Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation: The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex - Olivia Judson
This curious book with the provocative title (not to mention cover photo) is one that seems to have a propensity for being misfiled. I first read about it in one of the librarian magazines and thought it sounded interesting. Shortly afterwards, I came across it at Waldenbooks, shelved in the Relationships/Sex section. When I decided to check it out at the library, I discovered that here, also, it had been cataloged as a book on sex advice. Here's the summary in the library's system (to be fair, written by our cataloger who is originally from Russia and doesn't always get American humor):

A guide to non-traditional sexual expression, presented as answers to written letters, draws on the author's expertise in evolutionary biology and considers such topics as bestiality, sex changes, virgin births, and male pregnancy.
Oh, my! What this summary doesn't tell you is that, in fact, this book is really about sex in all different species (mostly non-human), as seen by a biologist. "Dr. Tatiana" is a purported sex advice columnist, who receives letters from just about every creature imaginable (from spotted hyenas to slime molds). Her answers include copious examples of the sex lives of other organisms that compare and contrast with her anxious readers.

Although the book is peppered with factoids about all sorts of things, what I found interesting was the amount of speculation that's also included. I haven't read too many biology books lately, but Judson often makes statements that she admits are theoretical and haven't been conclusively proven yet. In every case, she uses the lens of evolutionary biology: why would this practice or feature benefit a creature's chances of surviving and reproducing? To be sure, the facts that have been given more definitive study are certainly fascinating—who knew that certain types of slugs have sex while dangling on a long string of mucus? (Well, Doug probably knew.) Who knew that true slime molds have over five thousand different sexes? These are the sorts of interesting little tidbits that Judson has filled her book with, and regardless of your stance on evolution, it makes for entertaining reading and shows the vast diversity all around us.

The back of the book has a hefty section devoted to notes on each chapter, listing the common and Latin names of the creatures mentioned, along with a long bibliography and references for all the examples she cites. (I skipped most of this myself, but since most of her examples are very brief, anyone curious about a particular creature's sex habits could easily look up Judson's sources for a more detailed report.) One thing I found lacking: pictures. What's a biology book, after all, without pictures and diagrams? It's a little like listening to the movie "Microcosmos" without getting to see it.

Bottom line: if you grew up reading "Ranger Rick" like I did, you'd get a kick out of this book.

Fed to jonathan's brain | March 04, 2003