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Woman: An Intimate Geography

Despite scientific evidence to the contrary, as far as the health care profession is concerned the standard operating design of the human body is male. So when a book comes along as beautifully written and endlessly informative as Natalie Angier's Woman: An Intimate Geography, it's a cause for major celebration. Written with whimsy and eloquence, her investigation into female physiology draws its inspiration not only from scientific and medical sources but also from mythology, history, art, and literature, layering biological factoids with her own personal encounters and arcane anecdotes from the history of science. Who knew, for example, that the clitoris--with 8,000 nerve fibers--packs double the pleasure of the penis; that the gene controlling cellular sensitivity to male androgens, ironically enough, resides on the X-chromosome; or that stress hormones like cortisol and corticosterone are the true precursors of friendship? The mysteries of evolution are not a new subject for Angier, a Pulitzer Prize-winning biology writer for the New York Times whose previous books include The Beauty of the Beastly and Natural Obsessions. The strengths of Woman begin with Angier's witty and evocative prose style, but its real contribution is the way it expands the definition of female "geography" beyond womb, breasts, and estrogen, down as far as the bimolecular substructure of DNA and up as high as the transcendent infrastructure of the human brain. --Patrizia DiLucchio

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