Cover: On Fertile Ground: A Natural History of Human Reproduction, from Harvard University PressCover: On Fertile Ground in PAPERBACK

On Fertile Ground

A Natural History of Human Reproduction

Product Details


$36.00 • £31.95 • €32.95

ISBN 9780674011120

Publication Date: 05/30/2003


368 pages

5-3/4 x 8-7/8 inches

19 halftones, 4 line illustrations


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On Fertile Ground provides the finest available integration of detailed information on human reproductive physiology with evolutionary explanations; it can serve as a model for other areas of human biology… A novel synthesis of a fast-growing field, On Fertile Ground will interest specialists and nonspecialists alike and can be used as an undergraduate text as well. It is an excellent read that significantly advances our understanding of human reproduction.—Hillard S. Kaplan, Science

Peter Ellison grips your attention from his opening contrast between a difficult birth in central Africa that ended in the death of the baby and a successful delivery in the U.S. that mobilised up-to-date medical facilities. He isn’t sensationalist. Fascination comes from following the progress from conception to maturity in minute detail… On Fertile Ground is enjoyable and Ellison has an individual voice.—Roy Herbert, New Scientist

In clean, elegant prose, Ellison has crafted a synthesis of current knowledge in a range of disciplines…his exposition offers a superb overview.—Bethany Torode, Books & Culture

[This book] is truly extraordinary, state-of-the-art book on a topic that concerns all human beings as individuals and a host of others professionally. So many superlatives may seem inappropriate, but they are not. Ellison is a cutting-edge scientist: a leading researcher in the field of human reproductive physiology. He brings to bear an unparalleled perspective—derived from both anthropology and biology—that makes a diverse and conflicting field of research suddenly comprehensible by demanding that human reproduction be viewed as the product of evolution, responsive to ecological conditions, with its own unique evolutionary history.—Jane B. Lancaster, Harvard Magazine

This is an splendid book that is so clearly written and yet so rigorously detailed that it can be recommended to teenage daughters and sons as well as specialists in reproductive ecology and life history theory. The book covers everything about the female reproductive system in intricate detail from conception and early fetal development through childhood, the onset of sexual maturation, female ovulatory cycling, pregnancy, birth and lactation and finally through menopause and the post reproductive lifespan. It also includes a fascinating chapter on male reproductive physiology that clearly explains how the sexes are similar and how and why males are different… Peter Ellison has been an outstanding leader of the field of reproductive ecology for more than 20 years. This book is the distillation of his ideas over that time period and a sparklingly transparent presentation of what sometimes seems to be a muddy pond of complicated details… It will undoubtedly be on the forefront of a new era in human reproductive studies, helping to lead those who study human reproductive patterns back down a pathway where questions and hypothesis about functional design are central, and firmly grounded in the realization that the whole system evolved by natural selection.—Kim Hill, Journal of Anthropological Research

Given Peter Ellison’s major contributions to reproductive ecology, it should come as no surprise that he has written a unique, readable book on what determines and influences reproductive success in humans… One of the hallmarks of this book is that, in his efforts to understand why human reproduction has evolved its own particular pattern, Ellison repeatedly asks questions that would never cross the minds of many of us, and in so doing stimulates new ways of thinking about old topics… This is an excellent and thoughtful discussion of the many interesting theories surrounding human reproductive physiology and its constraints. Written in accessible language, it should appeal to a non-academic audience as well as the specialist. It could also be assigned as a graduate and/or undergraduate supplementary text in courses on human reproductive ecology/behavioral biology or reproductive physiology. I can thoroughly recommend it to any and all of these readers!—Gillian R. Bentley, Journal of Human Evolution

Ellison describes the evolution of human reproduction clearly and concisely, beginning with the forces that shaped the process of conception and proceeding to the reproductive process, birth, and the subsequent six months of development… Sure to delight anyone interested in the external forces that helped create humanity.—Bonnie Johnston, Booklist

Ellison gives a clear, beautifully written account of human reproductive physiology in relation to human evolution and ecology. His very readable narrative—including his stands on some still controversial questions—will enlighten anyone interested in reproduction, population, and people’s place on the planet.—Joel E. Cohen, Professor of Populations, The Rockefeller University and Columbia University, and 1999 winner of the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement

A splendid synthesis by one of the pioneers in the study of the evolution of the human reproductive system. Ellison provides a readable, marvelously informative account of the physiology of reproduction as it relates to women’s lives.—Sara Blaffer Hrdy, author of Mother Nature

On Fertile Ground is a fine overview of the role of hormones in human reproduction, and of the way hormones and behavior interact. Authoritative and lively, it is the best place to start.—Melvin Konner, Emory University

Because of the many subfields it covers, not to mention the contradictory claims made by its practitioners, human reproduction has been a difficult topic for non-specialists to master. Peter Ellison has now turned a fearsome set of data-rich puzzles into a single elegant story. On Fertile Ground shows readers where the intellectual problems lie, what’s wrong with past solutions, and why his views are right. On Fertile Ground is a riveting tale of adaptation and a major contribution to mammalian evolutionary ecology. It shows science at its best.—Richard Wrangham, author of Demonic Males

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