CEB Committe on Evolutionary Biology

Robert Martin’s newest book featured on UChicago News

Robert Martin's latest book, How We Do It: The Evolution and Future of Human Reproduction, was released this June.

The University of Chicago's website is currently featuring a write-up of Robert Martin's newest book, How We Do It: The Evolution and Future of Human Reproduction. Martin is a member of the University’s of Chicago’s Committee on Evolutionary Biology and curator of biological anthropology at the Field Museum. An exerpt of the article, written by Greg Borzo, is below, the full text can be found here.

Human beings would probably be known as pilosals rather than mammals if Carl Linnaeus had not been a proponent of breast-feeding. For social and political reasons, the famed taxonomist labeled the class of animals to which humans belong with a reference to their practice of suckling their young rather than to their evolutionarily older characteristic of having hair.

This is just one of the hundreds of surprising pieces of information that readers will glean from the far-reaching and fascinating How We Do It: The Evolution and Future of Human Reproduction, a new book by Robert Martin, a member of the University’s of Chicago’s Committee on Evolutionary Biology and curator of biological anthropology at the Field Museum.

Readers will also learn that:

  •     Sex cells do not vary in size among mammals. All mammal eggs are the same size—from those of a tiny mouse to those of a huge elephant. And the same is true for mammal sperms.
  •     The relative size of human testes indicates that we evolved to live in social groups with one-male breeding units practicing either monogamy or polygamy, usually the latter.
  •     At the end of the Ming Dynasty there were some 70,000 eunuchs in the service of the emperor.
  •     Today there are half a million frozen embryos stored in the United States.

But what’s the point?  Good cocktail party conversation?

In fact, it was precisely such a question that prompted Martin to write this book. Years ago, when he had just finished teaching a course on primate evolution at the University of Zurich, a student asked him, “So what? What’s the utility of studying this subject?”

Robert’s initial reaction was to say, “Primate evolution is important in its own right, but it’s also human history—our history—going far back in time.”

Nevertheless, the student’s question stuck with him. “I realized that my research had practical applications,” Martin says, “so I wrote this book to connect primate evolution with modern human concerns and conditions.”

Indeed, the book is full of pertinent facts, figures, anecdotes, and analysis about human evolution, expertly woven together to inform current issues, including birth control, enhanced reproductive techniques, miscarriage, cloning, breast-feeding, the effects of toxins on human reproduction, and the dramatic drop in sperm counts—all synthesized into a comprehensive synopsis of how we got where we are today, as a species, and where we’re headed.

Click here to read the rest of the article.