Natalie Angier,
Woman: An Intimate Geography
(Anchor, 2000)

The "geography" that Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer NatalieAngier refers to in the title of her book ranges from the southernmost clitoris and associated vulval landmarks to the high summits of the brain in her exploration of new theories of female anatomy, physiology, psychology, biology and various permutations of these topics across the life span. In gorgeous prose displaying high style and metaphor, wit and verve, Angier by turns is serious, angry, joyous and loving; at times didactic and hortatory; at other times confessional, the result being a book brimming in information.

Topics discussed in this "scientific fantasia of womanhood" include ovulation, conception and birth; the social and physiological function of breasts; orgasm, mate selection and child-rearing behaviour; the complex workings of estrogen; hysterectomy; muscle strength and female aggression; and bonding.

Particularly interesting are a chapter on love in which Angier observes that at least one hormone, oxytocin, may in part subserve the emotion; the interludes where the author speaks frankly of her own sexuality, pregnancy and childbirth; the passages about the war between mothers and daughters and about aggression as the other side of love; and the discourse on the importance of older women in early cultural/societal evolution.

Angier, by analyzing current scientific theories and providing her own interpretations of gender studies and evolutionary psychology, has produced a creative, thought-provoking book unlike any other. It is replete with original material that is utterly fascinating. Her wide-ranging celebration of the female body not only engages the intellect, it also more significantly, offers a rigorous challenge to male-oriented theories of biology. This treasure trove of knowledge, beautifully conveyed, as well as of questions that have yet to be answered, deserves to be widely read by men as well as by women.

[ by Amy Harlib ]

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