Cannonball Read V: Dawn of the Deed: The Prehistoric Origins of Sex by John A. Long
I wish there was some way I could get a high resolution version of that cover for you to see (the one to the left was the biggest I could find), because it’s entirely the reason I picked up the book. Just look at their faces!
Semi-unfortunately, the cover is kind of the best part of the The Dawn of the Deed.
Based on the blurb (and yes, the cover), I was expecting this book to be a tongue-in-cheek romp through the evolution of sex, spurred on by the author’s discovery of an important fossil (the oldest found pregnant animal, and subsequently, the world’s oldest willy). And to give it some credit, there was a little bit of that in the book, and those were the parts I enjoyed the most. I never thought I would learn so much about the mating habits of ancient fish and modern day sharks (the most analagous animals usually used by paleontologists to try to figure out the mysteries of said ancient fishes).
I also enjoyed the parts where he just casually throws weird shit out, like all the scientists in the world who study truly bizarre things: the guys who make ducks ejaculate into jars so they can measure the speed with which the duck’s enormous penis pops out of its body (it’s 75 miles per hour, in case you’re curious), or the guys who spend their entire lives making drawings of what fish genitalia might have looked like. I even enjoyed the scholarly mumbo-jumbo, although I don’t think most people will, because I like that sort of thing.
What I didn’t expect was that he spends roughly half of the book talking about how he made his famous discoveries, rather than about their implications, and he seems to think the story is a lot more fascinating than it actually is. He also name drops, A LOT. Some of this story is pretty interesting, for the insight into how these sorts of discoveries develop, from the moment of discovery through publication all the way to mass media coverage. But a lot of it reads kind of like a guy who got famous for discovering something important, got his head inflated a little, and decided to write a book about it. I’m not exactly sure who his audience is, either. The lack of science seems like it would turn off the scholarly crowd (except for the people he writes about, and those people were probably like, HEY THAT’S ME!), and the science that is there isn’t as interesting to a layperson as it could be. There also isn’t that much to tell about the discovery, but Long stretches it out about as far as it will go.
Overall, interesting, but wouldn’t really recommend it unless you’re curious. In that case, it’s a fast read and you do learn stuff. I just wish there had been more science and less THIS IS WHAT I DID AS A YOUNG SCHOLAR WITH THIS OTHER FAMOUS GUY POODLY TOOT.
I would like a printout of that cover for my wall, though. Genius.
This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read V. Read all about it, and watch for info about Cannonball Read SIX on the group blog, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Find more of narfna’s reviews on the current group blog.
(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links in this this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)