Evolutionary Perspectives on Pregnancy
John C Avise
Columbia University Press, £52.00
This book attempts to engage the layperson and beyond in appreciating the "fascinating diversity of pregnancy-like phenomena". It mirrors, in part, the evolutionary path – from non-vertebrate (annelids through to plants) and vertebrate organisms, culminating in mammalian pregnancy.
As well as being comprehensive, a great deal of thought has gone in to the accessibility of the text. Interesting, complementary 'factoids' are mixed among the graphs and tables. For instance, did you know that the womb of a pregnant female tiger shark contains embryos at different developmental stages meaning that older, toothed siblings can bite and even kill their younger siblings?
The descriptions of other oddities such as the Australian gastric- brooding frog (that ingests fertilised eggs and regurgitates metamorphosed froglets during an 'oral birth') and the teatless female platypus (who secretes milk through pores in the skin into abdominal grooves for lapping) are equally entertaining.
Yet this book is not an Embarrassing Bodies-kind of publication. The majority of the content is scientifically rooted and referenced. A glossary of terms allows us to understand such things as anisogamy and syngamy.
This brings into question the intended readership: is it deep enough for the scientific community? Perhaps not, but nevertheless the wonderfully rich use of descriptive language and illustrations render this book beautifully crafted and considerate.