REVIEW: The Shortest History of Sex: Two Billion Years of Procreation and Recreation by David Baker

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A wild – and satisfying!- ride through two billion years of sexual evolution. The Shortest History books deliver thousands of years of history in one riveting, fast-paced read.

From the first microbial exchanges of DNA to Tinder and sexbots, how did sex begin, and how did it evolve to be so varied and complex in humans? What influence do our genetic ancestors have on our current love lives? And what might sex look like in the future?

With acuity, humor, and respect for human diversity, The Shortest History of Sex reveals where the many facets of our sexuality -chemical, anatomical, behavioral, social – come from. Chasing down our evolutionary family tree, from the first aquatic creatures to primate societies, David Baker sheds light on our baffling array of passions, impulses, and fetishes, and guides us toward a clear understanding of one of the deepest, most abiding forces of human nature.

The Shortest History of Sex also charts how sex changed for humans across the foraging, agrarian, and modern eras, showing how, even as our biology and sexual instincts have remained the same, the current nature of our sex lives has no historical or evolutionary precedent.

The result is a revealing, utterly unique insight into history and human behavior and the profound forces of nature and nurture compelling our most intimate relationships.


Despite the T-Rexes on the cover, the focus of the book is mainly how sex has driven the long evolutionary history that has resulted in us – homo sapiens. And long history it actually is, as the story begins over 3 billion years ago when primitive life began. We’re talking small, short wormlike creatures who lived underwater, probably burrowing in sand, with little but reflexive actions moving them towards food and away from danger. Gradually cells began to specialize with some doing the digestive and cleanup work while a lucky few handled procreation: Hermaphroditic procreation as earthworms still do.

Slowly things improved as our ancient amphibian ancestors hauled themselves out of water, developed eggs, and then placental births. About that time the Cretaceous Extinction occurred and with non-avian dinosaurs out of the picture, our (very) tiny mammalian ancestors got to work taking advantage of their Big Chance. At this point, the book begins to narrow down and mainly discusses the development of primates, then the divisions into Old World Monkeys, New World Monkeys, Apes —> homo sapiens. It’s not all pretty. If you have a choice of what to be, pick gibbons over chimpanzees or orangutans any day. Bonobos are known for being very sexual (to put it mildly) but females are in charge instead of males. ~315,000 years ago Homo Sapiens showed up and culture began to take over before evolution was ready for it.

The section about our Neolithic/forager past is interesting and the author uses modern forager cultures as the backbone of discussion as to how our ancestors probably lived and thought. Once we moved more to agrarian societies, sexual behavior became very codified and ladened with rules and laws – mainly about women. The last parts of the book deal with history from about 250 years ago and on into the future as well as some ruminations on the possible origin of the most popular modern sexual fetishes.

Given that the book begins with history billions of years old, I expected and got some “probably” and “maybes” tacked onto the start of sentences but then there would be sentences written as sudden flat out statements of fact. I’m not sure if the author intended for readers to think this way or not. There is a lengthy list of further reading at the end of the book (alphabetically by author last name) but in the text, Baker has no footnotes nor lists any of these sources per chapter to give the reader information on where he’s getting his facts from. We have a chart with “First confirmed anal sex 55 million years ago” and other such conclusions but I was confused as to how he got this date. Give me something scientific that this is being based on. Then there were a lot of statements that I picked apart right then such as discussing a 1930s single pregnant woman’s *only* three choices of what to do – illegal abortion, raising the child alone, or a quickie marriage. No mention of adoption though. Things like this make me begin to wonder how many other statements are incorrect.

The writing style is breezy and informative. I give the author kudos for tackling such a broad subject. But there’s just enough of a speculative feel to a lot of what he says that, along with the lack of ability to check where he’s getting his facts that held back my overall enjoyment. C+


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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 25 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there’s no TSTL characters and is currently reading more fantasy and SciFi.

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