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The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature

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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 meth 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.


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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 meth 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.

30 review for The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature

  1. 4 out of 5

    Courtney

    Things I learned from this book: (human) women like tall men, (human) men like beautiful women, (barn swallow) women like men with long, symmetrical tails, gentlemen prefer blondes, sperm are small because they made a dastardly deal with nature, gender exists (and there are two of them) essentially as an accidental by-product of a primordial genetic arms race, why (we think) that we (or anything else) has sex (as opposed to splitting in half or excanging packets of DNA), why roosters have wattle Things I learned from this book: (human) women like tall men, (human) men like beautiful women, (barn swallow) women like men with long, symmetrical tails, gentlemen prefer blondes, sperm are small because they made a dastardly deal with nature, gender exists (and there are two of them) essentially as an accidental by-product of a primordial genetic arms race, why (we think) that we (or anything else) has sex (as opposed to splitting in half or excanging packets of DNA), why roosters have wattles and how nucleic cells probably developed. None of these things help me get laid...so far.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Arleen Jenson

    Coming out of pre-veterinary medicine and a slew of genetics classes, I can say that nothing in this book is particularly mind-blowing... except the hubris. The author has drawn up a laundry list of assumptions about all of humanity and left out a good deal of its subjects. As a scientist or, at the very least, as a lover of science... the references were interesting enough to keep me reading. But as someone with sexual awareness, a hesitancy to polarize gender and sexuality, and my own idea of Coming out of pre-veterinary medicine and a slew of genetics classes, I can say that nothing in this book is particularly mind-blowing... except the hubris. The author has drawn up a laundry list of assumptions about all of humanity and left out a good deal of its subjects. As a scientist or, at the very least, as a lover of science... the references were interesting enough to keep me reading. But as someone with sexual awareness, a hesitancy to polarize gender and sexuality, and my own idea of what a woman might think or want... this was a very difficult book to swallow. In fact, it's akin to dry Kool-Aid. If you are satisfied with the hetero-normative, monogamous, anglo, male-dominated definitions of sex and partnership (and if you are going to read this book as popular literature rather than as complete and well-founded scientific conjecture) go right ahead. It's a fun book. But if you are someone who is easily irritated by flawed logic and narrow surveys used to prop up wobbly theorizing, skip it. The good news is: Ridley doesn't care. As all great scientists do, he spent a good deal of time throwing his name in with philosophers, sociologists, and naturalists and saying that he, too, was capable of flaws. Just like them! Moreover, he expects a lot backlash from the less-thans who can't comprehend the magnitude of his reasoning. So go ahead and say that you don't like his book. Ridley is one step ahead of you. He knows you're coming; you predictable sap. Despite that lovely manipulation, I still didn't like it. It gets two stars for all of the awesome material his book used (badly) and referenced.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Katja

    What could have shaped the human mind is an endlessly interesting subject, no question about that. Speculating about contributions of the genes, nature, nurture, culture is fun, as much as getting a new perspective on what has always seemed "obvious". Still, I did not like this book as much as I probably would, had it a bit less of sheer speculations. Some readers praise Ridley for objectively presenting to them so many different and often contradictory theories. When discussions are heated, it What could have shaped the human mind is an endlessly interesting subject, no question about that. Speculating about contributions of the genes, nature, nurture, culture is fun, as much as getting a new perspective on what has always seemed "obvious". Still, I did not like this book as much as I probably would, had it a bit less of sheer speculations. Some readers praise Ridley for objectively presenting to them so many different and often contradictory theories. When discussions are heated, it is indeed a virtue. But flaws in some of the "theories" are evident even before the argument is over, so why include those if a few paragraphs later Ridley admits that the theory does sound pretty wrong? An example: attractiveness of slender women nowadays supposedly signalizes their wealth because not every woman can afford a healthy diet. Furthermore, certain claims are given as well-known widely accepted facts while they may not even be true. One example is Chomsky's hypotheses about Universal Grammar and language innateness. It is far from true that all linguists agree with Chomsky. Pinker, whom Ridley cites a few times, surely does but there are more linguists in the world. Another example: neural networks have recently had a huge comeback, researchers have very big hopes for "deep learning". Obviously Ridley dismissed them as incapable of learning far too early. A few times I was wondering where Ridley got his facts from. For example, describing "highly sexed emperors" he states that the ancient civilizations we know of were all ruled exclusively by ruthless men with hundreds of wives and thousands of children (mostly sons). One of his examples is Akhenaten who in fact is known as a loving husband and father of a dozen of children. There are numerous depictions of him playing with his daughters. Also, apparently Ridley never heard of successful female pharaohs. His knowledge of the ancient civilizations seems to be based on a cartoon about an evil pharaoh and his poor slaves. Finally, what annoyed me most is the plasticity of Ridley's "evolutionary" arguments. If there is a trait which he states is characteristic of modern men, he simply says that it was obviously advantageous for males in the past. Usually he throws in a thought experiment or some bizarre example from the animal world and off to the next section and a new trait. But this is not what is needed to prove a hypothesis. First, the trait may be not as characteristic of men as he wants it to look like. For example, he says "boys are better in math than girls", or "girls are better in linguistic tasks" although even at his time there were studies showing that it very much depends on how boys and girls are treated at elementary school. In fact there are countries where girls are better in math (Iceland). Second, for a evolutionary argument to apply, there must be a gene, so why not name it right away? Third, why should this particular gene be gender-specific, why wouldn't it reveal its power in the other gender too? Wouldn't men benefit from better language skills (something he claims women are better at)? I doubt so. Finally, if the gene has not yet been discovered, why not show a mathematical model which would at least demonstrate that the benefit of the trait is real and would affect the reproductive success of its carrier. What happened with females who were not so eloquent? Were they and their children killed by better versed women? Surely I do see a benefit in being a good talker and I can imagine why this quality could be more important for women than men, but it still does not explain why this supposedly genetic trait should propagate. There is a big difference between "soft skills" and traits like "fear the snakes" or "lactose tolerance" for which reproductive advantage is obvious. To summarize, an interesting read but with far too many annoying errors, logical flaws and sloppy arguments.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    Well, I had hoped to write this review closer to having read the book, but I'll write this anyway, just without some of the examples I was hoping to remember. Roughly the first 1/2 to 2/3 of the books covers the different explanations for why sex arose and the mating habits of various non-human species. One thing that is great about this book is it will relate a theory, then an insufficiency in the theory, then a counter theory, then additional findings, and back and forth and so on. If there isn Well, I had hoped to write this review closer to having read the book, but I'll write this anyway, just without some of the examples I was hoping to remember. Roughly the first 1/2 to 2/3 of the books covers the different explanations for why sex arose and the mating habits of various non-human species. One thing that is great about this book is it will relate a theory, then an insufficiency in the theory, then a counter theory, then additional findings, and back and forth and so on. If there isn't a consensus it just leaves the question open and for you to ponder yourself. For anyone interested in how science is done, numerous examples ideas blossoming, be attacked, rediscovered, etc. are recounted. Also, lots of different case studies are recounted. All the stories of different species behavior is entertaining in and of itself. In the last part of the book, humans are closely examined. As long as you repeatedly the disclaimer at the beginning of that section, that you may be able to say something about males are more X on average and females are more Y on average, but individual instances of men and women, of course, may run counter. Also, that evolution has primed certain tendencies for each sex, but tendencies are not fate and thus, again, you can only talk about averages or generalities. If you remember that, and don't get your undies in a bunch, the discussion of how human nature is/was shaped by evolution is illuminating. So I recommend this to everyone, especially those interested in how the brain works, how people work, and/or how science works.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Bree

    This was one of those books that I bought because I was sucked in by the title and the cover. Plus I thought, hey that's kinda out of my comfort zone, I'd like to push myself to read something new and possibly difficult to understand. I couldn't make it past the first chapter, so I read the end in hopes to find what his conclusion is and its we are all apes in the end. I find that rather depressing and quite hard to believe. I find it hard to swallow that we are only biological animals who are dr This was one of those books that I bought because I was sucked in by the title and the cover. Plus I thought, hey that's kinda out of my comfort zone, I'd like to push myself to read something new and possibly difficult to understand. I couldn't make it past the first chapter, so I read the end in hopes to find what his conclusion is and its we are all apes in the end. I find that rather depressing and quite hard to believe. I find it hard to swallow that we are only biological animals who are driven only by the need to find a way to better our species by sex with those chosen for their perfection. I look at all we create and imagine and I see so much more than that. He does grant that we are creative, but still underneath it all we are just creative apes. We are such a diverse species full of such hate, but also so much beauty. We can be blindingly compassionate and also completely clueless and self absorbed. There are so many variations that it is hard to explain them all through sexual Darwinism. I probably missed something there in the middle, but if his conclusion had been less crass maybe I would have been driven to read more of what drove him to that conclusion.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ana

    This is really well written, but I just can't really wrap my head around the themes of sexuality in this book, especially as it concerns the idea of gender. Also I don't really trust men of science who can write things like "boys are better in math than girls" or "girls are better at linguistic tasks" as if they are universal truths instead of biased theories. This is really well written, but I just can't really wrap my head around the themes of sexuality in this book, especially as it concerns the idea of gender. Also I don't really trust men of science who can write things like "boys are better in math than girls" or "girls are better at linguistic tasks" as if they are universal truths instead of biased theories.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Alex ☣ Deranged KittyCat ☣

    How much more generous it would be if, instead of writing parables about childhood wounds, psychologists were to accept that some differences between the sexes just are, that they are in the nature of the beasts, because each sex has an evolved tendency to develop that way in response to experience. The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature is a very accessible book. It is easy to read, follow and understand. After reading this book, you will never look the same at a cheating spous How much more generous it would be if, instead of writing parables about childhood wounds, psychologists were to accept that some differences between the sexes just are, that they are in the nature of the beasts, because each sex has an evolved tendency to develop that way in response to experience. The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature is a very accessible book. It is easy to read, follow and understand. After reading this book, you will never look the same at a cheating spouse, a woman who had plastic surgery or a rich man.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Nikolas Alixopulos

    I enjoyed this book and recommend it highly. Some may see it as a cynical view of human nature, however I found it to be an engaging and convincing one.  My favorite quote from this book sums up the totality of the text for me: "...the choosiness in human beings in picking their mates has driven the human mind into a frenzied expansion for no reason except that wit, virtuosity,inventiveness, and individuality turn people on. It is a somewhat less uplifting perspective on the purpose of humanity I enjoyed this book and recommend it highly. Some may see it as a cynical view of human nature, however I found it to be an engaging and convincing one.  My favorite quote from this book sums up the totality of the text for me: "...the choosiness in human beings in picking their mates has driven the human mind into a frenzied expansion for no reason except that wit, virtuosity,inventiveness, and individuality turn people on. It is a somewhat less uplifting perspective on the purpose of humanity than a religious one, but it is also liberating. Be different." 

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    Ridley throws a lot of interesting hypotheses at the question of why there is sex & why/how we indulge without ever coming to a firm conclusion & admitting such. I liked that since I didn't find a lot of the studies or statistics he referenced too convincing. This is more a book with points to ponder rather than a definitive text. He writes this at the end of the book, Half the ideas in this book are probably wrong. The history of human science [in this regard] is not encouraging. But he goes on Ridley throws a lot of interesting hypotheses at the question of why there is sex & why/how we indulge without ever coming to a firm conclusion & admitting such. I liked that since I didn't find a lot of the studies or statistics he referenced too convincing. This is more a book with points to ponder rather than a definitive text. He writes this at the end of the book, Half the ideas in this book are probably wrong. The history of human science [in this regard] is not encouraging. But he goes on to quote Hume & mention how far we've progressed since his day. We're just not there yet & may never be since we're so good at deceiving ourselves. It's well worth the time to read. There are some good insights into why we act the way we do & I really liked his opinions on the differences in children of different sexes. I've long been angered by the way the education system treats boys & girls the same. They're not & his point that nurture & nature shouldn't be seen as polar opposites, but as part of a process was very well made. Table of Contents Preface ONE: Human Nature TWO: The Enigma THREE: The Power of Parasites FOUR: Genetic Mutiny and Gender FIVE: The Peacock’s Tale SIX: Polygamy and the Nature of Men SEVEN: Monogamy and the Nature of Women EIGHT: Sexing the Mind NINE: The Uses of Beauty TEN: The Intellectual Chess Game EPILOGUE: The Self-domesticated Ape

  10. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Arnold

    I might have rated this more highly if I hadn't just come off a spate of reading very similar and slightly better works that incorporate much of its content in pithier form (Daniel Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea and Steven Pinker's How the Mind Works, though those were both written afterwards), yet its central metaphor of sexual selection as arms race is compelling enough that I finished it alongside the superior Dennett and Pinker books anyway. The "red queen" of the title is derived from th I might have rated this more highly if I hadn't just come off a spate of reading very similar and slightly better works that incorporate much of its content in pithier form (Daniel Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea and Steven Pinker's How the Mind Works, though those were both written afterwards), yet its central metaphor of sexual selection as arms race is compelling enough that I finished it alongside the superior Dennett and Pinker books anyway. The "red queen" of the title is derived from the famous character in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass who at one point tells Alice that in her world, you have to run as fast as you can just to stay in place. Life is similar, in that hard-won evolutionary advantages are obsoleted almost instantly as competitors adapt to keep up - the book is about how sexuality is used both on a macro level between species, as a gene-shuffler that can provide a leg up over parasites and asexual organisms that are forced to evolve a bit more slowly; and on a micro level within species, as males and females choose different game-theoretic strategies to maximize reproductive fitness. Obviously we're most interested in human sexuality, so the book does not disappoint in its exploration of titillating topics like adultery, incest, homosexuality, polygamy, promiscuity, age differences, dimorphism, fashion, and communication, with plenty of comparisons to analogous behavior in the animal kingdom. There's also plenty of pages on whether all this exciting behavior is due to nature or nurture, which I did not find to be as well-written as Dennett or Pinker's very similar sections in their books (strawmen start popping up in conjunction with loaded subjects like feminism, though this happened somewhat in Pinker's book as well); readers who aren't idiots will be unsurprised that Ridley falls into the sensible "it's both, to some degree, depending on what you're talking about" camp. I found the red queen idea to be a an illuminating metaphor and I enjoyed Ridley's take on sexual selection, even if as a work specifically on evolutionary biology it didn't rise to the level of Richard Dawkins' The Extended Phenotype, which I consider to be one of the best books existing on the subject, but since I read it right next to books that seemed to recapitulate most of its insights in fewer pages I'm not sure I would recommend it above either. It was a better-written treatise on human sexuality than your average porn, though, that's for sure.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Czilla

    Absolutely fascinating read on inherent Human sexuality and our hidden neuro-chemical desires. What if your choice in a sexual partner isn't as straightforward as you thought? What if underneath the physical attraction, racing heartbeat and goosebumps there is another factor at play? One that is entirely unnoticeable and absent of free will; one that is based on your immunity. You see, while the Human neurological system and brain receive a lot of credit for being the most complex organic system Absolutely fascinating read on inherent Human sexuality and our hidden neuro-chemical desires. What if your choice in a sexual partner isn't as straightforward as you thought? What if underneath the physical attraction, racing heartbeat and goosebumps there is another factor at play? One that is entirely unnoticeable and absent of free will; one that is based on your immunity. You see, while the Human neurological system and brain receive a lot of credit for being the most complex organic system devised by nature, the neuroimmune system is a pretty close second. This book (while much of it simply theory, to be fair) definitely does the Human immune system justice. The other major topic of this book is viruses and how Human evolution has been inexplicably tied to their constant, rapid (and quite mysterious) adaptation to our defenses. I also found it absolutely fascinating how that, without even consciously thinking about it, the Human body is in a state of endless cold war. A defensive arms race with the invaders never ending their relentless beating upon the gates. Consider this; what exactly IS a virus? It certainly behaves somewhat like a living being. It is partially animate, it seems to have a "reproductive" objective, an evolutionary purpose if you will. It adapts to it's environment to a degree. But here's the thing...a virus isn't a living thing, at all. They don't fit into any of the kingdoms of life. They aren't plants, animals, fungi, protists, bacteria or archaea. So what are they? Fascinating on some many levels, this book is a real eye opener.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mark Colenutt

    Matt Ridley was educated at Oxford and is a journalistic scientist, which means he is able to translate the more complicated scientific breakthroughs and understandings to the wider public in a clear and succinct manner. Almost anything he has written, including his Guardian articles, are worthy of a reader's time. This particuar publication is a mind blowing look at evolutionary biology from the origin and end game of sex in our cultural and genetic lives. There are many books on this topic but f Matt Ridley was educated at Oxford and is a journalistic scientist, which means he is able to translate the more complicated scientific breakthroughs and understandings to the wider public in a clear and succinct manner. Almost anything he has written, including his Guardian articles, are worthy of a reader's time. This particuar publication is a mind blowing look at evolutionary biology from the origin and end game of sex in our cultural and genetic lives. There are many books on this topic but few are as concise or lucid in description as this one. I have read it several times and my copy is smothered in annotations making it impossible for me to lend it to anyone. If you have ever questioned our bizarre mating rituals and the differing obsessions and motivations of either sex then this is the serious read that your questioning mind requires to set it at ease. However, just as one set of questions is answered you will only go on to formulate even more interrogatives but at least this time round they will be more meaninful inquisitions. This should be mandatory reading at schools for more mature students.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Davytron

    I really wanted to love this book. It was a fun and at times thorough overview of human sexuality. I do have some complaints about it, however. First, the author seemed extremely out of touch with society and came across as a very typical privileged white male in his views. It was painful to read sometimes when he'd go on about how women can do whatever they want these days with no limitations! Painful. Second, I especially disliked his lambasting of feminism as being completely wrong due to som I really wanted to love this book. It was a fun and at times thorough overview of human sexuality. I do have some complaints about it, however. First, the author seemed extremely out of touch with society and came across as a very typical privileged white male in his views. It was painful to read sometimes when he'd go on about how women can do whatever they want these days with no limitations! Painful. Second, I especially disliked his lambasting of feminism as being completely wrong due to some feminists choosing to adhere to stricter ideologies than others. He never says something like "Some feminists demand that men and women are equal" but rather says something along the lines of "Feminists demand that all men and women are equal." He spoke in very finite terms even though the subject matter at hand should have been very context specific. He breaks down one extreme feminist view and then laughs from atop his phallic ivory tower without considering that feminism is kind of huge, dude. He didn't even bring up equity. Third, his chapter on sex differences (he used gender and sex interchangeably which I also didn't agree with) was a bit finite - he probably should have included the concept of degrees of difference rather than straight up black and white differences. Or maybe talk about "in the most extreme cases, the differences may appear as follows" kind of thing. Fourth, Ridley would get on a roll and introduce some cool ideas and then end the chapter. Sometimes the next chapter would carry on but I found myself really confused at the often abrupt halts and pauses in the discussion. It made for a choppy read at times and made it difficult to understand some concepts. Granted, not all concepts are entirely understood in science either but it still made for a difficult read. He included many basic and refuted arguments for the sake of breaking them down which often more than likely didn't need to be included. He also simplified some really complex ideas to the point that they sounded ridiculous. "All linguists agree with Noam Chomskey" haha nope! Nope they certainly do not. I found the book challenging because I had to disregard a lot of my ideas about culture in regards to human nature. Ridley is very keen on explaining that there is no nature without nurture (duh); but, he came across as harsh on people who leaned slightly more toward the nurture side and he didn't do it as effectively as someone like Dawkins would have. Even with my complaints, though, this was definitely an interesting read and I feel enlightened (and slightly emasculated due to the polarity of the sex/gender chapter). Check it out! (2 stars).

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mag

    I like Matt Ridley, but I’ve read this book too late. It’s been 15 years since its publication, and it’s too long for the science to be still groundbreaking. There is absolutely nothing in it that is new to me. Moreover, some of it feels already outdated and a bit too authoritarian on many issues which we now realize will have to be updated. Hence no rating. Ridley is intelligent enough to know it himself, too. I had to smile at his own comments on the book. ‘Half the ideas in this book are proba I like Matt Ridley, but I’ve read this book too late. It’s been 15 years since its publication, and it’s too long for the science to be still groundbreaking. There is absolutely nothing in it that is new to me. Moreover, some of it feels already outdated and a bit too authoritarian on many issues which we now realize will have to be updated. Hence no rating. Ridley is intelligent enough to know it himself, too. I had to smile at his own comments on the book. ‘Half the ideas in this book are probably wrong. The history of human science is not encouraging. Galton’s eugenics, Freud’s unconscious, Durkheim’s sociology, Mead’s culture-driven anthropology, Skinner’s behaviorism, Piaget’s early learning, and Wilson’s sociobiology all appear in retrospect to be riddled with errors and false perspectives. No doubt the Red Queen’s approach is just another chapter in this marred tale.’ Having said so, I have to add that the book is very well written and that majority of ideas are no doubt sound.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Laura Noggle

    “Life is a Sisyphean race, run ever faster toward a finish line that is merely the start of the next race.” Never has this felt more real than as we approach the one year anniversary of the pandemic lock down. The Red Queen concept derives from Lewis Carroll "Through the Looking Glass": The faster you run, the more the world moves with you and the less you make progress. "Time always erodes advantage." Keep adapting, or get left behind. “Life is a Sisyphean race, run ever faster toward a finish line that is merely the start of the next race.” Never has this felt more real than as we approach the one year anniversary of the pandemic lock down. The Red Queen concept derives from Lewis Carroll "Through the Looking Glass": The faster you run, the more the world moves with you and the less you make progress. "Time always erodes advantage." Keep adapting, or get left behind.

  16. 5 out of 5

    David Joseph

    This was like being in a work release program with an educated half-wit. Very questionable reasoning throughout.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Juan Pablo

    As I was reading the first chapter, I kept thinking I was embarking on something written by a geek giggling at the word "sex"; I don't think I was entirely wrong, but if there was any giggling from the author at the mention of sex, it was for truly fascinating reasons. I disliked the first chapter: anything titled "Human Nature" in this day and age seems preposterous. I kept on reading, nevertheless, hoping I'd find salvageable bits from this. I was absolutely enraptured by chapter three, at which As I was reading the first chapter, I kept thinking I was embarking on something written by a geek giggling at the word "sex"; I don't think I was entirely wrong, but if there was any giggling from the author at the mention of sex, it was for truly fascinating reasons. I disliked the first chapter: anything titled "Human Nature" in this day and age seems preposterous. I kept on reading, nevertheless, hoping I'd find salvageable bits from this. I was absolutely enraptured by chapter three, at which point Ridley was on his way in the dissection of one of the most fascinating concepts I've ever encountered. The first chapter was an overture, I'll stick to saying not particularly well written, but should just be understood as such; the opera begins in chapter two. Mental experiment: Say you have four people, two of them a couple, male and female, who reproduce sexually, and the other two asexually reproducing females (it's called parthenogenesis, bear with me). They reproduce, what do you have? The couple has one offspring, the asexuals have one each for a total of two offspring. Asexual reproduction seems to be twice as efficient as sexual reproduction, so, why sex? Because it's fun, some might say, but this book, which kicks off with the sex enigma, provides far more informative analysis of the matter, which has been a mainstay in evolutionary biology. Turns out parasites have a lot to do with this evolutionary device... Remember the Red Queen from Lewis Carroll's wonderland? She runs around but never gets anywhere because the world moves along with her. Well, that's where the title of the book and the name of a fascinating concept come from. A host and a parasite are entangled in a Red Queen situation, where the faster evolving parasite succeeds as he breaks the host's defenses and the host succeeds when he prevents the parasite from doing so, thus running but never getting anywhere because of the changing situation. This may be referred to as an arms race as well in military imagery, but I feel the absurdity of Carroll's character makes Red Queen preferable. This Red Queen concept, and I'm sure wikipedia will do a much better job of explaining it than me, holds sway in many of evolution's questions and beyond. Ridley is witty and entertaining in his exposition, creating a truly eye-opening experience in this book for anyone with an interest in the ideas that shape our understanding of the world around us and ourselves. The book explores evolution via sexual selection, never missing illustrative examples along the way, and does a fair job at presenting the different views that have historically shaped how science understands sex and its consequences. Ridley used to be science editor at The Economist, which leads me to believe adds to the conciseness and clarity in his writing. Throughout the final chapters of the book, he delves into human nature, having gained much credibility from the writing that preceded them. His treatment of such a debated subject is incredibly illustrative of the many forces usually ignored by the disciplines that usually deal with such a subject, and provides us with an extensive look at how evolution and the Red Queen can inform. I think I'll be coming back to this book many times from now on in my thought and in my understanding of everything around me.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nick Davies

    This was an interesting exploration of the reasons for sexual reproduction in many organisms, as well as then discussing the science with relation to human sexuality and sociology. Ridley makes good thorough use of a broad range of research findings in the area, discussing these with (mainly) even-handedness and a breadth of illustrative examples. The central theme relates to the importance of sexual reproduction in protection from disease and in best perpetuating our genes. It's an educational This was an interesting exploration of the reasons for sexual reproduction in many organisms, as well as then discussing the science with relation to human sexuality and sociology. Ridley makes good thorough use of a broad range of research findings in the area, discussing these with (mainly) even-handedness and a breadth of illustrative examples. The central theme relates to the importance of sexual reproduction in protection from disease and in best perpetuating our genes. It's an educational and readable book, full of useful facts and insights - I would recommend it to anyone interested in the subject. Unfortunately for me, I found some of it hard going because much of the science was stuff I already knew about from my college and university education, and previous books I've read on the subject. I've read other Matt Ridley books before, and he seems to have honed his skills in later books - at times this got slightly bogged down and lacked pace and direction in the slower sections where I thought too many examples were given.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Gendou

    I learned a lot from this book. The thesis is that much of human intelligence is a result of a sex-selection arms race. As a background, we are asked basic questions like, "why sex"? Ridley does a good job quantifying this question and providing an honest, if uncertain answer. The short answer is, the perpetual arms races with viruses and parasites makes sex worth the cost. That cost can be as large as the Peacock's tail feathers, or the giant human brain. In the case of the human brain, the battle of I learned a lot from this book. The thesis is that much of human intelligence is a result of a sex-selection arms race. As a background, we are asked basic questions like, "why sex"? Ridley does a good job quantifying this question and providing an honest, if uncertain answer. The short answer is, the perpetual arms races with viruses and parasites makes sex worth the cost. That cost can be as large as the Peacock's tail feathers, or the giant human brain. In the case of the human brain, the battle of the sexes has resulted in an organ that is also directly useful for survival. Language and logic, according to Ridley, are byproducts of a brain suited for outwitting the opposite sex. There is much ado about cuckoldry, cheating, harems, etc. All this is actually quite disturbing, even for a dispassionate scientist like myself. But Ridley does a commendable job of disclaiming any moral interpretation of the science.

  20. 4 out of 5

    -uht!

    My God, I loved this book. Extremely accessible, yet very substantial. I don't think I can ever think about sex or human nature the same way. I feel that this is one of those seminal books that a person can't go back from. And it certainly does make it strange to go to a party and watch all the humans hooking up. My God, I loved this book. Extremely accessible, yet very substantial. I don't think I can ever think about sex or human nature the same way. I feel that this is one of those seminal books that a person can't go back from. And it certainly does make it strange to go to a party and watch all the humans hooking up.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sandra

    Excellent review of science (theories and methodologies for determining causes) of sexual reproduction, that passes the test of time (originally published in 1993!). Highly recommend. I will likely re-read this again. This book is far superior to Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality. They are often paired and compared, even though they are not, and should not be considered to be, in the same category: The Red Queen is how proper science is done, while Sex at Dawn is a theoreti Excellent review of science (theories and methodologies for determining causes) of sexual reproduction, that passes the test of time (originally published in 1993!). Highly recommend. I will likely re-read this again. This book is far superior to Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality. They are often paired and compared, even though they are not, and should not be considered to be, in the same category: The Red Queen is how proper science is done, while Sex at Dawn is a theoretical piece that provokes attention and satisfies readers' interest for reasons that are not purely scientific. It is important to maintain that distinction.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Cassandra Kay Silva

    This was an absolutely fantastic book. I love this author! The questions posed in the work are terribly to the point. Why do we have two sexes? Why not perform Asexual reproduction as many plant species do? What are the genetic, and social functions of sex from an evolutionary standpoint? I remember wondering about this very thing when studying botany in college. How did we evolve to be a diplontic species? (I want to be a dikaryotic fungus by the way... yes I did go there). Basically if you lov This was an absolutely fantastic book. I love this author! The questions posed in the work are terribly to the point. Why do we have two sexes? Why not perform Asexual reproduction as many plant species do? What are the genetic, and social functions of sex from an evolutionary standpoint? I remember wondering about this very thing when studying botany in college. How did we evolve to be a diplontic species? (I want to be a dikaryotic fungus by the way... yes I did go there). Basically if you love biology and genetics this book is going to be a rollarcoaster of fun.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    This is Evo Psych masquerading as hard science. It is sometimes dense and technical, sometimes defensive and condescending. There is some well-researched science, some reasonable observations, and some logical conclusions, but they are so inextricably tangled with sweeping generalizations, correlations misinterpreted as causations, and ambiguous data presented as certainty as to render the whole mess too annoying to read. I gave up with about 70 pages to go. Life is too short, and surely there i This is Evo Psych masquerading as hard science. It is sometimes dense and technical, sometimes defensive and condescending. There is some well-researched science, some reasonable observations, and some logical conclusions, but they are so inextricably tangled with sweeping generalizations, correlations misinterpreted as causations, and ambiguous data presented as certainty as to render the whole mess too annoying to read. I gave up with about 70 pages to go. Life is too short, and surely there is some more recent and more thoughtful writing on this topic by now.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    The payoff in this book is in the last 1/3rd of the book. The beginning is really really dry and academic. The theories are fascinating and some were mind-blowing. Ridley himself admits that they are just theories and probably half of them are wrong. But it's just a fascinating way to view human behavior through sexual selection and evolutionary advantage. The payoff in this book is in the last 1/3rd of the book. The beginning is really really dry and academic. The theories are fascinating and some were mind-blowing. Ridley himself admits that they are just theories and probably half of them are wrong. But it's just a fascinating way to view human behavior through sexual selection and evolutionary advantage.

  25. 4 out of 5

    trina

    an exposition of the basic idea that 'man is a self-domesticated animal', only far more interesting and accessible than that sounds. matt ridley tackles the question of why human beings reproduce sexually- you'd think the answer'd be 'because it's fun!', but you'd be wrong- when in the race for genes to reproduce themselves in mass quantities, asexual reproduction is more efficient and a more certain success, numbers-wise. the general answer has to do with parasites, and with the idea that like an exposition of the basic idea that 'man is a self-domesticated animal', only far more interesting and accessible than that sounds. matt ridley tackles the question of why human beings reproduce sexually- you'd think the answer'd be 'because it's fun!', but you'd be wrong- when in the race for genes to reproduce themselves in mass quantities, asexual reproduction is more efficient and a more certain success, numbers-wise. the general answer has to do with parasites, and with the idea that like alice in wonderland's red queen, who is always running but staying in the same place because her surroundings are constantly moving too, creatures are locked into an evolutionary arms race where the sooner you evolve a defense, the sooner your enemies evolve a method to crack that defense, etc. etc. we have only to read the thousands of horrifying recent articles about new strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria cropping up everywhere to understand intimately that this red queen hypothesis makes sense and what it means for us. from establishing the red queen as the basis for sexual reproduction, ridley goes on to attempt to explain the existence of a universal human nature through the lens of the effects of sexual selection on evolution. we think our lives and natures are determined by our free wills, but what if free will itself is an evolutionary ploy? or, what if evolution, instead of pitting species against species for resources and survival, is actually a vicious competition between members of the same species- like between men and women, for example? he discusses everything from why men universally prefer young women, to the standards of beauty that govern young women's lives, to why monogamy- and subsequently, adultery (as well as the strictures against it)- is the preferred organization of sexual couples the world over. he also covers the long and colored history of polygamy in humans, and compares the way we organize our lives with how our closest relatives the apes organize theirs, as well as flies, pheasants, mice, and all manner of distantly related beasties. i'm not doing justice to the beautiful complexity of this book, but i enjoyed it a lot and felt that i learned quite a bit too. it is well paced to ensure the understanding of even the most scientifically-deficient reader, i think, and he establishes his hypotheses so well that each chapter feels very common-sense and revelatory. also, being somewhat of an amazon at times, i got a lot of laughs from his constant assertion that males are not useless, and in fact they serve such and such service which he would then elaborate upon. he assumes- and assumes that we assume- that males are an aberration, or a waste of genetic space, because they well, kind of are? genetically speaking, that is, and without factoring in the usefulness of sex and genders according to the red queen hypothesis. good stuff. i also appreciated being exposed to the idea that, contrary to what our moralizing society would like us to believe, many of the things that make us well adapted to survival and reproduction are not things that make us good or even basically decent people. and i liked that he makes that clear while also making it clear that just because something is 'natural' does not mean it is right or inevitable, and that our laws, which have evolved along with us like anything else, can be upheld and followed even in the face of our own natural impulses- towards violence or sexual injustice, for example. the idea of 'change without progress' is one that flies in the face of our onward and upward modern mentality, but all it takes is a quick look around at our complicated lives and the manifold ways we've fucked everything up or failed to properly understand anything in all the years we've been 'making progress' to intuitively know that while the red queen may not be the entire explanation for why we are the way we are, it goes a long way towards an answer, one untainted by our 'reason' or morals or politics.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Shellie

    The Red Queen theory stems from the Queen in Alice in Wonderland who runs and runs but stays in the same place. She never gets any further because the world is moving with her. Genes change their locks to combat parasites and parasites make new keys. They prey is always one step faster that the predator. “Sex, according to the Red Queen theory, has nothing to do with adapting to the inanimate world—becoming bigger or better camouflaged or more tolerant of cold or better at flying—but is all abou The Red Queen theory stems from the Queen in Alice in Wonderland who runs and runs but stays in the same place. She never gets any further because the world is moving with her. Genes change their locks to combat parasites and parasites make new keys. They prey is always one step faster that the predator. “Sex, according to the Red Queen theory, has nothing to do with adapting to the inanimate world—becoming bigger or better camouflaged or more tolerant of cold or better at flying—but is all about combatting the enemy that fights back.” Genes are programmed (by who?) to replicate and mutate, so Ridley calls them “selfish.” And he talks about gene crossovers and then genes that are able to shield themselves from crossover, but more and more I’m thinking that this just proves even more that the genes aren’t what is thinking or strategizing. Yes, much of it is trial and error-- make enough keys and you’ll eventually fit one in a lock. So keep making different keys, but somebody is writing this key-making program. Ridley concludes that if genes are selfish and their top goal is to reproduce and ensure the survival of their strand, then why is there even the need for a male of a species? Now we get to the sex part. Many plants are hermaphrodite or multi-gender and some of these hermaphrodites’ genes “try to destroy their male parts. Male-killer genes have been found in more than 140 species of plants.” And so to prevent this runaway train full of “selfish genes” from derailing, some really smart overseer gene (Creator?) starts creating nuclear fertility restorer genes. Cool. And did you know that quite a few organisms out there have virgin births? And that bacterium can determine the gender? That not all animals have sex chromosomes and that lemmings have three sex chromosomes? “The Red Queen is at work. Far from settling down to a fair and reasonable way of determining gender, nature has to face an infinite series of rebellions.” As one who believes in a Creator, I took this book on to learn more about sexual selection. I did not pick it up to get into a creation debate. Funny, then, that I found the facts provided to be further evidence for my belief in God. I do believe in adaptation, survival of the fittest and genetic mutations and I appreciated the numerous studies about parasites, fungi and humans. However, when the author quotes Richard Hawkins in passages like this, “As life emerged from the primeval soup several billion years ago, the molecules that caused themselves to be replicated at the expense of others became more numerous.” CAUSED THEMSELVES? Okay, okay, they replicated, but where did the primeval soup come from? How did it cause itself? Anyway.. “Then some of those molecules discovered the virtues of cooperation and specialization, so they began to assemble in groups called chromosomes to run machines called cells that could replicate these chromosomes efficiently” and so on—“the chromosomes then discovered that several kinds of cells could merge to form a supercell, just as villages began to group together as tribes. This was the invention of the modern cell from a team of different bacteria. The cells then grouped together to make animals and plants and fungi—“ WAIT, WHAT!?! CELLS THAT ARE REALLY JUST MOLECULES THAT DISCOVERED HOW TO COOPERATE THEN DISCOVERED HOW TO CREATE SOMETHING AS COMPLICATED AS PLANTS, ANIMALS AND HUMANS !?! NOW, THAT IS A STRETCH THAT I CANNOT BELIEVE! Look at an armadillo, a sand dollar or The Grand Canyon and tell me there is no Creator! Funny, how science has to exist in the absence of a powerful creator-scientist. Great scientific examples in the book despite the religious-bashing.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Clif

    I didn't give five stars because I found this book something of a slog in the beginning. To make his case, it's necessary for Ridley to give an account of what has been found true of animal behavior before moving on to relate it to the most familiar animal, man. These accounts of the sex lives of birds and mammals and so on are rather dull to me. But stick with it! The book gets more interesting until it becomes absolutely fascinating with the chapter "Sexing the Mind". From that point on I was ha I didn't give five stars because I found this book something of a slog in the beginning. To make his case, it's necessary for Ridley to give an account of what has been found true of animal behavior before moving on to relate it to the most familiar animal, man. These accounts of the sex lives of birds and mammals and so on are rather dull to me. But stick with it! The book gets more interesting until it becomes absolutely fascinating with the chapter "Sexing the Mind". From that point on I was hanging on almost every sentence. The conclusions the author reaches are surprising, enlightening, exciting, because they are so reasonable in view of the evidence for them. The idea that prompts the title is drawn from the Red Queen, a character in Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, who must keep running faster all the time just to keep up. Evolution demands the same. The natural environment puts demands on every living thing. The most demanding thing for animals that have separate sexes, is for each sex to keep up with what the other wants - sexual selection. We can't reproduce by ourselves, so we must be able to come together with at least one member of the opposite sex to provide a future for our genes. The success of the individual in doing this determines his/her influence on future generations - what they will be like, how attractive they will be. Thus, each sex is in a contest with others of it own sex in being the most attractive to the opposite sex. It's a race that never ends. The parallels between other animals and man are remarkable. Just as remarkable are the unique characteristics of man. Why do we have such huge brains for our body size and so intelligent? Whey are we so accomplished in music and the arts and even sense of humor? Why do we have such a highly developed consciousness? Why do we have two sexes when other forms of life may have many more, or no sex, or both sexes on the same individual? Why are we monogamous and are we necessarily so? The book is driven by the question - "what is human nature?" - what is it that defines us, that we have in common with each other regardless of our individual differences? The Red Queen is going straight to my bookshelf because I know I will want to read it again. I just wish it were available on the Kindle so I could use the wonderful note-taking feature of that gadget. I shouldn't forget a warning - Ridley is no fan of the social sciences. If you think culture makes us what we are, you won't find any support for it here. He's got no time for Margaret Mead or B.F. Skinner and Freud, though he had some good insights, was off to outer space with his theory of the unconscious oedipal drive. For Ridley, evolution is in the driver's seat.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Morgan Blackledge

    Would you like to more thoroughly understand why people are the way they are and why they do the crazy shit they do? If so, this book would be a great place to start. It's one of those ridiculously insight inducing reads. It's also one of those books that you absolutely can not judge by its cover. Or by its first and last chapters. Curious? Than by all means read on. One of the things that put me off of the book (before I actually read it) was the title The Red Queen. I'm dreadfully embarrassed Would you like to more thoroughly understand why people are the way they are and why they do the crazy shit they do? If so, this book would be a great place to start. It's one of those ridiculously insight inducing reads. It's also one of those books that you absolutely can not judge by its cover. Or by its first and last chapters. Curious? Than by all means read on. One of the things that put me off of the book (before I actually read it) was the title The Red Queen. I'm dreadfully embarrassed to admit that I assumed it had something to do with menstruation. Not that there's anything wrong with menstruation. I just wasn't particularly motivated to commit a decent chunk of my "one wild life" to a long form exploration of that particular subject. When I actually read the book, I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't about menstruation at all. The title is actually a clever reference 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's hypothesis is that sex is essentially an organisms strategy for outwitting its constantly mutating internal predators (e.g. parasites, viruses etc.), a process he likens to an arms race. The point being, that in any sort of arms race, both sides work their asses off just to maintain their relative positions against the other. Essentially running in place. Hence "The Red Queen" analogy. Another reason I was reluctant to read the book, before a I actually read the book, was that I was sort of convinced that sexual selection (as opposed to natural selection all red in tooth and claw) was the lesser feature of Darwin's dangerous idea. After actually reading the book, I have essentially experienced a 180 degree change in perspective. I now view sexual selection as possessing awesome explanatory power. The Red Queen bravely attempts to address dozens of difficult questions regarding the otherwise mysterious workings of human nature and culture. Far form perfect. Provisional and dated. But nevertheless less brilliantly written and entertaining as all get out. The Red Queen offers an extraordinarily generative approach for interpreting the human condition and how it has evolved. I highly recommend actually reading this book.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Taylor Pearson

    An interesting book about human evolution, and the sciences around it. I read it for the first time maybe ten years ago and found it just as thought-provoking the second time around. Evolution is a process of survival and reproduction, but most evolutionary theory focuses on the survival side of things. The Red Queen argues that, in fact, the action is on the reproduction side of things. This book offers a take on how sex, not survival, has been the primary driver of evolution, and more importantl An interesting book about human evolution, and the sciences around it. I read it for the first time maybe ten years ago and found it just as thought-provoking the second time around. Evolution is a process of survival and reproduction, but most evolutionary theory focuses on the survival side of things. The Red Queen argues that, in fact, the action is on the reproduction side of things. This book offers a take on how sex, not survival, has been the primary driver of evolution, and more importantly, what drives sex. It's well written, with a bit of humor and lots of great stories.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mckinley

    Since this is a science book it is troubling that this doesn't follow the scientific method. Frequently topics are not developed logically leading to confusing and odd sentences. Some interesting propositions -- read for a lark. Since this is a science book it is troubling that this doesn't follow the scientific method. Frequently topics are not developed logically leading to confusing and odd sentences. Some interesting propositions -- read for a lark.

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