Cover Image: The Better Half

The Better Half

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Member Reviews

Due to a sudden, unexpected passing in the family a few years ago and another more recently and my subsequent (mental) health issues stemming from that, I was unable to download this book in time to review it before it was archived as I did not visit this site for several years after the bereavements. This meant I didn't read or venture onto netgalley for years as not only did it remind me of that person as they shared my passion for reading, but I also struggled to maintain interest in anything due to overwhelming depression. I was therefore unable to download this title in time and so I couldn't give a review as it wasn't successfully acquired before it was archived. The second issue that has happened with some of my other books is that I had them downloaded to one particular device and said device is now defunct, so I have no access to those books anymore, sadly.

This means I can't leave an accurate reflection of my feelings towards the book as I am unable to read it now and so I am leaving a message of explanation instead. I am now back to reading and reviewing full time as once considerable time had passed I have found that books have been helping me significantly in terms of my mindset and mental health - this was after having no interest in anything for quite a number of years after the passings. Anything requested and approved will be read and a review written and posted to Amazon (where I am a Hall of Famer & Top Reviewer), Goodreads (where I have several thousand friends and the same amount who follow my reviews) and Waterstones (or Barnes & Noble if the publisher is American based). Thank you for the opportunity and apologies for the inconvenience.

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This was a very interesting and insightful book about the health and medical differences between genetic males and females - why women live longer, respond differently to medication, are less / more likely to develop certain health conditions and so on. It was very accessible for the lay person and was a fascinating read.

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A great piece of scientific writing covering a difficult topic. Moalem makes the science easy to understand and her ideas are easy to follow. It's amazing that we don't learn any of this at school. It helps to make sense of so many things. Women are genetically superheroes and we don't hear it enough! This is a very empowering read that helps to dismantle cultural stereotypes.

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.

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This has some really interesting titbits of information in it, but unfortunately in order to get to them you have to wade through a lot of waffle and unnecessary tangents that only have a very peripheral link to the topic at hand. Periodically these long tangents were the interesting information, but at other points they were just filler. Two examples would be the sections on the life of bees and the process of apple farming; the former was fascinating and I could even see the direct link that made it relevant, the latter far less so and I skipped entire pages until the author got back to the point.

The information could have been portrayed in a much more concise paper, although that wouldn't get the pop science sales I suppose. Because of the format though, the author had to fall back on repetition and filler in order to bring up the page count. Whilst some of the repetition can be forgiven as it was a case of Moalem bringing the case he was making back to his conclusion that the two X chromosomes give females more genetic variability and therefore higher survival rates, at other points it became tedious. I'd already read those points multiple times and didn't need it repeated ad infinitum.

My other problem with the information portrayed was that whilst many of the tangents were completely unnecessary, other aspects which were directly relevant could have been fleshed out more. Instead really interesting sections were skimmed over, as though they were less relevance than the genetics of a potato which baffled me somewhat in honesty. Moalem also focuses entirely on the 'genetic superiority' of women, looking at X linked developmental disorders, colour blindness, the immune system, cancer and mortality rates. At no point does he even begin to address the strengths of the male or address any counter argument and there are undeniably areas in which men are stronger; physical strength for example, spatial processing, hand-to-eye coordination. It isn't my area of expertise by a long shot, but this would have felt far more complete and less of a one trick pony if it had explored the issues in more depth.

A lot of the examples given are personal anecdotes and individual cases that Moalem saw in his years as a doctor, which in many ways makes the book more accessible and easily digested. But it also means that the reader doesn't see much of the real scientific research themselves; it's word of mouth popular science, rather than evidence and research driven. I also couldn't help but note that Moalem references his own books at least three times in the appendix, in fact his own books are almost the only books referenced; everything else is papers, journals and mortality sources. This makes it more difficult to track down verifying sources for the layman, as the easily accessible sources are Moalem's own works.

In reality this is a book that should have been a paper or an article and it would have been far stronger for it. The excessive repetition, long-winded tangents that add very little to the subject matter and reliance on personal anecdote make it a weak book. I'd have liked to see more about the research side as well; the entire last chapter of the book is dedicated to why medicine has been geared towards men for centuries, but other than repeating his experience about the difficulty of finding female research mice that was brought up in the opening chapters, Moalem spent very little time on the actual research and ways this might change.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for my free review copy of this title.

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The Better Half has some really interesting facts and information in it – the kind I found myself repeating to friends whenever I spoke to them. However I struggled to continue reading past around the half way point. I think I just found it a little repetitive and the stories and anecdotes that accompany many of the facts didn’t grab my attention.

It’s definitely got some interesting information and it provoked a lot of thought in me as I read it, but it’s also a book I found myself impatient to get through at other times, because some parts felt a little long for me. It might just not have been what I fancied reading more of at that moment, so it’s a book I think I will return to at another time and see if the rest grabs my attention better at that point, as like I said the first third or so was very interesting!

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I requested this book after reading Invisible Women and enjoying it, and I've always enjoyed/been outraged at the medical discrepancies in care for women and men.

It was interesting and informative, but like other books in this genre it was quite tough to get through, and I think the information could have been more accessible.

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The Better Half engages the reader to consider that the biologically harder work of humanity is done by women, reframing the argument that men are biologically more capable and competent. The book is scientific in nature, but it's also readable and lively, with plenty of information and context to carry a reader through. I really enjoyed this and I learned plenty along the way— though as a woman I admit I wasn't too surprised!

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This book is written by an award winning male geneticist and is about why the female is superior to the male. The evidence is clear, easily understood by a lay person and totally fascinating. Women live longer than men. Women can fight virus and infection better than men. Women can see the world in more colours than men. This is a book which busts the myth of women as the weaker sex. And it’s all down to our XX chromosome.

“...human XX females have a survival advantage at every point in the life course over males. Regardless of the specificity of the catastrophe, be it a famine that was triggered by twentieth century collectivist political ideology, pestilence spreading from poor living conditions, or an environmental upheaval that renders life close to impossible, more women survive.”

“So right off the bat, women are genetically superior - they have a back up copy of the X, and they can co-operate and share their genetic wisdom between cells to combat genetic deficiencies, which can literally mean the difference between life and death.”

There is a lot of meat in this book and it is quite fascinating. The information comes thick and fast and all of it makes you think slightly differently about how we are culturally led to believe women are behind men in so many ways yet the reality is quite different.

Reading this with Caroline Criado Perez’s book “Invisible Women” will give you a good education in the differences and the impacts of genetics and culture in our modern societies.

I was given a copy of this book by Netgalley in return for an honest review.

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Today I’m pleased to share a review for a non fiction book on my blog. Thank you to Penguin UK for a digital proof copy via NetGalley – apologies for the delay in reading and reviewing.

Synopsis (from Goodreads) :

An award-winning medic and scientist makes the game-changing case that genetic females are stronger than males at every stage of life

‘A powerful antidote to the myth of a “weaker sex”‘ Gina Rippon, author of The Gendered Brain

Here are some facts: Women live longer than men. They have stronger immune systems. They’re better at fighting cancer and surviving famine, and even see the world in a wider variety of colours. They are simply stronger than men at every stage of life. Why? And why are we taught the opposite?

Drawing on his wide-ranging experience and cutting-edge research, Dr Sharon Moalem set out to understand why men are consistently less likely than women to thrive. The answer, he reveals, lies in our genetics: the female’s double XX chromosomes offer a powerful survival advantage.

Moalem explains why genetic females triumph over males when it comes to resilience, intellect, stamina, immunity and much more. And he calls for a long-overdue reconsideration of our male-centric, one-size-fits-all view of the body and even of how we prescribe medications – a view that still frames women through the lens of men.

Revolutionary, captivating and utterly persuasive, The Better Half will make you see women, men and the survival of our species anew.

My thoughts:

This book was published back in April 2020 in the UK, at the start of Lockdown. I had a dip in my ability to concentrate and read ‘light fiction’ full of uplifting stories. However, as a female in the middle of a global pandemic, I should have read this to appreciate that my body may be more able to fight Covid-19 then my husband’s is.

This was an interesting read. Admittedly I didn’t fact check the science but did understand the majority of it, with my A level science and medical underwriting knowledge. My major concern was discovering that women are much more at risk of autoimmune conditions and that many medicines haven’t been tested haven’t been tested on women, so are dosages are based on men.

Definitely worth a read, to see why the X and Y chromosomes mean that we have different health issues.

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Fascinating book.
I've struggled to get my head around genetics in the past but found it easy to keep up with this.
Just the honey bee story alone really got me thinking about how the different sexes are perceived.
Definitely worth reading.

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I loved this book! It was very accessible, but very informative. I loved learning about chromosomes, the specificities of the female body and its genetics and I was amazed by how little I actually know about it. Reading it I felt like I was discovering some superpowers I have and didn't know about - my immune system works better than the average man's, I can resist a famine better, I will recover faster from an injury... It was amazing to imagine the "silent" chromosomes jumping into action when something goes wrong, like an army of little soldiers. It made me appreciate my body more (in a weird way) - there's something really magic about how it all works and it's amazing to learn than in many ways, women are engineered to be more resistant than men. I can't recommend this book enough.

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Much has been made of the significantly higher morbidity rates of men during the Covid-19 pandemic; Moalem's book provides some insight into the science behind this (and, more generally, the fact that men, on average, die earlier and with more health issues than women). Turns out that having two X chromosomes, as genetic females do, comes in very handy whether it's during a global pandemic or when part of a stranded group of American pioneers, as in the example of the Donner Party given in this book.

It was a relief to find that Moalem is clear in drawing a distinction between genetic sex, biological sex, and gender identity, avoiding the (at best trans-exclusionary, at worst transphobic) conflation between them that the otherwise excellent Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez fell into.

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Some things in this book I already knew (such as the role of the X chromosome when it comes to colour vision, and why many more men than woman are colour-blind). Some others were completely new to me, although also related to the X in general (immune system features, for instance, including autoimmune conditions) and I was glad I could expand on my knowledge in that regard.

The book draws a lot on genetic research, obviously, both past findings and current ones. I found it easy enough to follow, and it didn’t strike me as heavy-handed on the medical lingo, but perhaps it would be a little confusing for someone who’s really a beginner in that area, and therefore would be better targeted at people who already have some basic knowledge about genetics here?

I did find it somewhat repetitive, though (as in, keep the examples for sure, but no need to reiterate so often that a lot of it stems from genetic females having a “spare”), and the narrative style, when it uses examples from the author’s real life to illustrate certain points, wasn’t always very clear. The concept behind it and the way it is at times expressed could also be easily problematic; the term “genetic superiority” is fraught with double-meaning, after all, and I can no doubt see it interpreted in less than savoury ways. So, one has to be careful about how they approach this: it is strictly about the advantages brought by having two X chromosomes rather than one if you’re a genetic human female (or having two Ws if you’re a male bird—same difference), and definitely not about who is “superior, with a hint of who should therefore dominate the other”.

Conclusion: 3.5 stars

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This is an interesting introduction the the topic of gender and health. This book is good if, like me, you have very little knowledge on this subject as it is written without too much scientific jargon. Guarantee that after reading you will feel more informed!

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This is proper science. I understood the theory and followed the argument, but a lot of the in depth science stuff was too academic/difficult for me. This was also a really interesting book to be reading at a time when there is a new virus around and a lot of work is going into working out who is more or less susceptible to it. Interesting - but not really at the accessible end of popular science.

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Men have XY chromosomes, women have two Xs. That extra X gives women a level of redundancy - if something bad happens, whether that be dodgy DNA or an infectious disease, the female body can chose between those two Xs and select the stronger. As a result, women live longer healthier lives.

That's the jist of the Better Half - but Sharon goes into various anecdotes and case studies, that though often go a bit too deep into medicine for a lay person, are always interesting. Some of the conclusions seem a little stretched, such as the XY benefited the women in the Donner Party (the American pioneers who resorted to cannibalism when trapped over the winter) - I suspect it's more to do with the men out hunting in the cold - but there's lot of useful information packed into those pages.

Well worth a read. I would've given it a 4.5 (as too much medical info) but rounding up to a 5!

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This is a refreshing look at the genetic superiority of women told in a very accessible and readable manner. The author draws on real life accounts of females surviving when males do not and explains in great detail the basis for his arguments. Sometimes it did get too technical for me but otherwise I enjoyed this take on a popular topic!

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An image exists in fiction and our cultural hivemind of the weak woman. Incapable of survival without male guardianship, too frail to lift anything heavier than a baby, too feeble for feats of endurance. It’s nonsense, but the myth persists. Enter stage left Dr Sharon Moalem. Drawing on experience and research as a medic, geneticist and specialist in rare diseases, Moalem explores why women (or rather, XX chromosome carriers) consistently outperform men (respectively XY carriers) in areas such as immunity, stamina, and adaptability.

It is a thought-provoking premise, that genetically speaking bodies that carry XX chromosomes are stronger than those with XY (or by extension, any variation where only one X is present). I found it exceptionally well paired with Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez. In her book Perez talks about ‘male default thinking’ - the assumption that the male experience is the default, and everything female is an add-on. The Better Half does something similar in examining the assumption that male bodies are stronger, and everything female is a handicap. It’s a fascinating exploration not only of the survival advantages XX entails, but the clear need for reconsidering the male-centric view of the human body throughout science and medicine. Just why do women cope with disease better? Why are they unlikely to be colourblind? And why do women suffer more auto-immune conditions?

For the most part the writing is accessible, suffice to say that even I - nought but a lowly film grad - could understand the science. However, there were moments where it felt Moalem couldn't fix on which ‘mode’ to write in. The established specialist addressing their peers, or as easy and breezy pop-science? There were a few tangents, and a couple of paragraphs that I had to double read. That said, after I had finished the initial text and skimmed through the notes and references there were the expansions I had needed. So I don’t know if this is really an issue with the book, or just that I read it as an eBook. Someone with a print version tell me if there are footnotes instead of a notes section.

On the topic of accessibility I have to veer off into Gender Politics for a bit. When I read the title and summary I did worry The Better Half would be ‘terfy’ - endorsing Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist views on gender and sex. If you had that same worry, you really don’t need to. While not much page space if given to trans or intersex bodies, very early on Moalem draws a sharp line between a person’s gender identity and their genetic sex. This book is concerned with the contents of your chromosomes, not the contents of your pants.

I haven’t been able to get The Better Half out of my head since finishing it (particularly the immunity part). I’ve already mentioned Invisible Women, I’d also recommend this to anyone who enjoyed The Gendered Brain by Gina Rippon, and/or Inferior by Angel Saini. To everyone else, if you’ve ever looked at a female anglerfish or spider and wondered why nature endowed them with size and survivability over their male counterparts, this is a book for you.

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A fascinating read on the differences between the female and male of humankind. More a book to dip in and out of, rather than read cover to cover. Therefore I will come back to this book and do just that. Very well written and clearly well researched.
My thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for my advance copy of this title.

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Very interesting topic, very well written by the author. Lots of research done for this, it's clear and I loved reading it.
The language used is very easy to get through, entertaining while getting information.
I'd highly recommend it if you're interested in the topic.

Thanks a lot to NG and the publisher for this copy.

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