Woman: An Intimate Geography
Natalie Angier
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Woman: An Intimate Geography
Natalie Angier
512 pages
August 2014
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Woman is a scientific exploration with a rowdy edge, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Natalie Angier, who clearly enjoys a good fight. The fight in this case is with the medical and political and just about every other establishments that have, she asserts, always used the male body as the model for, well, man, mankind, and all the rest of us.

Fifteen years ago, the first edition of Woman hit the stands. Some of the pronouncements it contained have been trampled over by the march of science, perhaps primary among them being the presumed efficacy of Hormone Replacement Therapy, now discredited as a menopausal palliative because its use increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and breast cancer. Angier, a highly articulate scientific skeptic who chooses her words carefully, agrees. This edition is both corrected and expanded to accommodate new science and new ideas she has been chomping on in the meantime.

As well, most of the original work is here intact, and as readable now as ever. The author takes us on a cell's eye view of female anatomy that could leave even an informed feminist blushing, laughing, and begging for more: "the clitoris was never just a clitoris"; "the uterus is a sandwich"; "if breasts could talk, they would probably tell jokes--every lightbulb joke in the book." Angier is a myth-busting Ms. who dispenses with menopause altogether in favor of the ideal of the Grandmother, an essential member of the pack. She reminds us that just because men are physically bigger and stronger doesn't mean that a woman should give up and let her partner win, or that a man should yield to his violence when he's feeling grumpy. Despite man's wish to consort with loose women but marry a virgin, she informs us that plenty of wfemales on the planet are acceptably promiscuous: the Bari women of South America routinely take multiple lovers while pregnant, and among the Ache of Paraguay, the man who inseminates a woman is only one of three groups of men who will be considered a father to the baby.

Angier really takes the bit in her teeth when rushing at such issues as the X and Y chromosome debate; pointing out that the X, or female, chromosome is about six times as large as the male Y, she quips, "Gentlemen, I'm afraid it's true--size does make a difference." On the willingness of women to capitulate in the battle between the sexes, as when tennis star Steffi Graf declared of the inequality between men's and women's winnings, "We make enough," or when singer Bjork complained that feminists "whine about things not being equal," Angier sagely warns her feisty fellow fe-mammals, "We have to be on sentry duty, for if our attention lapses, wham, there's the local Taliban, kicking us to the ground and throwing a black chador over our heads."

Ladies, girls, anyone who identifies as female--Woman is your kind of book.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Barbara Bamberger Scott, 2014

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