Anatomy of Love: The Natural History of Monogamy, Adultery, and Divorce

By Coney, Nancy S. | Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Autumn 1995 | Go to article overview

Anatomy of Love: The Natural History of Monogamy, Adultery, and Divorce


Coney, Nancy S., Journal of Comparative Family Studies


FISHER, Helen E., ANATOMY OF LOVE: The Natural History of Monogamy, Adultery, and Divorce, New York, NY: WW Norton & Co. Inc., 1992. 431 pp., $22.95 US / $27.99 Canadian hardcover.

NANCY S. CONEY*

Helen Fisher first made a mark with her book The Sex Contract. In that book she used sociobiological theory to explain the relationship between the sexes. In this new book she explains, using the same theoretical base, the evolution of monogamy, adultery and divorce. Since these conditions are man invented mores and definitions, she reaches further to explain the specific relations between man and woman and man and wife. Based on extrapolations from American marriage statistics and divorce data on sixty-two societies contained in the demographic yearbooks of the United nations and adultery data (she doesn't say from where), she presents what she calls theories of human sex and family life (Fisher 1992 p. 12). Ms. Fisher is an engaging writer. Her prose style flows easily for the layman to understand. She has chosen a topic that captivates the audiences of Danielle Steele as it does the audiences of E. O. Wilson. In many cases she simplifies the theoretical premises to persuade her reader of the basis of her argument.

Underlying her argument is the premise that behavior, man's and animal's, simple and complex, is determined by genetic wiring. She acknowledges that complex behaviors may be modified by learning processes, but maintains that the fundamental behavior has developed in an evolutionary fashion from earliest times. She documents this in anecdotes from studies of species similar to our own. The anecdotes are entertaining and enlightening, but are loosely related to her thesis. Fisher's descriptions of cultural variations on infidelity make fascinating reading. For example there are quotes and details of the love lives of subjects from tribal cultures and colorful descriptions of the mating behaviors of various primates. Perhaps some of the most interesting reading in the book is in the footnotes that document the cultural variations and research from which her hypotheses come.

Her subtitle is "The Natural History of Monogamy, Adultery, and Divorce" and much of her text is history through the sociobiological lens. She ranges from prehistoric cave men through the familiar territory of male domination of females with the advent of agriculture, into the future where she predicts a more egalitarian division of labor since brain and not brawn will be the basis of power and survival. …

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