by Mara Hvistendahl
Public Affairs (e-book)
Unnatural Selection may not enlighten readers about skewed sex ratios in Asia and elsewhere but Mara Hvistendahl has done a remarkable job presenting the topic in a thought-provoking and readable way. Expanding on reportage published in 2008 for the Virginia Quarterly, she examines the situation in Suining county, where 150 boys were born for every 100 girls in 2007. Although sex determination is illegal in China, she writes, pregnant women were undergoing tests, which cost about 1,000 yuan in bribes to ultrasound technicians, to determine whether to have sex-selective abortions. Startling statistics fill the book, such as that put forward by French demographer Christophe Guilmoto that if the sex ratio at birth had remained at its natural equilibrium of 105 in the past few decades, there would be 163 million more females in Asia - more than the entire female population of the US. Importantly, Unnatural Selection also looks at Western birth-control policies in the 1960s that approved of sex determination because of the 'population bomb' fears of people such as Paul Ehrlich.