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Sex on the Brain
: The Biological Differences Between Men and Women, Penguin, July 1, 1998

Go beyond the headlines and the hype and explore the burgeoning field of gender studies. Drawing on disciplines that include evolutionary science, anthropology, animal behavior, neuroscience, psychology, and endocrinology, Deborah Blum explores matters ranging from the link between immunology and sex to male/female gossip styles. The results are intriguing, startling, and often very amusing. The Los Angeles Times has called Sex on the Brain "superbly crafted science writing, graced by unusual compassion, wit, and intelligence, that forms an important addition to the literature of gender studies."


Blum is a superb science reporter who presents just the right amount of complexity, tries to explain findings rather than just report them, and writes in a consistently clear and pleasant style. Sex on the Brain is such a good window on the state of the art that its only flaws are the flaws of the researchers themselves.


If the differences between men's and women's brains are uninterpretable, and if differences in their talents and mating behaviors are uncertain, then how about hormonal differences? Men's and women's brains both have receptors for testosterone, but beyond signaling a fetus to develop a male body, no one knows what testosterone does in the brain…Testosterone lowers people's immune functions, makes them edgy and aggressive. One of the estrogens stimulates people's immune systems and makes them smarter. And so on, far into the night. I get tired writing about this. I didn't get tired reading about it, though. Blum manages the tricky art of good science reporting: she has a friendly, conversational tone that is relaxing without being chirpy, she writes clearly and accessibly, and the science is all there. Her narrative carries the reader through this still-maturing subject's lack of coherence.

The New York Times Book Review

An extraordinary roller coast ride over the bumpy intellectual territory – endocrinology, neurology, genetics, anthropology, sociology – between sociobiology and psychiatry.

The New York Observer

Sex on the Brain is a highly readable and fair survey of an explosive field. Place it on the book shelf beside Myths of Gender: Biological Theories about Women and Men by Anne Fausto-Sterling, the feminist biologist who argues that gender differences are culture, "Male and female babies may be born. But those gender-loaded individuals we call men and women are produced." Both women want basically the same political outcome: an equality of opportunity for both sexes. Fausto-Sterling presents her goal as a question, "Do we care that the poorest segment of our population is comprised of women and children?" I am reassured that two women with such divergent beliefs can agree, 'we care'.

Read more about the book:

Scientist’s Nightstand, American Scientist