Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Odd Couples: Extraordinary Differences Between the Sexes in the Animal Kingdom, by Daphne J. Fairbairn

Odd Couples
Extraordinary Differences Between the Sexes in the Animal Kingdom
Author: Daphne J. Fairbairn
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: April 28, 2013

I think the problem with this book is that it is a scientific paper trying to be a commercial book with wide mainstream appeal. As a result, it's neither. The author acknowledges that she tried to reach a broader audience by limiting the scientific jargon--which resulted in over a hundred pages of notes, appendices, glossaries and charts in the back of the book--but she doesn't seem to understand what she could have added to the book to give it more lay appeal. There are almost no photos or illustrations in the book see update below (but lots of charts! charts everywhere!), and the ones that are included are mostly line drawings of sea creatures (I think I saw an octopus penis but, honestly, I'm not even sure). Where are the photos?As a lay person, I was disappointed.

It's not that I couldn't follow along with the science of the book. My first year as an undergraduate was spent as a biology major. So I have some background. Some, but not a lot (as you may have guessed, I switched majors pretty early on). But the thing is, am I the target audience? I felt like anyone with less knowledge of biology would be lost (I was straining at times) and anyone with more (like a biologist) would find the book too "dumbed down." As for me, I was a little bored. I really wanted the glossy pictures of the male and female elephant seals or some high-res shots of those "female tubeworms with harems of minuscule males" I was so excited about.

Just know what you're getting into. I'm not saying the book is terrible. But it is NOT a coffee table book, if that's what you're hoping for. 

*UPDATE: I was contacted by the author who assured me that the finished book does, in fact, contain full colour photos. She even sent me a few to look at. It really does make a big difference. It's always hard to know which things will be different in the final copy of a book, compared to the advanced digital galley, but I really wish the galley had better indicated what the photo spread would be like. I do, however, stand by my initial assessment of the tone of the book. But photos help a lot.

**UPDATE UPDATE: The author had her publisher send me a finished print copy of the book. While that was very nice of her, it didn't make that big a difference. There are fewer pictures than I thought there'd be (STILL!) and they're mostly of the walruses. Meh. I'm thinking it'll be a future giveaway or else I'll donate it to my library.

Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from the publisher from NetGalley. I was not obliged to write a favourable review, or even any review at all. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.


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