The first half of this book is exciting, provocative and excellently argued. I was amazed about how the evolutionary psychology discussed could mirror my life. I had decided to buy a kindle version as well to read over. But the 2nd half was a complete disappointment. Boring, insipid and more a biography of Darwin's life, not something I had signed up for. Also the theories were now discussed in such a way as to fit into Darwin's life retrospectively.
That's why it's 2 books; the first half mind-blowing, the 2nd, contrived and boring. But just for the first half, the book is worth 4 stars.
I would, only for the 1st half
There were no characters
Yes, the 1st half was un-put-down-able
Dawkins' selfish gene and blind watchmaker explore similar themes but the 3 books complement each other. Whilst Dawkins usually deigns to comment on morality, Wright is happy to give us his view. The first section on gender differences superficially sounds chauvinistic and dated until we remind ourselves of the "blindness" of natural selection. The one point Dawkins made about being able to raise ourselves above our evolutionary tendencies is put into doubt in this book as we struggle with our concept of free will. This is excellent reading for an explanation of reciprocal altruism, kin selection and non zero sum games.
This is a great and insightful introduction to evolutionary psychology. I'd recommend everyone to read it. There's a lot of knowledge from that discipline that is useful in our daily lives and that help understand what is known as the human nature.
While listening to the audio book, I found myself wanting to underline a lot of the contents. I think I will buy the print version as well.
Thumbs up to the narrator. He deserves special congratulations. Too bad there are no more books in the audible library narrated by him.
This book is 100% worth your time and money.
The author does a fair job of explaining in simple terms how complex emotional feelings and behavioral tendencies can be shaped by evolution but then gets trapped in his own cultural biases.
Less opinion presented as fact would have made this a better book.
Wright's use of vocabulary is almost worth the book by itself. The case laid out in the book is largely well thought through even if it is (as the author often reminds the reader) speculative. The narrator has a vaguely condescending English accent. However, the condescension isn't so thick as to be annoying and given Wright's command of the English language the condescension almost seems appropriate. The downsides of the book are (1) the speculative nature of a lot of what is said, and (2) the extent to which it lionizes Charles Darwin. I can understand the use of Charles Darwin's life as a means of illustrating the points being made. It is nice that the books serves as a partial biography of Charles Darwin. But the one dimensional descriptions of his life are hard to swallow, if not hard to believe.
The author comes across as afraid to link science to morality. First he provides lots of interesting evolutionary evidence why morality is what it is, but then seems afraid of coming across as saying it is what it is and is eager to provide some 'policies' of how humans can improve the behaviour of humans by some humans coercing some other ones (progressive taxation to prevent too many alpha males and laws against polygamy, preventing many females to flock to one rich alpha male). That human nature can be improved by giving some humans coercive powers, is of course a logical fallacy. He seems to be to much haunted by the ghosts of social darwinism, genetic breeding and Skinner conditioning, to take the obvious scientific stance on this.
Of course what 'policies' do is just give alpha males even more coercive powers as is proven by ever growing government, growing income gaps, wall street bailouts, welfare single mother government run ghettos and beta males being send off to foreign wars in far away countries by the alphas.
This brings him into the spigot of saying others are perfectly free to opt out of the advantages of morality, but no doubt he would not be ok with opting out of his 'policies'.
He has some interesting thoughts about determinism and has spotted the problems with free will, revealing some interesting views of Darwin on this.
What I found the best part is an analysis of the evolution of Darwin's own moral claims in relation to his actions and how it was driven by his ambition and the strength of his personal position at the time of making these claims.
I also think that a scientific evaluation of morality would also benefit from taking Kant and Molyneux along besides evolution, but maybe that would become to elaborate for one book.
In The Moral Animal I found myself arguing with the anthropological evolution of (mostly) men because the logic is often in direct violation of American culture today. Remember the flack Newt Gingrich experienced when he said men were hunters? It was interesting to have a reason why some women want the “bad boys” and why men ask women to marry them (instead of women asking men). There are exceptions, of course, but humanity moves in generalities. This book has provided me with an understanding of human behavior. By looking at animals and applying their behavior to the animal side of humans, we can see that morals become the great divide. Men famously think about sex most of the time and will mate with any female, just as dogs will; however, if a man has “good” morals, he will remain faithful to his wife/girlfriend, whereas a dog won't remember that he just mated with a female an hour ago. If no or low morals, man will mate and perhaps think about any consequences later.
There are many examples in the book of various forms of primates to explain why behavior exists. In the early days of mankind, one man would have many wives and concubines and that is what helped populate the world. Today we no longer need to stress population, indeed, we focus on slowing it down through various methods of contraception and imposition of morals. Only man has morals; animals have instincts.
Sometimes the book drags on and I wanted to fast forward, but then there was that one nugget of information that was intriguing. The reader has a monotonous voice that I often struggled to stay with. If you are a thinker, analytical and are curious about human behavior, this is a must read. You won’t have to ask why someone behaved the way s/he did.
Boring (and I love to geek out on this kind of stuff).
I didn't feel that the other reviews and the description gave an accurate account of what I was getting.
No. Better books on the subject are available.
Not technical enough.
Yes. Appreciate just how good Richard Dawkin's "The Selfish Gene" and Matt Ridley's "The Red Queen" are in comparison.
I am far from a Feminist BUT this book made me feel like one. The author seemed to believe that all women are gold-diggers among many other shallow and naive assumptions. Too much personal and cultural bias and not enough science.
If the book were actually more about psychology and less of a biography of Darwin.