example in the whole of human history where women have banded together spontaneously and systematically and deliberately gone out to kill other human beings."

How do reproductive rights play a role?

"We must have energetic efforts to support reproductive autonomy. When women can control their own fertility, family size begins to fall
Bruce Sanders
Mar 08, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a careful work in evolutionary psychology. It makes the case that same species outgroup team aggression by males is an inherent characteristic of Homo sapiens. It spends a lot of time comparing this phenomenon in humans with a similar phenomenon reported in chimpanzees. It also contrasts the human phenomenon with the much more pacific bonobo to make the case that there are things humans can do to mitigate this response. A major mitigating response to our tendency to go to war is to empow ...more
Jan 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition should also say "Thomas Hayden" wrote this - I did a fellowship with him last year. He's obviously at least partly responsible for this thoughtful read. It's interesting the link they propose between women and ending warfare - I won't spoil it for you, but I can think of another very different book I read about the roots of violence that failed to address women intelligently at all, so this was really refreshing. I've had some great discussions about this book's ideas with people who don't ...more
Tom Sulcer
Dec 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sex and War is an insightful look at male humans behaving badly in sex and war, particularly fun to read if you're a guy into history and war and sex. But I wouldn't characterize this book as groundbreaking, but rather as a helpful reminder of our evolutionary ancestry and an intelligent rehashing of some fairly widely accepted ideas. At times it overreaches, claiming to offer a solution to the problem of terrorism, and while it provides some helpful thinking as well as possibly helpful foreign ...more
Steven Peterson
Aug 09, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jeremy Adam
I read this for an essay on new books about violence. This one left me underwhelmed. The authors argue that violence is the result of male efforts to reproduce; women, of course, are empathic and peaceable.

Unfortunately, Potts and co-author Hayden seem not to have read some important books about violence (e.g., Dave Grossman's On Killing) or fully digested certain lines of research into male violence--as a result, they make some sweeping and debatable generalizations about the roots and persist
May 03, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
really great for a text-book type read. compares our behavior to chimps and relates them to youth budges, population, sex and, of course, war.
Sep 13, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the most insightful books I have read. There is an Aha moment on every page.
Aug 21, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yanick Punter
Misleading. There is barely any biology, most of the book is about the history of warfare. I was already familiar with most of what was said in the book. Otherwise it is however not a bad book, that's why I give it two stars instead of one star.
Kathy Miller
Written by two notable documentarians, Sex and War delves into the biological reasons men differ from women in regard to aggression and expressions regarding war. Excellent and revealing.
I highly recommend this text. Extremely interesting.
Jun 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
A really convincing look at the evolutionary aspects of warfare and how mankind developed as one of the only species on Earth that kills others of our own species, particularly how sex and biological stimuli play into it. The book seemed well researched, and makes a lot of sense. It looked at primate, particularly chimpanzee, society, as our nearest genetic relative, and also applied it's findings to humans from early hominids to modern day warfare. There was in depth analysis of the roles sex p ...more
Apr 24, 2010 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition [through Soumen:]

The more I came to know about the world, the more it got puzzling, especially the dark side of humanity. This book seems to offer a reasonable explanation for the cruel nature of homo sapiens. The conclusions of this book are nothing less than horrifying. What's more earth shattering than to learn that the mankind is wired to do the horrible things that we all wish would never happen.

I wonder if Indians have evolved to drop the 'war gene'
Anne-Marie Hodge
This is *not* just another banal evopsych book. There is the requisite section on comparative human-chimp psychology, of course, but the main message the authors seek to drive home is about the critical roles that resource management, family planning, and civil rights (ie women's empowerment, racial tolerance, reducing religious fundamentalism) play in keeping societies on the right side of the the war/peace line. The main author has worked as an obstetrician in tons of developing countries for ...more
Feb 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting and thought-provoking.

The authors are not neutral observers or pretending to be neutral observers. They have their viewpoints about the role of biology and culture in shaping human nature and our actions, and they try to persuade you of their reasoning.

I've been on a bit of a non-fiction kick lately and also recently read the "Genghis Khan: The Making of the Modern World" book. The author there seemed fascinated by war and warmongers. These authors approached the aspects of our war
Sharon Fox
Apr 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good read. On one hand the book breaks down many intricate social patterns, and brings to light quite a few of humanities fallibilities. On the other hand the book fails to incorporate many of the environmental and social aspects that impact the lives of humans.

Also, while other species of great apes may share common ancestry and a few qualities with humans; using completely separate species that have evolved in many different ways as a reference point for human nature is probably not the best
Dec 06, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
His thesis is pretty clear--that there is a profound biological basis for group violence on the part of young males in a troop or other in-group. The book is a little repetitive in making the point--about 40% of the words might have been enough! However, he makes a good case, and also makes two powerful suggestions--not original--for remediation. The first is population control--the more overstressed the world's resources are the harder it will be to curb this violence. The other, of course, is ...more
Lukas Lovas
Nov 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quite fascinating and eye-opening book. The topics and theories were very well explained and argued...sometimes a bit too exhaustively so for my taste. But, considering the global impact, I can understand how the author might have been seduced into FULL dislosure of every little aspect. I'd give it 5/5, if I didn't have to force myself to continue sometimes dispite how powerful and informative his words are.
All in all....a bit winded, but very important and world changing.
May 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating read on how biology shapes behavior relating war and the women's role in it. Typically not my kind of book (about war) but heard about the author at a nobel peace prize forum and heard about this book. I was able to meet Dr Potts and have him sign my book. He was a very interesting man and it was fun to read his book. As you expect, this isn't a page turner. I fell asleep reading it late at night a few times but it was really fascinating.
Sam Motes
Oct 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In this book the author argues that our primal instincts of violence, dominance, spirituality, and propensity to gather into in groups with hatred for all others leads killing of our own species and the drive for war. It is in our genes but the author points our how we can evolve beyond those base impulses to strive for peace.
Dec 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really didn't think I'd like the message of this book--that biology plays a more significant than many think, and innate violent tendencies are more prevalent in men. However, it's hard to argue with scientific and historical observation and evidence. This book provides an interesting outlook on why our world is the way it is and what we can do about it.
Molly McCarty
Jul 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely fascinating book; though it might be more accurately titled "Gender and War". Potts & Hayden cover the evolutionary biology of war and us/them behavior thoroughly and without bias. I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone who struggles to understand why there is violence in the world.
Jan 12, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting, although a bit dry, look at how gender influences everything from aggression, to tribal conflicts to war. It did get a bit annoying how the primary author kept "name-dropping" or inserting himself into the narratives ("While I was on a UN fact-finding mission..", or "During my time as a surgeon in war-torn (insert country of your choice)...", etc).
Jun 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting and a great listen. Well written and his argument flowed nicely throughout. Academic but definitely not dry. Included a fascinating chapter on the need for international family planning programs and the important role of women in keeping the world at peace.
Aug 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of those rare books that can really change how you view the world. This was my introduction to a number of subjects, mostly evolutionary psychology, and after finishing the book I came away with an interest in learning more.
As seen on Origins.

...An oversimplification? I've only heard summaries, so I won't know until I read the book.
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