Douglas W. Mock - More Than Kin and Less Than Kind

I really enjoyed both the beginning and ending of this book. In between, things got a little slow going and felt somewhat repetitive at times. The topic is both fascinating and surprising. Parental infanticide, and the more heavily covered, siblicide, aren't topics you hear or read about every day. Amazingly enough, they appear to be relatively common in nature. Mock provides the details, including the reasons why.

Although not a new topic, the scientific knowledge in this area is fairly recent. Mock's species of choice is the egret. Other birds are also given a fair amount of coverage. Birds, thanks to the non-locomotion of baby chicks, appear to be an initial ideal candidate for such studies. Perhaps, in time, the subject will be more thoroughly explored for a wide range of plants and animals.

Someone interested in how these concepts apply to other species, including our own, will be somewhat disappointed. Mock touches on some species other than birds, including plants on occasion, but the coverage is extremely disproportionate as he readily admits himself. For instance, on page 174 he says

I have been discussing things in human terms now for two consecutive paragraphs, surely a record for this book, . . .
Mock is a good writer, frequently using wit and flair in his prose as the last part of the above quote demonstrates. The reader will have a hard time not cracking a smile with greater frequency than usually comes from the reading of a book dealing with science. There is also much information about evolution within these pages. I recommend More Than Kin and Less Than Kind to anyone, even remotely, interested in the topic or who is curious and yearns to learn more about avian life.

from the publisher:
Sibling rivalry and intergenerational conflict are not limited to human beings. Among seals and piglets, storks and burying beetles, in bird nests and beehives, from apples to humans, family conflicts can be deadly serious, determining who will survive and who will perish. When offspring compete for scarce resources, sibling rivalry kicks in automatically. Parents sometime play favorites or even kill their young. In More Than Kin and Less Than Kind, Douglas Mock tells us what scientists have discovered about this disturbing side of family dynamics in the natural world.

Natural selection operates primarily for the benefit of individuals (and their genes). Thus a family member may profit directly, by producing its own offspring, or indirectly, by helping close kin to reproduce. Much of the biology of family behavior rests on a simple mathematical relationship called Hamilton's rule, which links the benefits and costs of seemingly altruistic or selfish behavior to the degree of relatedness between individuals.

Blending natural history and theoretical biology, Mock shows how Hamilton's rule illuminates the study of family strife by throwing a spotlight on the two powerful forces--cooperation and competition--that shape all interaction in the family arena. In More Than Kin and Less Than Kind, he offers a rare perspective on the family as testing ground for the evolutionary limits of selfishness. When budgets are tight, close kin are often deadly rivals.

The world of animal behavior is full of many fascinating and varied phenomena. Few are more difficult to reconcile than out-right cruelty among relatives. More than Kin and Less than Kind shows us how to understand the forces that can at once break up and help to stabilize family groups. It is must reading for all students of behavior. I couldn't put it down. --Marc Bekoff, University of Colorado, author of Minding Animals and The Ten Trusts (with Jane Goodall)

Those fond of intoning piously that a biological universal is support and loyalty to one's family members may want to rethink their position. Doug Mock has many grim tales to tell about family dynamics in species that make the Simpsons look like the Brady Bunch. But the book is much more than the natural history of family dysfunction; it is a model of how behavioral ecology can and should be done. This is a gripping read. Just don't take the book to family reunions. --Marlene Zuk, University of California, Riverside, and author of Sexual Selections: What We Can and Can't Learn about Sex from Animals