A popularizer's polemic against evolutionary psychology vis-a-vis the doctrine and institution of monogamy. The book is well-humored, and the prose reads well.
The broad strokes of the argument are difficult to dispute, and I wouldn't want to dispute them. Monogamy earned this ass-kicking--and it is an ass-kicking, a true shellacking, considering the data marshalled in support, as well as the motion-for-summary-judgment style of pointing out a lack of support for the opponent's essential allegations. Those who support the proposition that monogamy is mandated by "human nature" are revealed to be conclusively philistine--the only determination for us to make is whether the philistinism is willful theatre or involuntary imposition. As Kuhn might describe them, they deploy a different paradigm on this question, and likely recognize these arguments and evidence only as nonesense and errors; the only remedy is that they die out as time goes on, taking their bad ideas with them.
Many good historical anecdotes (the anti-masturbation campaign, say, or the sale by physicians of orgasm therapy to "hysterical" women). Lotsa good up-yours moments to the rightwing. And plenty of fists in the face of evopsych overreachers, who deserve every beating they get. It was especially pleasant to see Pinker exposed as intellectually dishonest.
All that said, the second and third sections, refuting neo-hobbesianism in general, seems like an unnecessary excursus. Not ontologically unnecssary (quite the contrary), and interesting on its own merits--but unnecessary to the argument of this volume.
At times the argument veers into gender essentialism; at other times there's a bit of ultra vires crypto-mccarthyism (marxism apparently did get something wrong about "human nature" after all, despite the critique otherwise presented of evopsych's sophomoric economics 101 assumptions); and at still others, toward the end, the tone shifts to relationship advice, which might've been necessary to sell the volume to certain audiences--but the desires of those audiences detract from the text.
I could've also used more detailed and thorough review of the relevant scientific literature--this is my main complaint. The text is polemical, sure--but, as a layperson on this matter, I do require a bit of handholding. Yeah, I know, quit being lazy and read the literature yourself. I get it. But it'd be nice for a popularizing volume to fill that role, so that I can carry on without cluttering my brains with the technicalities of the sciences. The text therefore could've been twice the length, and i'd've loved it.
Those complaints made, it's difficult not to see the insights in this volume arise from the marriages to which I have been associated. My own conception of jealousy, for instance, is that it is a property ideology applied to persons, particularly to the right of exclusive sexual access. It's a nasty thing, and remains residual as affect despite being abolished in intellect by critique. The text confirms this conception to the extent that jealousy and its antecedent property forms are not dominant throughout the long prehistory of human sexuality. If I were to give marxist sexual relationship advice, it'd be simple: your sexual relationships are not property relationships, you reactionary fuckers
. Once that basic principle of progressive humanitarianism is understood, the necessity of tolerance for and encouragement of non-monogamous praxis by one's spouse becomes a proposition of universal rights and basic decency. Understanding it may be difficult, sure--and abolishing it in intellect still leaves the affective residue--one will disagree with oneself, knowing the wrongness of jealousy even while feeling it--but the sting goes away before long, unless you're a teenager or not very worldly, I suppose.
Recommended for masturbators, disinfatuated married persons, evopsych epigones, and people who think that they own their spouses.