Charles Darwin has a lot to answer for. His publication in 1871 of The Descent of Man presented biological sex as a binary system, although the idea has existed since the days of Aristotle, with natural selection driven by aggressive males competing for the attention of submissive females. But the reality is more complicated. Nearly 60 genes determine sex; some species switch sex in response to temperature changes; and moles and spotted hyenas are among dozens of animals whose females have testicular tissue or "pseudo-penises." Cooke travels the world, meeting researchers who have discovered creatures that break the mold. These include lionesses that mate 100 times a day, while in estrus, with multiple males; female meerkats that fight to the death; and Laysan albatrosses that raise chicks in female-female partnerships. Female-dominated lemur societies, baby owl monkeys being carried by their fathers 90% of the time and populations of female-only mourning geckos that reproduce by cloning are further evidence that nature doesn't follow a prescribed, sexist pattern.
Bitch conveys loads of information through amusing stories and journeys. Cooke's sprightly style features puns and cheeky turns of phrase, a reflection of her previous work behind the scenes in TV comedy. Discussions of forced copulation, masturbation and menopause reveal that animals are just like us--and can fall prey to the same misleading stereotypes. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck