Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Paul Seabright's "The War of the Sexes"

Paul Seabright is the author of The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life. He is professor of economics at the Toulouse School of Economics and has been a fellow of All Souls College, University of Oxford, and Churchill College, University of Cambridge.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The War of the Sexes: How Conflict and Cooperation Have Shaped Men and Women from Prehistory to the Present, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The War of the Sexes turns out to pass the Ford test reasonably well. It talks about how the twentieth century saw a massive movement by women into occupations previously dominated by men – a movement that nevertheless came up against some surprising obstacles. It has a few statistics, but not too many. It talks about some of the technological changes that shaped this momentous economic shift, like the pill and the vacuum cleaner. It looks at political reasons too: “It’s not a coincidence that this change came soon after women gained the vote, which in most of the industrialized countries occurred after the First and Second World Wars, the first conflicts in which women’s contributions in previously male occupations such as munitions manufacturing had proved essential to the war effort. (Famously neutral Switzerland was the last republic in the western world to grant women the vote in national elections, in 1971).”

Page 99 also has a joke (I won’t spoil it by telling you what it is). By Ford’s criterion that means the book as a whole has 181 jokes, not including those in the footnotes (yes, there are some). I won’t claim they all work, but I hope that some do. What you won’t find any mention of on page 99 is the large amounts of material in the book, mainly in the first half, drawn from biology and evolutionary anthropology. These range from the mating habits of dance flies and praying mantises to the evidence about the character of human polygamy from the testicular proportions of chimpanzees. This material is definitely not a joke, and I am deadly serious in thinking it has a message for how human men and women interact today. You won’t find that message on page 99, though – you need to read about twice as far ahead for that. I’m hoping you’ll find it an agreeable task.
Learn more about the book and author at Paul Seabright's website.

--Marshal Zeringue