Cover: The Fragile Wisdom: An Evolutionary View on Women's Biology and Health, from Harvard University PressCover: The Fragile Wisdom in HARDCOVER

The Fragile Wisdom

An Evolutionary View on Women's Biology and Health

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$42.00 • £36.95 • €38.95

ISBN 9780674047129

Publication Date: 01/14/2013


336 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

19 line illustrations, 3 tables


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Jasienska [is]…uniquely qualified to explore women’s reproductive health from a perspective that is not only cross-cultural but also infused with evolutionary wisdom. Her book is a revelation… Intellectually invigorating.—David P. Barash, The Chronicle of Higher Education

Women may aim for perfect health through diet, exercise and close attention to medical advice, but still develop breast cancer or osteoporosis. Reproductive fitness often wars with general physical fitness over a woman’s lifetime, argues public-health specialist Grazyna Jasienska. Drawing on a raft of research in evolutionary biology and beyond, she points to factors such as the disjunction between ‘palaeo’ and current lifestyles, hormonal disparities and longer lifespans as key to informing disease-prevention strategies.Nature

The antithesis of the diet and get-fit-quick books we’re bombarded with at this time of year, The Fragile Wisdom: An Evolutionary View on Women’s Biology and Health by Grazyna Jasienska is an engaging examination of how our hormonal and reproductive systems are attuned to our evolving circumstances. Don’t expect instant solutions—Jasienska suggests our bodies are not so much ‘wise’ but ‘confused’ as they adapt to whatever life has thrown at us over the generations. Fascinating stuff.Psychologies

In The Fragile Wisdom, Jasienska offers new insights into evolutionary trade-offs between reproductive viability and other aspects of a woman’s health. The book includes well-researched (48 pages of references) analyses of Paleolithic dietary patterns as well as hormonal fluctuations that support fertility of younger women and place these same women at risk for postmenopausal cancers of their reproductive organs. One of many strengths of the book is the author’s refusal to settle for easy answers or to offer advice. Rather, she raises questions and argues persuasively that human evolutionary heritage is far more complex, more interesting, and more challenging than most readers may have imagined. Although the emphasis is on women’s health, this thought-provoking, well-reasoned work is relevant for anyone seeking a better understanding of humanity’s collective history and its implications for today.—M.D. Lagerwey, Choice

A great read for those interested in women’s health and evolutionary biology.—Susanne Caro, Library Journal

Jasienska explores the ways in which modern changes in attitude (and medicine) with respect to the evolutionary role of women to reproduce might be contributing to rising female health problems. Jasienska demonstrates that long ago, estrogen levels were kept in check by the frequency with which women, lacking any suitable form of birth control, became pregnant; today, on the other hand, women—abetted by social and technological advances—can choose a life for themselves other than motherhood. However, this means that women are pregnant fewer times during their lifespan, therefore they cycle more frequently and thus produce more estrogen—a hormone which, at high levels, shows a high correlation with the incidence of breast cancer. Despite huge steps made in the last 100 years toward gender equality, Jasienska compellingly shows that the impact of millennia of biological evolution continues to assert itself.Publishers Weekly

Far and away the best book I’ve read in the field of evolutionary medicine since Nesse and Williams’s Why We Get Sick. The most sophisticated understanding of evolution combined with the best original empirical science and the most creative theoretical thinking.—Peter T. Ellison, author of On Fertile Ground

Jasienska refuses to present a model of how modern women should lead their lives; rather she insists that each woman is an individual in her own circumstances and must make decisions about the trade-offs inherent to her personal life history.—Jane B. Lancaster, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, University of New Mexico, and editor, Human Nature

Jasienska offers readers an engaging discourse on a critical part of the modern human condition, and the evolutionary and biocultural processes responsible for its development.—Michael P. Muehlenbein, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Indiana University, Bloomington

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