Cover image for On fertile ground
On fertile ground
Ellison, Peter Thorpe.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press, 2001.
Physical Description:
358 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
QP251 .E43 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



THE EARTH AND ITS PEOPLES presents world history in a balanced, global framework, and emphasizes the interaction of human beings and the environment to compare different times, places, and societies.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Ellison describes the evolution of human reproduction clearly and concisely, beginning with the forces that shaped the process of conception and proceeding to the reproductive process, birth, and the subsequent six months of development. Focusing heavily on the biochemical basis of reproduction, he notes competing theories as to the origins and development of each major reproductive event, evaluating them in the context of current research. Most interesting, however, is the concluding description of how evolutionary forces shaping human reproduction allowed for the development of greater brain size and especially for the development of the neocortex, thereby laying the foundation for early humans' dramatic increase in intelligence. Adapting to a food-availability pattern consisting of alternating abundance and want, hominids developed the ability to store fat in large quantities. Consequently, mothers could store fat in the early stages of pregnancy, becoming abler to meet fetal energy demands, including the very high demands of developing brain tissue, in the later stages of pregnancy. Sure to delight anyone interested in the external forces that helped create humanity. --Bonnie Johnston

Publisher's Weekly Review

Fertility is undoubtedly the least often discussed facet of the reproductive process, in large part because scientists haven't had the tools needed to study it until recently, but also because, well, it's just not very sexy. But as Ellison, professor of anthropology and dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard, shows in this comprehensive study, fertility plays a far more important role than the sexual act in our development as a species. "It may well be... that it was an adaptation in our reproductive physiology that originally set the stage for our intellectual and cultural development," he asserts. But important aspects of female physiology aren't obvious outcomes of natural selection: the head size required for the relatively large fetal brain played a major role in the high incidence of women's death in childbirth in earlier centuries. The author tells us that scientists have discovered that there seems to be little correlation between sperm counts and male fecundity. One man can have the minimum normal sperm count of 15,000-20,000 per milliliter and another an astonishing 250 million, but both face roughly the same odds of impregnating a fertile egg. Ellison tilts perhaps a little too strongly toward female fertility; males receive only one relatively short chapter. The book is not an easy read and will probably appeal mainly to professionals in medicine and related fields. Still, any reader will be astounded not only by how much has been learned about human fertility but by how much still remains to be explored. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Ellison (Harvard Univ.) has prepared an extremely well written book, a lucid, comprehensive treatment of topics directly related to human reproduction that are seldom discussed in terms of their intricate interconnectedness: fertilization, implantation, labor and parturition, lactation, and human development. These topics are considered from a biological-anthropological approach. The author skillfully presents disparate views on human reproductive topics; this approach brings forth both myths and more recent scientific discoveries. Cross-cultural comparisons reinforce the oneness of humankind. Many of the chapters are compelling, especially those clarifying comparative female and male hormonal influences on reproduction and behavior, and those emphasizing human evolution and the ecology of human reproduction. Reproductive activities, which promote human success and brain development and the influences this process has on the individual and society, are discussed. Ellison politely reminds us of the need to control individual reproductive desires and our responsibilities to societies now and in the future. Only time will tell if we paid attention. There are 43 pages of notes referenced by page, indicative of the diverse scholarly efforts undertaken. Well-presented, sensitive photographs and occasional diagrams of hormonal reproduction feedbacks help to clarify the detailed written explanations. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals. J. N. Muzio CUNY Kingsborough Community College

Table of Contents

Two Birthsp. 1
Surviving the First Cutp. 17
A Time to Be Bornp. 51
The Elixir of Lifep. 81
Why Grow Up?p. 127
Balancing Actp. 165
The Arc of Lifep. 215
The Body Buildersp. 249
The Journey and the Processionp. 281
Notesp. 301
Acknowledgmentsp. 345
List of Illustrationsp. 347
Indexp. 349