Referring to Lewis Carroll's Red Queen from Through the Looking-Glass, a character who has to keep running to stay in the same place, Matt Ridley demonstrates why sex is humanity's best strategy for outwitting its constantly mutating internal predators. The Red Queen answers dozens of other riddles of human nature and culture - including why men propose marriage, the method behind our maddening notions of beauty, and the disquieting fact that a woman is more likely to conceive a child by an adulterous lover than by her husband.
Brilliantly written, The Red Queen offers an extraordinary new way of interpreting the human condition and how it has evolved.
©1993 Matt Ridley (P)2011 HarperCollins Publishers
For anyone interested in evolutionary psychology or why humans are the way the are when it comes to sex, this is a absolute great read. The narration is great and the author has you laughing as much as learning throughout the story. One of the best evolutionary psychology reads I have yet come across.
I am an avid listener. I listen between 75-100 hours per month on my iPhone: 60% fiction to 40% non-fiction.
This is a scholarly treatment of evolution. Of course, procreation is the vehicle of evolution. The first third of the book is all about one celled creatures, frogs, pea hens and birds with some random chimps and whales thrown in. It is a little tough to get through all of that. The author does a reasonable job of identifying all of the prevailing theories. He then attempts to use to other animals to substantiate or diminish those theories.
Only people interested in documentaries are likely to find this book appealing. I found many of the concepts interesting; Do we know they are true? As the author concludes in his summary, who know what errors abound in his work and the work of others. The study of this field is in its infancy.
The first half of the book was absolutely amazing -- beautifully read by Simon Prebble (one of my favorite readers) and completely engaging, effortlessly explaining complex genetic puzzles. But, for me, the book got hard to take when it got to human evolutionary psychology. Maybe I'm one of the PC people Ridley accuses of holding science back, or maybe I'm just a woman from a younger generation, because the things he says about women's and men's different natures just don't ring true to my experience. And in the 20 years since the book was published, many of them have been, if not disproven, then shown to not be as reproducible and universal as Ridley implies.
... I would want to be a microbiologist! Finished Ancestor's Tale by R. Dawkins and loved it, like the story of asking a fish, how's the water... and the fish answers... water? what water? The chemical world that is us seems far more distant than the edge of the visable universe. I'm reading Red Queen on paper and am now downloading it to my iPOD. The goal is... what/why is sex? It's a better question than it sounds... but I'm still struggling with the Hox gene and how it knows where it is. This is a great mystery and if you liked Ancestor's Tale, you'll find this is a fine trip into that next dimension... water? what water?
First of all, this book offers a good history of the thinking about certain aspects of sexual selection from an evolutionary perspective. The narration is excellent, as one should expect from Simon Prebble. The book is generally well-written if less than perfectly edited.
However, I find that the author often falls into a reactionary trap of dismissing too much of the substance of arguments that differ in assumptions or details from his own point of view. Further, the author is often inconsistent about his own apparent principles regarding the appropriate weight that ought to be given to certain scientific studies. In one paragraph he can dismiss the entire premise of the fields of anthropology, sociology, and psychology while embracing without criticism results of studies in those fields which do happen to match up to his thesis.
And on numerous occasions the author is more than willing to make sweeping assumptions about potential sociological results because "everyone knows" what the answer would be--even while admitting there is no evidence on the subject either way. And in so doing he falls into the exact same traps he criticizes practitioners of those other disciplines for doing so. On one page, he rejects assumptions of anthropologists that lack evidence, and on the next he lambasts them for demanding strong evidence before changing how they do their research.
Finally, besides these numerous logical errors, cherry-picking, and conclusion-jumping, the author demonstrates an unfortunately sloppiness in style when he is willing to constantly assert "boys are X" and "women are Y" and "is it any surprise that boys do X better than girls" and vice versa. Yes, he's right that there are gender differences in psychology and average skill, but he's so interested in proving wrong the social scientists--who, prior to strong evidence becoming available otherwise, preferred to assume both genders thought in the same way--that he raises slight differences in averages into sweeping generalizations that are foundational to his arguments... at least when it suits him. Other times he takes great pains to point out that individuals vary when that helps his argument more.
Overall, not worth the listen. The reactionary tone leads to poor conclusions, and at this point the data is so outdated it's not worth cluttering your mind.
Matt Ridley writes great books. What makes them great is the abundance of information he presents to justify his conclusions as well as his willingness to admit when a conclusion is mere speculation. For anyone interested in evolutionary biology, this is a great book. Two thumbs up (though he does not focus on why only apes have opposable thumbs).
an in depth review of the answers to the question "Why do we reproduce sexually instead of asexually"; at least those answers originating from an evolutionary perspective. It is full of interesting tidbits on the science of reproduction, the most fascinating being the three sex chromosomes of lemmings.
I learned quite a bit of information from the Red Queen but some of the baseline assumptions are quite stereotypical of a western view point and lacks any discussion of the various types of relationships beyond traditional pair bonding (marriage) and polygamy (as defined by one man and several women).
At the risk of geeking out, I absolutely love this book. The comfort and ease with which the author discusses sex and evolution is fantastic on its own, but that he easily makes the subject interesting is comparable only to Dr. Alfred Kinsey, minus the sensationalism. Admittedly, Ridley is preaching to the choir with me, but I was still able to learn and enjoy the information conveyed.
Simon Prebble did very well, narrating such a touchy subject. I never got bored.
I would (and have) highly recommend this book in any medium to: geeks, biology students and evolution-deniers.
Unless interested in biology, the beginning is a little dry, but completely worth getting through. The more interesting later section uses these concepts and theories to attempt to explain much of human behavior with very plausible and supremely interesting theories.
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