cover image Eve: How the Female Body Drove 200 Million Years of Human Evolution

Eve: How the Female Body Drove 200 Million Years of Human Evolution

Cat Bohannon. Knopf, $35 (624p) ISBN 978-0-385-35054-9

Cognition researcher Bohannon’s ambitious debut “traces the evolution of women’s bodies, from tits to toes.” She explains that milk production likely evolved around 205 million years ago from the “moistening mucus” that rodent-like pre-mammals coated their eggs with, and that the antecedent to human wombs first developed 65 million years ago in a “weasel-squirrel” whose legs lifted it high enough off the ground to accommodate carrying “a swollen uterus.” Comparisons with other species enlighten, as when Bohannon contends that because humans didn’t evolve to have “trapdoor” vaginas—such as those of mallards, who can redirect sperm from unwanted partners away from the ovaries—it’s likely “ancient hominins just weren’t all that rapey.” Bohannon offers a bracing corrective to male-centric evolutionary accounts, arguing that female hominins were likely on two legs before their male counterparts because they needed to provide more food for their offspring and so benefitted more from being able to carry large quantities of stuff in their arms, and she balances scientific rigor with entertaining prose (“The truth is we should have more vaginas,” she writes, explaining how the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs significantly depleted the planet’s marsupial population, most of which have between two and four vaginas). It’s an illuminating and fresh take on how human evolution unfolded. (Oct.)