Cover image for Battle of the sexes : the natural history of sex
Battle of the sexes : the natural history of sex
Sparks, John.
Personal Author:
First US edition.
Publication Information:
New York : TV Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
224 pages : color illustrations ; 25cm
General Note:
"This book is published to accompany the television series "Battle of the Sexes", broadcast on the Discovery Channel and produced by the BBC Natural History Unit, Bristol, England.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QL761 .S628 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



The nature of sex is widely misunderstood. The human ideal of sex portrays it as the romantic outcome of love, leading the participants into a long-term alliance enabling them to produce and raise happy, healthy children -- an idealistic picture all too often shattered in divorce court. A wealth of observation of how animals conduct their private lives shows that -- in the wild -- sexual skulduggery and infidelity are much more the norm than the exception.

As natural history producer John Sparks tells it, sex does not and never did encourage sharing or caring. On the contrary, it compels the participants to engage in civil war at all stages of their lives. Although mates do consent to donate eggs and sperm toward the creation of new life, on almost every other issue -- the choice and number of partners, the size of their families and who looks after them -- males and females are in complete disagreement.

The act of sex is hardly effortless, even for animals. It is selfish, aggressive, competitive -- and, when it gets really interesting, fatal. Battle of the Sexes is a guided, photo-illustrated tour through the breeding styles and cycles of all the animals, led by the former head of the BBC's prestigious Natural History Unit. A far cry from the happy island of Dr. Dolittle, the animal kingdom is replete with tales of bizarre sexual traits and behavior, all set in motion in the selfish, ruthless effort to propagate the species.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Coupling dramatic photographs with the insights of top scientists, this book portrays sex in the natural world as a kind of gorgeous warfare, hardly the cuddly bonding ritual that some humans wish it to be. "The recurring theme of this book is that the opportunities created by sex differ for males and females," writes Sparks, producer of the award-winning BBC Life on Earth series and author of 11 books. Sparks illustrates the tremendous differential with panoramic sweep and arresting detail. Sperm is virtually countless in males of every species while female eggs are comparatively precious and few, so males compete, often savagely, to inseminate as many females as possible. Females, meanwhile, go for quality, seeking "perhaps the most elegant dancer, the most accomplished hunter or simply the biggest and most belligerent male." In witty, literate language, Sparks describes the sometimes incredible complexity and risk involved in the apparently harmonious act of sexual intercourse. His description of the coupling of millipedes sounds like the docking of alien space craft. The shape of the male's organs is surreal, "designed to twist and turn like a trowel inside the female's vulva. What the male is doing is waging war on alien sperm!" A female elephant seal can die from the crushing weight of a male on her back, and those same bulls "can expect to breed for only a year or two before being beaten by younger and more virile males." Spark takes readers for an eye-opening walk on the wild side, ensuring that the mystery of sex will never seem tame again. Color photos throughout. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In this beautifully photographed book (companion to a forthcoming program on the Discovery Channel), BBC producer and natural history author Sparks focuses primarily on the tensions and conflicts inherent in reproduction for many species. Chapters cover "warrior and wimp" males, "choosy" females, "the sexual connection," and parenting. Some fascinating variations on the theme include lizards that reproduce asexually but still "mate" in order to stimulate egg production in each other; male octopi so tiny they were originally thought to be parasitic worms on the females; and jacanas, a bird species in which the males do the "mothering" while the females are aggressive and promiscuous. A concluding chapter on "why sex?" presents the theory that sexual recombination of genes enables organisms to change and adapt more quickly to injury by microbes and parasites. Of interest to both students and others concerned with animal behavior; recommended for both academic and public libraries.ÄBeth Clewis Crim, Prince William P.L., VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Sparks's Battle of the Sexes is a companion book to the BBC television series of the same title. As such, it is written for a general audience. Although anthropomorphic throughout, this book is nonetheless an informative and entertaining account of the sexual conflict that exists between male and female animals. Chapters describe differences in reproductive strategies between the sexes, conflicts that occur during and after copulation, sex among social animals, and why sex evolved. Sparks uses numerous examples from a wide variety of animals, frequently with accompanying photographs, to elucidate his points. Except for a few minor omissions (e.g., the first signs of life did not appear 2,000 billion years ago) and deletions (Sparks should have mentioned that human mating behavior has a strong social component as well as a genetic one), this is a delightful book on the natural history of sex. General readers. E. H. Rave Bemidji State University