Since becoming a first-time mum last summer, I’ve become painfully more aware of the sexually-based differences between myself and my husband as we navigate the new-to-us territory of parenthood. (How can men listen to a baby wail for so long without doing anything?! And why do I feel I traded my career for motherhood, while his career is taking off and he gets to be an awesome dad?!) Yet, no matter how baffling these differences feel to me, they are negligible compared to the ones explored in Odd Couples: Extraordinary Differences Between the Sexes in the Animal Kingdom (Princeton University Press, 2013).
Odd Couples is a refreshingly informative and passionate jaunt through the extreme differences found in the sexes of eight different animal species. Evolutionary biologist Daphne Fairbairn infuses her rigorously researched text with elegant and poised language, a pervasive sense of insatiable curiosity, first-hand experiential scenes and learned suppositions. The result is a feeling of listening, enthralled, to the best lecturer in far-and-away the best college biology course you ever experienced.
Fairbairn begins the book with a standard introduction revealing biographical information which exemplifies her expertise in evolutionary biology. She shares that the roots of her questions about sexual differences stretches back to her early-career field studies on wild deer mice. The main questions her book explores are “why sexual differences are such a pervasive and significant part of the fabric of animal variation and, in particular, why males and females have come to differ to truly extraordinary degrees in some animal lineages.” Continue reading