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Many books have been written regarding relationships between men and women. Some even suggest that we are of different species and it is part of a cosmic joke that we are attracted to and must rely upon one another.  Sex, Time and Power follows this line of thinking but goes much further – ultimately, too far.

The stimulus came when Dr. Shlain was a medical student and questioned why women lose significant quantities of hemoglobin every month in her menses, while pregnant, and also in childbirth? Decades later, he has produced a well-reasoned work that presents possibly pertinent human physiological, anatomical and psychological answers in an understandable and yet non-patronizing manner.

Dr. Shlain would have done his theory more justice had he not felt the need to spread it out over 370-odd pages. The first few chapters do a good job of setting up the framework of the hypothesis: how humans discovered time, because of female biology, and that menstruation--a rarity among species--gave humans a huge evolutionary advantage. Women used this newfound dimension to make a connection across the nine lunar months from sex to the painful, potentially deadly process of childbirth. In realizing that link, women became more selective about potential fathers, preferring proven providers who could reliably provide meat. Why? Meat has large amounts of iron, which women crave because of the deficiency spurred from the blood loss of menstruation. A fascinating theory.

But then Dr. Shlain moves from theoretical biology into what can only be described as fiction. The reader joins Adam as he wonders whether Eve's son is his son, and whether or not it would be a good idea to procreate with his offspring. We then join Eve and her fellow females as they discuss how stupid the males. For five more chapters the reader is treated to hypothetical dialogue that is painfully verbose and disturbingly stupid.

Personally, I have a very difficult time believing that women were the only ones who noted the passage of time (wouldn’t those hunters see patterns in the change of light through the course of the year? or through the travels of the meat they hunted from season to season?) Not to mention my own dislike of any author who feels comfortable calling half the population stupid.

Sex, Time and Power has its charms. I believe the basic theory is fascinating, and possibly explains certain aspects of human biology. Dr. Shlain also has a talent for building suspense and sprinkling his works with intriguing historical and scientific tidbits. Overall, however, I have to recommend that the smart reader will take this book with a large grain of salt (perhaps one the size of Alaska).

~review by Lisa Mc Sherry

Author:  Leonard Shlain

Viking Press, 2003

pp. 420, $25.95

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