You won't find reviews of Hike Your Own Hike or The Hidden Europe here (that's a lie: there's one review for The Hidden Europe). Instead, this section is for my review other books, although I may occasionally review a movie or even a gadget.

I've put my best reviews here, but if it's not enough, then you'll find hundreds of reviews on Amazon.
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Cover of Winter in the Wilderness A Field Guide to Primitive Survival Skills by Dave Hall, Jon Ulrich

I reviewed Dave Hall's excellent book, Winter in the Wilderness. I got a chance to have an exclusive interview with the author and ask him 8 questions. His answers are extremely useful for anyone who is interested in winter survival.

1. What's been the most uncomfortable/life-threatening situation you've ever survived in the winter? How did you do it?

Two events come to mind. In both instances, I didn’t feel that my life or the lives of anyone in our group were in imminent danger, but circumstances could have changed and easily become life-threatening.

The first happened when I was in college and leading a group into the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. We stayed in the Adirondack Loj campground under what I would call severe conditions, with temperatures hovering at 30 degrees below zero. Our plan was to summit Algonquin Peak the next day. With the wind chill, temperatures dropped to about 50 below during our hike.

We decided to tackle Wright Peak instead, with only four or five of us summiting while the rest of our party stayed below treeline. Our gear served us well, but it was evident that this was a potentially disastrous situation. On the way down, on the lee of a boulder, I removed my mittens to make an adjustment and the ache and pain in my hands was instantaneous.

The second situation occurred when my colleague, Tim Drake, and I led a group of students from the College of Environmental Science and Forestry on a winter overnight into the Labrador Hollow Unique Area. During this particular expedition, we faced a situation that until that point I had often thought about but never experienced. Conditions at the outset of our journey were ideal but soon took a harrowing turn. It began to rain, then sleet, then snow. This presented one of the most deadly winter survival situations into which I had ever been cast. Everything—and I mean everything—was wet. By nightfall, most of the students had finished their shelters, but it was

It began to rain, then sleet, then snow. This presented one of the most deadly winter survival situations into which I had ever been cast. Everything—and I mean everything—was wet. By nightfall, most of the students had finished their shelters, but it was fire that saved our asses. This is a skill that must be mastered, and it is situations like these that speak to its importance.

2. What's been your biggest winter survival error? What did you learn from it?

In truth, I have encountered few, if any, errors. I have certainly been uncomfortable at points throughout the years, but I have never exceeded my limitations—and it’s important to know what those limitations are. I try to stay dry and push myself to improve and expand on my skill set. I have always gone into winter situations prepared and with deliberate intentions. Even when I embark on a short cross-country skiing trip into the woods near my home, I bring along a knife and a lighter.

3. What's the biggest myth that people have about winter survival? (That it's freezing in a snow cave?)

Phone unlocking review

In late 2016, I bought a Samsung Galaxy S7 phone on eBay from Nathan Gundlach, who claimed that it was unlocked. After buying it, he begged me to give him positive feedback on eBay before I got the phone. He claimed it's because PayPal won't release the money I sent him until either I give feedback or 3 days have passed. He wanted to buy more phones with the cash I sent him.  He added, "Even if you don't like the phone, you can still bring up a case against me if you need to."

I trusted that the phone would be good and that he would work with me to fix it if it wasn't.

When my American friend brought the phone to Madagascar, I put my working SIM card (I know it was working since my Samsung Galaxy S6 was using it) into the S7. Result?

A Troublesome Inheritance book cover by Nicholas Wade

It's expected that a book about genetics and race will elicit extreme reactions. Just look at all the passionate 1-star reviews on A Troublesome Inheritance. I enjoyed reading them because they make good points. Nicolas Wade's book has flaws, which I'll tackle first.

Race may be a troublesome inheritance, but better to explore and understand its bearing on human nature and history than to pretend for reasons of political convenience that it has no evolutionary basis.

7 Problems with A Troublesome Inheritance

1. I was unconvinced by his arguments that genes played much of a role in helping the UK lead the Industrial Revolution. Had the Industrial Revolution and general global leadership happened in China, I suspect he would have written, "It was obvious that the Industrial Revolution would occur in China because East Asians evolved to have the highest IQ among all the races. It's Chinese genes, which favor high IQ, that ultimately resulted in their race/culture being the winning/dominant one on the planet."

2. I would have preferred he spend less time talking about Francis Fukuyama's analysis of the rise and fall of empires and spend more time on the latest genetic research on racial differences.

3. In the conclusion, he wimps out and gives in to the politically correct orthodoxy which he claims to defy.

For example, after spending much of the book explaining how the West (and to some extent China) have produced superior/stronger civilizations than other races/societies, then he backtracks. He says, "There is no assertion of superiority." (Loc 3761 on Kindle). And later, "All human races are variations on a common theme. There is no basis from an evolutionary perspective for declaring any one variation superior to any other."

4. Despite being written in 2014, he never uses the word "epigenetics" in the book. This fast-moving field is critical to understanding how quickly evolution can move. It would vastly support his argument (or at least give it another dimension). However, it fails to enter his radar.

5. He becomes annoying by how often he repeats this phrase: "New analyses of the human genome establish that human evolution has been recent, copious and regional." He bangs that drum at least four times.

6. East Asian are intellectual superstars, but then why was South Korea and Taiwan equal to Ghana 60 years ago?

Why are some countries rich and others persistently poor? Capital and information flow fairly freely, so what is it that prevents poor countries from taking out a loan, copying every Scandinavian institution, and becoming as rich and peaceful as Denmark? Africa has absorbed billions of dollars in aid over the past half century and yet, until a recent spurt of growth, its standard of living has stagnated for decades. South Korea and Taiwan, on the other hand, almost as poor at the start of the period, have enjoyed an economic resurgence.

Wade will say that genes are a factor, but then why were East Asians so far behind back in 1960?

7. Wrong fact. He writes: "The homicide rate in the United States, Europe, China and Japan is less than 2 per 100,000 people, whereas in most African countries south of the Sahara, it exceeds 10 per 100,000, a difference that does not prove but surely allows room for a genetic contribution to greater violence in the less developed world." 

First, the US homicide rate is twice as high as he claims, according to the UN. 
Second, he's focusing on Africa, whereas he ought to be focused on Latin America, which has the highest homicide rate.
Third, the way to prove that genes play a role isn't to do a simple analysis like he's doing. What they need to do is to take South Americans (and Africans) out of their countries and place them in rich, peaceful countries (like Northern European ones). If, after a couple of generations, the desendents of those non-Europeans are still more violent than the mean, then you have an argument that genes play a role. 

Cover of Are Racists Crazy?

Everyone loves books with provocative questions as their titles. Are Racists Crazy? strikes that nerve. Now that's even better than the title of another book that I read recently: What if There Were No Whites in South Africa?

Unfortunately, Are Racists Crazy? How Prejudice, Racism, and Antisemitism Became Markers of Insanity reminds me of What if there were no whites in South Africa? It doesn't leave you with a definitive answer.

Perhaps that's my fault. I come in with expectations of having a simple YES/NO conclusion, when clearly the question is nuanced and complex, which explains why you need a book to answer it.

I, like Levison Wood, love to walk. I’ve hiked 25,000 kilometers the last 20 years. My longest trek was when I walked 9,000 km (5,600 miles) from Mexico to Canada and back on the rocky, mountainous, and snowy Continental Divide Trail

In comparison, Lev Wood planned to follow the Nile downstream for its complete length of 6,800 km (4,250 miles), which is 25% shorter than the route I took and having far less elevation gain than walking the spine of America’s Rocky Mountains. 

He would take 9 months, while I hiked my round-trip in 7 months.

I make this comparison not to argue that my trip was “harder” or that my wood is longer that Wood's wood. My trip was simply different than Wood’s. 

The reason I make this comparison is so that you can understand my perspective when I read Walking The Nile—I’m not your average armchair travelogue reader—I have a good idea what it takes to do what he did. And it’s precisely for that reason that I both admire Lev Wood and criticize him. There are six positive traits about Walking The Nile and seven negative ones.

Climate Change book cover

I've written some unorthodox views about climate change before, including my debate with a T-Rex and my suggestions on how to solve climate change. This sparked some climate change debate on my forum.

Given my interest in climate change, Oxford University Press sent me an advanced copy of Climate Change and the Health of Nations: Famines, Fevers, and the Fate of Populations by the late Anthony McMichael. In 2014, McMichael, an Australian public health researcher, died at the age of 72. His two co-authors helped complete his work, which will be published in 2017.

What's the point of the book?

The point of Climate Change and the Health of Nations is to follow the advice of historian Geoffrey Parker, who encouraged us to take the road less traveled: "We have two ways to anticipate the impact of a future catastrophic climate change . . . Either we 'fast-forward' the tape of history and predict what might happen on the basis of current trends; or we 'rewind the tape' and learn from what happened during global catastrophes in the past. Although many experts have tried the former, few have systematically attempted the latter." 

In short, McMichael does what mutual fund managers always tells us not to do: to use past performance to predict future results.

Here are some of the questions that he answers (among many):

  • Did climate change 23,000 years ago hasten the demise of the Neanderthals?
  • How did the prolonged drying of the Sahara 5,500 years ago affect food yields?
  • Did humans in southern Mesopotamia 4,000 years ago suffer due to climate change?

As you would expect, there's plenty of doom and gloom in this book. McMichael reports that "the rate of heating would be about 30 times faster than when Earth emerged from the most recent ice age, between 17,000 and 12,000 years ago." However, there are snippets of refreshing observations. 

The climate has changed rapidly even when SUVs didn't exist

One of the biggest myths about our present-day climate change is that it's the first time in the history of the planet that the climate has changed as fast as it's changing now. The American Institute of Physics proves that's false.

Even McMichael recognizes this when he admits: "While the drying of the Sahara from around 6,000 years ago occurred in unhurried fashion over several centuries, regional changes in climate in the Dead Sea region in the early millennia of the Holocene led to desertification within decades."

It's moments like this that we know that McMichael doesn't have a one-sided argument. Still, he reports, "The last time the planet's temperature rose by 4 degrees was 56 million years ago, but that change occurred over thousands of years, not over a single century."

He's relatively balanced. At times, he's simply brilliant.

Chibok Girls book cover by HabilaIn 2016, Nigeria's Chibok girls have continued to dominate the news from Nigeria. In October 2016, Boko Haram released 21 girls. The NY Times reported that another 83 girls may get released soon. The NYC newspaper also says that 100 girls (of the original 270 who were abducted) may never want to return home because either they are brainwashed or ashamed to face their communities now that they are "damaged goods."

On December 5, 2016, Chibok Girls: The Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria by Helon Habila will be released. The publisher sent me an advanced copy to review.

The book is dated even before it hits the stands, since it does not capture the latest news of the release of 21 girls nor the possible 83 who may also return home. Still, it's a good 130-page overview of the situation so far. 

Habila gambles by going into the lion's den. He travels to Chibok and the surrounding area to pick up first-hand knowledge of the state of affairs. For that reason, I recommend the book. 

What is disappointing is the book's length. At 130 pages, it's doesn't go that much deeper than what you can gleen from reading internet articles for a couple of hours. I've been following the situation and I didn't learn much. But for someone who knows little, this is an excellent summary. Moreover, because it's a personal account, it can be riviting at times. Its anecdotes are telling. Like this one:

In Northeast Nigeria, there are signs telling drivers that it is illegal to give bribes at checkpoints, with a phone number to call if a soldier solicited for bribe. This was the face of the new government in 2015, elected with promise to wipe out corruption and Boko Haram. Abbas told me he had tried the numbers and they didn't work.

It's such a classic African story. I have several of mine own like that.

Habila is reasonable most of the time, but I strongly disagree with Habila when he writes:

"I used to wonder why the facilities at our airports and in almost all public buildings in Nigeria or always broken and sub-standard, until I realized it was not accidental. It is a way of controlling the masses. The masses must never be allowed to think they deserve standard service."

This is a terrible and silly argument. It's unproductive victimhood. The reason airports and public buildings are a disaster in most of Africa is that its leaders are incompentent and Africans just don't care that much about it. 

Imagine you're the head of some African state and that you want to control the masses. What would be more effective: 

a) Have pathetic buildings, screwed up roads, and crumbling airports?

b) Have infrastructure like Switzerland?

Cover of The New Black Middle Class in South AfricaBooks about South Africa are sometimes racially biased. The New Black Middle Class in South Africa is not. The author, Professor Roger Southall, writes a level-headed, dispassionate analysis of the emergent middle class in South Africa.

After spending half a year all over South Africa and having picked up over 100 hitchhikers (98% were black), I learned a lot about the racial tensions in South Africa. I saw strong parallels with the USA. Although I was born in 1970, I imagine that South Africa is where the USA was in the first 10 years after aparteid (1965-1975). 

Today, even though blacks hold the political power in democratic South Africa (because just 8% of the voters are white), many still blame much of their misfortunes on whites. For instance, their dismal literacy rates of 100 years ago are often faulted on the colonial period. 

Southall traces the rise of the black middle class and the force of literacy. In 1911, South Africa's first census concluded that 6.8 percent of its blacks were literate. Before we're quick to blame the white colonists for this low figure, let's remember that prior to the arrivals of the whites, no sub-Saharan society (except Ethiopia) had ever invented writing.

Throughout the 20th century, schools became more common throughout Africa. Today, 94% of South Africans are literate. This has helped fuel the rise of the middle class.

South Africa's literacy rate is much higher than other sub-Saharan countries that had far less intense colonization than South Africa. The average youth literacy rate in the sub-Sahara is just 71%. For young women in sub-Saharan Africa, the rate remains dismally low at 65%.

According to the 2016 UIS estimates, the literacy rate for young men and women is a mere 16% in Niger and below 30% in Afghanistan, Guinea, Mali, and South Sudan (only Afganistan is not in the sub-Sahara). If colonialism is to blame, then why is South Africa (having been far more colonized than those other countries) doing so much better on the education front? 

In 1970, 2.7 million black children were in [South African] schools. By 1988, it was 7 million; a third of university students were black.

Today, blacks are the majority of students and the majority of the university administrators. They run the show. Still, given the ongoing 2016 university protests, the students are more dissatisfied than ever.

It's getting harder for South African students to blame the whites for their frustration, but some still do. For example, one student placed a piece of shit on the head of the statue of Cecil Rhodes. Eventually, after much protests, they removed the statue. Now everything is so much better. 

Esoteric Empathy book

Esoteric Empathy bookI've tried mushrooms twice in my life. Once was in Amsterdam. It produced a 4-hour laughing attack. It was great fun! Everything was hilarious!

The second time was at Burning Man. I expected a repeat of my Amsterdam experience, but instead was treated to a 4-hour trip of extreme empathy. It was bizarre and deeply revealing.

We all like to think of ourselves as pretty good people. I certainly always pretended to give a shit about my fellow human. However, it wasn't until I took those mushrooms at Burning Man that I realized just how much more empathic I can be. I realized that I am far more disconnected that I was willing to admit to myself.

That's why when I was offered an advanced copy of Esoteric Empathy: A Magickal & Metaphysical Guide to Emotional Sensitivity by Raven Digitalis, I was interested in digging deeper in this important subject.

The book will be released to the public on December 8, 2016, which happens to be the 36-year anniversary of the death of an extremely emphatic man: John Lennon. The book's release probably is also meant to encourage people to gift a book about empathy to someone for the holidays. So should you buy it for yourself or someone else this Christmas?

What turned me off may turn you on

Raven Digitalis is a new age author. Just listen to some of his previous book titles: Shadow Magick Compendium, Planetary Spells & Rituals, and Goth Craft. Yeah, you can see where he's coming from.

More evidence: Digitalis is a Neopagan Priest and cofounder of an “Eastern Hellenistic” nonprofit multicultural Temple called Opus Aima Obscuræ. Yikes! On his website, he claims that he is "trained in Eastern philosophies and Georgian Witchcraft, Raven has been an earth-based practitioner since 1999, a Priest since 2003, a Freemason since 2012, and an empath all of his life. He holds a degree in anthropology from the University of Montana and is also a professional Tarot reader, DJ, small-scale farmer and animal rights advocate." 

As a humanist, I am unimpressed with these credentials, but you might find Raven's background attractive. If so, then you may get turned on by this excerpt (while I was turned off):

Make your own magickal gemstone elixir spray by purchasing a small glass spray bottle. On a full moon, put a small piece of black tourmaline in the bottle and add a splash of Witch hazel to entirely submerge the stone. Allow this to sit outside overnight where it will be sure to soak up moonlight and sunlight. Next, add a few drops of your favorite calming essential oil, such as lavender to ease the mind, sage to purify the space, ylang-ylang to calm anxiety, or patchouli for grounding (and for our inner hippies).

Such passages make my eyes roll. However, you may find it extremely useful (especially if you are unfamiliar with the placebo effect).

Esoteric Empathy sometimes goes off onto tangents that are unrelated (or very loosely related) to empathy. For example, it explains about how you should recycle or about many gods and deities that you can believe in.

What I liked

Esoteric Empathy has a section that discusses how mind-altering drugs can have a positive impact. Given my experience, I found this section interesting.

Moreover, Esoteric Empathy offers various exercises for you to improve your empathy. Some were a bit too mystical for my tastes, but a few are worth trying. 

Finally, there are a few good quotations, like this one:

A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself--and especially to feel, or not feel. Whatever you happen to be feeling at any moment is fine with them. That's what real love amounts to: letting a person be what he really is. - Jim Morisson, lead singer of The Doors

Who should buy Esoteric Empathy?

I found all the spiritual hocus-pocus to be too distracting. I'm clearly the wrong audience. If such new age concepts appeal to you, then you ought to sample the book on Amazon before you buy it.

Digitalis generously and selflessly endorses many other books in Esoteric Empathy. Although you shouldn't judge a book by its title, I did when he recommended The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life's Most Essential SkillThat book seems more what I was hoping for: a practical guide on how to increase your empathy.

Verdict: Esoteric Empathy gets 5 out 10 stars.




Out of Eden book coverDavid Barash's Out of Eden examines the prevalence of polygamy in humans (it's more common than you think) and other species. First, he has to define the terms. Have you ever heard of the first term of the three below?

  • Polygyny: When a man has more than one wife.
  • Polyandry: When a woman has more than one husband.
  • Polygamy: When a human has more than one spouse. Because polyandry is extremely rare, polygamy is usually synonymous with polygyny.

 Right from the beginning, he recognizes that this is a touchy subject.

The biological reality is that we were "made for monogamy," despite the preferences of straight-laced (and often hypocritical) preachers, and not for free-spirited sexual adventurism either, despite the fervent desire of those seeking to justify a chosen "swinging" lifestyle.

Barash has company in the scientific community when he states that humans have polygamous tendencies. Primatologist Alan Dixson, who wrote a book about primate mating systems and concluded, "It is likely that Homo sapiens evolved from a primarily polygynous nonhuman primate precursor, and that the earliest members of the genus Homo were to some degree polygynous."

The esteemed Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson also agreed that humans were "moderately polygynous."

At the start of the book, Barash insists that he's not trying to promote any particular way of life. He's all about the science, not the morals. Still, at the very end of the book, he can't help himself and does inject a bit of his morality. He says that while biologically we have a tendency toward polygamy, that doesn't making it right. Barash (rightfully) criticizes those who value anything that is "natural." Sometimes natural things are bad. Some natural plants are poisonous; we have "natural" tendencies to kill each other.

Out of Eden points to various smoking guns that testify to our polygamous nature:

  1. Lopsided male vs. female violence ratio: Men commit 10 times more violent crime than women. It's a classic sign of polygamy in the animal kingdom. Male-on-male violence is at least 20 times more common than female-on-female violence. Such patterns hold throughout recorded history.
  2. Female sexual maturity is earlier than men. "In all polygynous species, females become sexually and socially mature at a younger age than do males.
  3. Native American tribes: "Nearly all the Indian tribes of North and South America are polygamous. 
  4. Nearly all societies punish female infidelity more. "The patriarchal 'double standard' is pretty much a cross-cultural universal. Once again, this is because female infidelity raises the possibility of a man rearing another's children, whereas its male counterpart--for all the problems it may cause to the relationship--doesn't necessitate a comparable cost of cuckoldry."

Barash bashes the politically correct crowd that argues that girls and boys would be identical if it weren't for social conditioning and pressure. "It is downright dreary to have the same basic, male chauvinist distinctions between men and women, boys and girls, confirmed in study after study, starting in very young childhood, but there's no way around it."

Out of Eden observes: "Another cross-cultural universal: although both girls and boys typically undergo initiation rituals, these rites of passage are consistently more severe for the sperm-makers." 

Speaking of violence, men are far more likely to carry the SRY gene. So what? 

[The SRY gene] dooms its carriers to shorter lifespans, greater probability of death due to "accidents," as well as increased risk of being not only violent but also the victim of violence. The impact of this gene is such that substantially more than one-half of people who have run afoul of the law and are currently incarcerated carry it.

Some think polygynous male lions are terrible when they take over a pride since they kill the young males. However, even God in the Holy Bible instructs his followers to do the same: "Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man lying with him. But all the young girls who have not known man lying with him, keep alive for yourselves." (Numbers 31:17-18)

God wasn't just for polygamy, He's also a polygamous Himself! In Ezekiel 23, God is said to have two women (Samaria and Jerusalem). They are cities, but it's a symbol of bigamy. "In addition," Out of Eden notes, "There are scores of patriarchs in the Old Testament who were polygamous." Yes, even Abraham, Esau, and Gideon had more than one wife. King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:1-3).

Koranic law limits Muslims to four wives while the West African King of Ashanti had to be content with no more than 3,333 wives. Tough life.

Pan-African polygamous traits

One Pan-African trait that I've noticed isn't just that polygamy exists in every African country, but that men must always pay a bride price.

Not only that, but they typically have the right to return their purchase if it proves unacceptable; for example, if the bride isn't a virgin, doesn't conceive children, etc. A careful review of more than 200 different societies concluded that almost universally, husbands and their families show particular concern about the fertility of wives, with '"barrenness" being a predictable grievance.

Out of Eden argues that in polygamous societies, men fight to obtain the most resources possible. The more they have, the more wives they have, because wives are attracted to men with resources. The more wives they have, the more children they have. But what about African societies that are resource poor?

Kalahari Bushmen, who inhabit a stringently resource-limited environment and are primarily monogamous as a result(in such circumstances it is difficult for a man to accumulate substantially more of anything than his fellows), 5% of the men nonethless manage to have two wives. In this and other cases, male success is less influenced by aggressiveness or violence than by ability to obtain resources which, in turn, are appealing to women: e.g., being a proficient hunter. Insuch cases, the proximate lure may well be the prospect of regular, nourishing meals, while the ultimate payoff is likely to be reproductive.

The doggone Dogons

Anthropologist Beverly Strassman has done for the Dogon people something they haven’t done for themselves: document their male-female relations. Dogon society is all about the man. It’s patriarchal (men hold the social, economic, and political power). It’s patrilocal (the wives must move into the man’s house, which is a common Pan-African trait). It’s patrilineal (sons inherit everything; the daughters get nothing).

During menstruation, the Dogon must move to a special hut, where she’s closely monitored. Dogons circumcise their women in an effort to decrease their sexual pleasure and appetite, and thereby increase the likelihood of fidelity.

What’s the reward for Dogon women who make all these sacrifices? Crappy husbands.

David Barash notes in Out of Eden that Dogon men “aren’t very dutiful fathers, spending most of their time and energy in the mating effort. They seek to enhance and maintain their social status, and with it, opportunities for more wives and thus, more children to be ignored. And so, child mortality is terribly high, with nearly one-half dying before reaching five years of age. Moreover, a Dogon child living in a polygamous family is seven to eleven times more likely to die early than if she or he is born to a monogamously mated woman. This appears due to the crucial reality that with monogamy, a woman’s success is also her husband’s, and ditto for losses. Polygamous males, on the other hand, are evolutionarily rewarded for emphasizing quantity over quality: a ‘father’ with three wives, each of whom suffers about a 50% probability of losing her child, still ends up with 1.5 children on average, compared to a monogamously mated man, who even assuming zero mortality among his offspring, ends up with only 1.0.”

Like most polygynous societies, co-wives have a hierarchy. “Nearly always, the senior wife is more powerful and thus better served by polygyny than the younger, subsequent wives. It is therefore possible that at least some harem-dwelling women aren’t necessarily worse off as the reigning male acquires additional mates.”

After having talked with hundreds of female Africans, they’d disagree. They would say that they become worse off even if they are the first wife. That’s because polygyny is largely a zero-sum game: the pie is basically fixed, so any additional wives simply make each slice smaller. Yes, a new wife can help contribute to babysitting and other domestic chores, but what matters is what the husband brings home. And it’s unlikely that he will be able to bring much more if he acquires another wife. He’ll still have the same job. It’s unlikely that he’ll get promoted just because he got a second or fourth wife. Even in the old days, it was unlikely that the man would catch more meat if he got another wife.

Out of Eden points out another impact of Malian polygamy: “It isn’t clear precisely why the children of Dogon co-wives suffer such high mortality, although it is widely claimed—among Dogon women themselves—that they are often poisoned by other co-wives.”

Polygamy in Sierra Leone

“Among the Mende people of Sierra Leone, for example, monogamously married women produced more children than did polygynous co-wives, on average. However, within these polygynous mateships, the most senior wives not only had greater reproductive success than their junior compatriots, but more than monogamously mated women. Since there is a dominance hierarchy among females, it may only be the ‘junior wives’ who suffer, and who might do better if they were monogamously mated,” writes David Barash in Out of Eden.

He continues, “Out of a sample of 246 married men among the Temne people of Sierra Leone, 133 were polygynist, who were more ‘fit’ (that is, more surviving children per man) than were monogamous men. Not only that, but their ‘fitness’ increased with corresponding increases in harem size. Temne women, however, were a different story. One-quarter of the children born to monogamously mated women failed to survive infancy, whereas among bigamously mated women, infant mortality was a whopping 41%.

Polygamy in Kenya

Another example: among the Kipsigis people of Kenya, the number of surviving children declined with the number of co-wives. Thus, a monogamously married Kipsigis woman had on average 7.05 surviving children; bigamously married woman, 6.82, whereas women with two or three other co-wives had 5.58 and 5.81 respectively.

In short, when a man decides to take a second wife, this is nearly always bad news for the first one. She will have to share resources and almost certainly compete with the new—and likely younger—wife and her eventual children.

There are other convincing data that polygynously mated women in sub-Saharan African suffer more than do tose who are monogamously mated: more mental illness, especially depression, and more physical abuse.

In addition, their children fare worse by most measures. The situation is typically most challenging for the most junior wives, who are more likely to have lower reproductive success because their infants suffer higher mortality rates.

Polygamy in Nigeria

Monogamous Nigerian Ibo wives “actually encourage their husbands to take an additional wife, the claim being that it is not only lonely to be an ‘only wife,’ but humiliating as well, since it suggests that one’s husband isn’t very successful or otherwise desirable.

It is also possible that even though Dogon women are reproductively ill-served by polygyny (in terms of their success in rearing offspring), they recoup these losses via enhanced numbers of grandchildren if their sons are more liley to become successful polygynists; another case of greater reproductive success by ‘sexy sons.’”

Money and Marriage

“Women are particularly likely to end up with men who are especially high status and wealthy.”

Evolutionary anthropologist John Hartung used G. P. Murdock’s Ethnographic Atlas (covering 1,170 societies) and the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample (186 societies) to conclude that sons generally receive more inheritance than daughters.

Out of Eden explains the logic: “This preferential investment in sons, particularly on the part of upper-class families, isn’t only reflected in patterns of inheritance. In the great majority of human societies, wives are essentially purchased by the groom’s family, who, in doing so, are investing in their sons, and thereby, in their own eventual grandchildren.”

Those two ethnographic reference books also indicate that brideprice occurs in 52 to 66 percent of human societies. Dowry payment occurs in only a few East Asian societies and southern Europe.

Africans who marry up

The Mukogodo people of Kenya “have long occupied the pretty much the bottom rungs of their geographic region with regard to wealth and prestige. As a result, their reproductive opportunities are comparably limited, even though there is considerable interbreeding between the Mukogodo and neighboring groups. The problem for the Mukogodo is that their neighbors regularly out-compete Mukogodo men for wives, having more goats, sheep, and cattle to offer as bride price. As a result, the Mukogodo place substantially less value on their sons—whose breeding options are limited—than on their daughters, who have a real prospect of marrying up. Mukogodo girls receive better medical care than their brothers, and their survival (at least to age five) is higher.

The sex ratio of live births favor girls as well, suggesting—but not proving—that in this case, infant boys may be the disproportionate victims of infanticide.

When analyzing the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample, a team of anthropologists concluded that sexual and emotional conflicts among co-wives happen more than 90 percent of the time; only one in four have a “close friendship” with a co-wife.

It takes a village

Anthropologist and primatologist Sarah Hrdy’s book, Mothers and Others, persuasively argues that bi-parental care is less natural than “allo-parenting,” where the extended family also helps to raise the child. “Multi-adult allo-parenting would seem to free dominant and powerful men even more to be polygynists,” concludes David Barash.

“We’ve already noted that modern Western societies that are formally monogamous turn out to be effectively polygamous, especially when considering remarriages and the formation of second and third families. There is a substantial gender asymmetry: men remarry more than do women, and have more children in their subsequent marriages. This is due to the fact that by the time of a second or third marriage, the participants are older and fertility declines dramatically with age among women but not among men.”

Is polygamy good for women?

Despite the drawbacks of being a co-wife, “polygyny is actually a better deal for women than for most men. Thus, under polygyny all women get mates (at least in theory) compared with only a very small proportion of men; monogamy is therefore an equalizing and democratizing system, for men, in that it immensely increases the likelihood that they, too, will be able to marry [and reproduce].”


“A study of 58 different human societies found that divorce rates tend to peak at about four years after birth of a child, suggesting that the primary function of monogamous unions is to get child-rearing off to a good start, after which the parents are inclined to start over.”

The frequency of marriages in which the husband is not the genetic father of the mother’s children range from 0.03 to 11.8 percent.

Women get punished much for infidelity than men. “Indeed, such attitudes extend back to the Egyptians, Hebrews, Babylonians, Romans, Spartans, etc., who defined adultery strickly by the marital status of the woman. If no man is ‘wronged,’ then essentially no wrong is supposed to have been done.

As you can see, I took copious notes. I plan to quote from Out of Eden often for my future book, The Unseen Africa. There's much more to Out of Eden that I have discussed. I especially like his examples in primates and other animals. If these excerpts make you want to know more, buy the book. 


VERDICT: 9 out of 10 stars. 

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