Blog, Book Reviews

Eve: How a Book About Evolution Made Me Hopeful for the Future

​​This post was sponsored by The Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Penguin Random House and may include affiliate links which means we make a small commission on any sales. All opinions are my own. Partnerships like these help us to pay our staff and to keep feminist media independent!

When I first saw Eve on the shelf at my local indie, I’ll admit that I was a wee bit intimidated by its size. Now I’m so glad I set that fear aside and let my interest take over because I absolutely loved this book! (Plus, it’s worth noting that the book is not nearly as long as it seems; over 150 pages are dedicated to the notes, bibliography, and index at the end.)

I have always loved learning; it is a core part of my identity. My favorite network growing up was The History Channel, and I’m not even remotely embarrassed to admit it. Knowing that, it’s probably no surprise that I enjoy reading non-fiction. But even I can admit that they’re not always the most… exciting books. Informative and thought-provoking? Sure! Engaging and entertaining? Not so much.

Which is why I was surprised at how such a big, potentially dull topic – two hundred million years of evolution?! for someone who barely passed most of her science courses?! – could be such a fun, digestible read.

In Eve: How the Female Body Drove 200 Million Years of Human Evolution, Cat Bohannon aims to rewrite the history of human evolution by shifting the focus from the male body to the female body. And wouldn’t you know, it turns out that doing so actually gives us way more information about how and why we evolved the way we did. Each chapter is dedicated to a major turning point in our evolution by focusing on a specific trait (legs, tools, the womb, etc.) and which historical “Eve” is the ancestor for that trait. For instance, Homo erectus is the Eve (i.e., the likely origin) for our massive brains.

As I write this, I’m afraid I’m not doing it justice. I anticipate eyes glazing over, but you have to trust me that you simply won’t feel that way when you dive in!

If you’re someone who’s curious about why we are the way we are, why childbirth is dangerous and childhood is wacky, when and why we shifted from a matriarchal society to a patriarchal one (and a sexist one at that), this book is for you. If you’ve ever been frustrated or made to feel crazy for wondering why doctors don’t seem to take women, trans folks, and nonbinary folks seriously, this book is affirming. If you’d like to use biology and science to argue for feminism, this book’s got a chapter full of talking points.

Hell, if you simply like whipping out fun factoids at dinner parties, look no further!

Did you know that killer whales (Editor’s Note: According to very recent research this list has been expanded to include beluga whales, narwhals, and short-finned pilot whales as well as females from one chimpanzee population in western Uganda, science bitch!) are the only nonhuman social mammals that also have menopause? Because I sure didn’t! And while the reason isn’t totally known some researchers hypothesize that perhaps one of the reasons they do can give us a clue about why we do as well: not to care for young offspring but to pass on vital knowledge during times of crisis. Who run the world? Post-menopausal women, apparently.

As a singer, I found the chapter on voice fascinating. While I’ve been trained in ways to support my voice and knew some of the biology involved, I had never considered the evolution of things like pitch, precision, pressure, and volume. I hadn’t given much thought to why and how my voice changes through my menstrual cycle. I certainly hadn’t realized just how much damage we can do to our voice by trying to sound like men, something that impacts folks in politics, public speaking, board rooms, and beyond.

And that’s just a few sections within one chapter. Eve is full of insights like this, looking at things from a biological perspective and then discussing how it shows up in our daily lives, social structures, and political landscape. It makes clear why it matters, beyond the fun factoid at the party.

As I read, I started to worry that I would leave the book feeling jaded and depressed. And while I can’t say it was great to learn just how much the female body has been left out of the research up to this point, I actually felt quite hopeful by the end. It’s great to have someone confirm that no, the bias is not just in your head. There is a mountain of research – or lack thereof – that proves otherwise.

This is an in-depth look at evolution, yet it clearly shows that there are many, many gaps in knowledge and so many questions left to answer. Not just in terms of the historical record, but in terms of what scientists are researching right now – the biological issues they haven’t been interested in and the populations they’re actively ignoring. 

Simply put, ignoring women, trans folks, and the female body has done a great disservice to our understanding of health and humanity.

Which is why it also made me hopeful to remember that this matters to people. That there are people (in this case, scientists and researchers) working to fill these massive gaps in knowledge. And we can play a role in that by sharing books like this and advocating for more – more research, more resources, better care from providers, better representation from our elected officials.

During a time when we feel lonely and disconnected, when we’re often left wondering if anybody cares anymore, a book like Eve can help us remember that we’ve survived more than this and we’re equipped to handle what’s in front of us now. We’re at a turning point, and I for one am eager to be part of the group that helps us turn in a direction that serves us all.

Sally is a queer Dominican New Yorker currently living in Tulsa, OK. She loves Broadway, road trips, long walks, and cold brew, and she’s on a mission to reclaim all things as sacred, especially her self. You can usually find her listening to an audiobook while cooking, baking, or working on a jigsaw puzzle.

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