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Our culture's exalted view of motherhood, argues sociobiologist Hrdy in this iconoclastic study, is sentimentally appealing but fails to take into account the wide range of responses that comprise maternal "instincts," including many that may seem counterintuitive to reproductive goals. Using data from her own primate research as well as new evolutionary theories, literature and folklore, Hrdy, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of California-Davis, shows that animal mothers make constant "trade-offs" to negotiate conflicts between their own needs and those of their offspringAoften based on the odds of their progeny's survival. Ironically, reproductive success has exacerbated pressures on human mothers, who must often care for multiple older offspring while simultaneously accommodating newborns. To cope, they may resort to the sexual selection of offspring, the use of helpers or various levels of withdrawal from particular babies, ranging from mild neglect to abandonment to infanticide. Hrdy's engaging though repetitive argument offers provocative new analyses of wet-nursing, the culling of offspring of the "wrong" sex (sometimes, surprisingly, boys) and even the adaptive behaviors newborns use to ensure their mothers' attachment. Though she is intent on rectifying male biases in biology, Hrdy rejects strident gender politics. Ample support and access to quality day care, she concludes, are essential to achieving the ideal that every infant be loved and nurtured. Agent, Mitchell Waters, Curtis Brown Inc.; 7-city author tour. (Oct.)
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