Cover image for Woman : an intimate geography
Woman : an intimate geography
Angier, Natalie.
Personal Author:
Updated edition
Publication Information:
New York : Mariner Books, [2014]

Physical Description:
xxxi, 478 pages ; 21 cm
The author explores the essence of what it means to be a woman--in body and mind--as she shares her thoughts on everything from organs to orgasm and menopause.
General Note:
Originally published: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.
Introduction : Into the light -- Unscrambling the egg : it begins with one perfect solar cell -- Mosaic imagination : understanding the "female" chromosome -- Default line : is the female body a passive construct? -- The well-tempered clavier : on the evolution of the clitoris -- Suckers and horns : the prodigal uterus -- Mass hysteria : losing the uterus -- Circular reasonings : the story of the breast -- Holy water : breast milk -- A gray and yellow basket : the bounteous ovary -- Greasing the wheels : a brief history of hormones -- Venus in furs : estrogen and desire -- Mindful menopause : can we live without estrogen? -- There's no place like notoriety : mothers, grandmothers, and other great dames -- Wolf whistles and hyena smiles : testosterone and women -- Spiking the punch : in defense of female aggression -- Cheap meat : learning to make a muscle -- Labor of love : the chemistry of human bondage -- Of hoggamus and hogwash : putting evolutionary psychology on the couch -- A skeptic in paradise : a call for revolutionary psychology.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QP38 .A54 1999D Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
QP38 .A54 1999D Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



National Book Award finalist
A New York Times notable book

"A tour de force, a womderful, entertaining and informative book." --Abraham Verghese, New York Times Book Review

After fifteen years in print, Woman remains an essential guide to everything from organs to orgasms and hormones to hysterectomies. With her characteristic clarity, insight, and sheer exuberance of language, bestselling author Natalie Angier cuts through the still prevalent myths and misinformation surrounding the female body, that most enigmatic of evolutionary masterpieces. Woman is a witty and assured narrative with a reliable grasp of science.

Author Notes

Natale Angier is a Pulitzer Prize winning writer for the New York Times and a frequent contributor to many magazines. Her honors include the Lewis Thomas Award and the AAAS Science Journalism Award. Her books include Natural Obsessions: Striving to Unlock the Deepest Secrets of the Cancer Cell and The Beauty of the Beastly: New Views on the Nature of Life.

She lives near Washington D.C.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Angier, a Pulitzer Prize^-winning New York Times science writer, takes her readers on a fantastic voyage deep inside the female body and kicks over myriad misconceptions about womanhood. She begins with the source, the egg, and travels on from there, celebrating the awe-inspiring complexities of the ovaries, uterus, vagina, breast, and clitoris. Angier's science is exacting yet high-spirited, and her prose is zestfully descriptive and inventive. Her dismantlement of sexist assumptions about everything from lust to women's muscular strength is deft and witty, and her analyses of the mechanics and experiences of menstruation, pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, mother love, the aggressiveness of girls, and relationships among women are thorough, thrillingly candid, and wholly celebratory. As Angier marvels at and demystifies the transformational powers of the female body, she focuses on the pleasure principle, revealing just how essential the nurturing comfort of touch and the blissful chemistry of orgasm are to our species' survival. Every woman reader will be astonished at all that she didn't know about her own body, and every man will find his admiration and fears confirmed, and all will be edified by Angier's knowledge, lucidity, reasonableness, and warmth. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Did postmenopausal women invent the human race? Are males more similar to females than females are to males? These are among the many stimulating questions at the core of Angier's provocative "scientific fantasia of womanhood," a spirited and thoroughly informedÄif admittedly biasedÄstudy of how the body is "a map of meaning and freedom." Angier (The Beauty of the Beastly; Natural Obsessions) presents new theories on the evolution of women's anatomy, physiology and social behaviors. She points out, for example, that the X chromosome has a "vastly higher gene richness" than the Y, which by contrast is "a depauperized little stump," and she champions the argument of anthropologist Kristen Hawkes that the role of postmenopausal grandmothers, who could help younger females nurture their weaned but still dependent offspring, "invented youth.... And in inventing childhood, they invented the human race. They created Homo imperialis, a species that can go anywhere and exploit everything." With wit and verve, Angier discusses such topics as ovulation, conception and birth; the social and physiological functions of breasts; orgasm, mate selection and child-rearing behavior; the complex workings of estrogen; hysterectomy; muscle strength; and female aggression and bonding. Her wide-ranging celebration of the female body engages the intellect but, more importantly, also offers a rigorous challenge to male-oriented theories of biology. BOMC selection; author tour. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

A Pulitzer Prize winner for the New York Times on being female, both physically and mentally. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Preface The Karo Batak are traditional farmers who live in small villages scattered along the highland plateau of North Sumatra, Indonesia. They lead tough, subsistence lives, wear brightly colored clothing, and are rarely exposed to Western media, and the men have a thing for women with big feet. This last detail may seem whimsically beside the point, but as anthropologist Geoff Kushnick of the University of Washington argued in the September 2013 issue of Human Nature, the Karo Batak preference for large-footed women doesn't square with certain Darwinian notions about the traits men seek in their mates. According to the glossier and more emphatic strains of the research enterprise called evolutionary psychology, men and women have evolved to consult very different internal checklists when choosing a romantic partner. Women are said to want a provider to help them raise their children, so they look for signs of status and wealth in a man--handiness of spear, bulginess of wallet. Men, by contrast, want a mate with a long reproductive career ahead of her, so they scan for hallmarks of youth and nubility: shiny hair, bee-stung lips, perky breasts. And because a woman's feet tend to widen with every passing year and parturition, evolutionary psychologists posit that foot size should also figure into the male nubility monitor, and that men are likely wired to find dainty feet more appealing than their haggish, Sasquatch counterparts. Sure enough, a number of cross-cultural studies appeared to confirm the small-foot preference, lending a bit of scientific cachet to the old Fats Waller lyric "Don't want you 'cause your feet's too big." Yet as Geoff Kushnick discovered, Karo Batak men were refusing to sing along. When he showed 159 of them a set of five silhouettes of a woman in which all details remained the same except for the size of her feet, the men judged the one with the biggest feet as more attractive than the other four. In addition, the men actively disliked the image of the woman with the tiniest feet--the very picture that men in previous studies had, on average, deemed the most fetching. As it turned out, the Karo Batak were not alone in their predilections. When Kushnick revisited the cross-cultural preference surveys in detail, he found that while small feet prevailed in aggregate, there was considerable cultural variation: the less urban the population, and the less its exposure to Western media, the likelier its men were to appreciate images of women whose feet had been significantly enlarged. The foot results echoed studies that had called into question another piece of evo- psycho dogma: the purportedly universal appeal of the wasp waist. Men everywhere were said to prefer women with small waists relative to the width of their hips over women with chunkier, boxier forms. After all, nothing cries "young female in the full flower of her estrogenic powers" better than an hourglass figure, right? But here, too, researchers found exceptions to the rule, benighted cultures in which the men claimed to like the thick-waisted women, and to find the cinched-in women with their "ideal" waist-to-hip ratios a bit sickly looking. Again, the contrarian men were from remote cultures with scant exposure to Western media, Beyoncé, and Spanx. Research like his, Geoff Kushnick wrote, "has implications for the concept of universality espoused in some versions of evolutionary psychology" and calls into question "the notion that one size fits all." Perhaps, just perhaps, Kushnick bravely postulated, human mating preferences are "flexible," responsive to local circumstances, rather than preordained by one's chromosomal makeup. Hard as it might be for Westerners to fathom, men in subsistence societies just may favor the appearance of sturdiness and surefootedness over a head-to-toe package of "youth signifiers," the lovely semiotics of Lolita en pointe. I bring this up because Woman deals at length with some of the more complacently tendentious claims about male-female differences that have emerged from evolutionary psychology--that women are coy and fastidious while men are ardent and promiscuous, for example, or that women are just not as obsessed with power and achievement as men are, and, hey, that's a good thing, especially if it means more homemade red velvet cupcakes for the school bake sale. Since Woman was first published, the application of Darwinian ideas to the study of human behavior has itself speciated into an array of different schools, some of them quite creative and sophisticated. The researchers call themselves evolutionary anthropologists, human behavioral ecologists, evolutionary developmental biologists, or simply scientists. They view humans as very smart animals with a long, messy past, and they are devoted to decoding the complex interplay between biology and biography, genes and culture, individual variability and hominid continuity. Many of these evolutionary scholars will express reservations in private about the subdiscipline of evolutionary psychology and its penchant for intellectual overreach, the ease with which its most ardent proponents will spin a highly preliminary finding into a grand saga about the deep evolutionary roots of male-female differences. Still, it can take courage to speak out against the proclamations of evolutionary psychology, which is why I characterize Kushnick's questioning of the "one size fits all" model of human mating preferences as brave. When confronted by results that cast doubt on their core convictions, or by skeptics who question their interpretation of a given data set, evolutionary psychologists can be remarkably tetchy and thin-skinned. They will accuse their critics of ignorance, of not believing in evolution, of letting their political opinions cloud their scientific judgment, or all of the above. David Buss, a patriarch of the evo-psycho industry, has compared himself to Galileo defending truths as incontrovertible as heliocentricity against the forces of darkness. In 2012 Alice Eagly and Wendy Woods, respected psychologists steeped in Darwinian theory, published a lengthy and abundantly footnoted report entitled "Biosocial Construction of Sex Differences and Similarities in Behavior." They discussed the considerable variability of psychological sex differences across cultures and throughout time, and they noted the challenge that such variation posed to "essentialist" beliefs about male and female nature. That elicited a predictable response in the journal Evolutionary Psychology , in which Barry Kuhle of the University of Scranton slapped down Eagly and Wood as "gender feminists" whose thinking "needs to evolve." And their feets are probably too big, too. The debate over evolutionary psychology is no mere parlor game. Many people have taken its more diaphanous and peremptory claims all too seriously, and some of those people wield influence. When Lawrence Summers, then the president of Harvard University, famously suggested in 2005 that the lack of women in the upper tiers of science might have less to do with sex discrimination or the difficulty of combining motherhood and career than with women's innately inferior math skills and the relative weakness of their competitive drive, a number of critics observed that Summers's position sounded suspiciously EP. By the gospel of EP, women are the sane and balanced ones, humanity's multitaskers, so of course you'd expect to find them comfortably ensconced beneath the great middling bulge of the cognitive bell curve. Men, on the other hand, are the risk takers, the hunters, whose fetal brains had rotated wildly through testosterone hyperspace before crash-landing at either end of the IQ distribution scale. The result? More male geniuses and more male fools, and more all-round wham-bang momentum for whatever those males may do. Summers's comments caused an uproar, but did he perchance have a point? Does math genius favor the masculine mind? The trend lines say no. Thirty years ago, among the nation's top scorers on standardized math tests, there were thirteen boys for every girl; today that ratio is three to one and shrinking, and in some countries the male-female math gap has vanished altogether. As for whether men hold the copyright on ambition and drive, well, Larry Summers really wanted to be chairman of the Federal Reserve. He pursued the position publicly, unabashedly, and manfully through much of 2013. Too bad for him Janet Yellin wanted the same thing. Evolutionary psychology is a rich thematic vein that I can't seem to stop mining, and readers who wish to excavate further can find a selection of my essays on the topic, written since Woman first came out, in the appendix of this new edition. Beyond the EP escapades, a number of longstanding assumptions about the limitations of the female body lately have been shaken. Evidence now suggests, for example, that girls may not be born with all the eggs they'll ever have in life--long a bedrock principle of reproductive biology--but instead retain the power to generate new eggs well into their postfetal years. The three-step vaccine that blocks infection by the most dangerous strains of human papilloma virus promises to render cervical cancer obsolete in the near future, taking with it, we can only hope, the dreary annual Pap smear I most emphatically do not wish the same fate for men, even though scientists have recently managed to transform women's bone marrow cells into protosperm. But perhaps the biggest change in the women's health department has been the spectacular collapse of hormone replacement therapy as wonder drug [I think wonder drug works ok here, thanks] the one-stop solution to whatever ails the older gal. When I wrote Woman , the use of formulations like Prempro--a combination of estrogen and synthetic progesterone--was on the ascent, prescribed to millions of women aged fifty and older whose own ovaries had retired from the hormonal supply business. Prempro and similar pills were pitched as the equivalent of taking insulin for diabetes or Synthroid for thyroid disease--the sensible solution to the hormone "deficiency" disorder that is menopause. And evidence did seem to be accruing that estrogen could protect postreproductive women against an array of miseries, minor to macro: hot flashes, mood swings, bone fractures, heart disease, Alzheimer's. Add in progestin to counter estrogen's known tendency to overstimulate the uterine lining, and you had what looked like a great treatment for many of the worst banes of aging. Excerpted from Woman: An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.