cover image Bitch: On the Female of the Species

Bitch: On the Female of the Species

Lucy Cooke. Basic, $30 (384p) ISBN 978-1-5416-7489-9

“The truth is that males and females are more alike than they are different,” writes journalist Cooke (The Truth About Animals) in this zippy survey on females of the animal kingdom and the scientists who study them. Cooke emphasizes how research on female animals was woefully inadequate until the past few decades, when scientists began to challenge the “standard paradigm” of female passivity and male agency. In vivid detail, Cooke highlights animals that defy stereotypes: there’s female spotted hyenas, who dominate males with their “masculinized body and behaviour”; the “matriarchal and peaceful” society of the bonobos, where females avoid conflict by trading food for sex; and orcas, who have seen menopausal matriarchs spend their post-reproductive years leading their pods. Cooke emphasizes the importance of female choice in evolution, and bite-size profiles of scientists appear throughout, including ones spotlighting Patricia Gowaty, who studied adulterous female songbirds, and Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, an anthropologist who’s spent her life “weeding out sexist dogma.” The author has a charmingly irreverent style that, among other things, pokes holes in the sexist scientific research of old that used cherry-picked data to conclude females weren’t worth studying. This hits the right balance between informative and entertaining; popular science fans will want to check it out. (June)