8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you're deciding whether to buy this book...
To summarize anything I might say below - this is an incredible book. Mind-blowing. If you're reading reviews (as I do) trying to find the few people who didn't love the book so you can have an "unbiased" view, very good for you. (that's how I choose books, usually) My unbiased view is this - I *very rarely* give out fives. This is one of the few books that deserves...
Published on Nov 21 2003 by David Relyea
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A paradigm of the adaptationist viewpoint
Frankly, this was a disappointing book from both a biological and a philosophical perspective. While the inferences made were coherent within the structure of Ridley's thought, the author left out an enormous amount of details and counter-examples which first year college students studying evolution would know. For example, Gould and Lewontin often comment that...
Published on Feb 12 2001 by hcd
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A paradigm of the adaptationist viewpoint,
As a work of science or social science, Ridley's book is severely flawed. Numerous examples which he uses to support his argument contain no citations and gloss over large sociological, political, and biological debates. As an example, he cites a Northwestern Pacific Indian tribe and their remarkable ability to shift their marital structure based on economic conditions. Yet, his citation does not refer to any study where this material is presented. Instead, it is merely used to support his final epistemological claim.
Ridley's argument is entertaining, but filled with fictions. As an introduction to evolutionary psychology, you will not find a better one. Unfortunately, the book is also indicative of the weaknesses of the field, and the enormous distance it must go if it is to present a convincing argument concerning human nature.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you're deciding whether to buy this book...,
This review is from: The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature (Paperback)To summarize anything I might say below - this is an incredible book. Mind-blowing. If you're reading reviews (as I do) trying to find the few people who didn't love the book so you can have an "unbiased" view, very good for you. (that's how I choose books, usually) My unbiased view is this - I *very rarely* give out fives. This is one of the few books that deserves it.
Matt Ridley explains in the epilogue of The Red Queen that half of his ideas are probably wrong, just like those of Freud, Jung, and many others. But this common-sense attitude, projected onto the evolution of reproduction, is EXACTLY what about this book makes it so incredible.
Ridley is grounded in a reality unfettered by religion, social science, social mores, or really any sort of external "moral" influence. (Not that he's the antichrist or anything - he's just not letting standard social concepts influence his ideas.) A few people who don't usually want to accept reality (ultra-conservatives) will hate this book. Fine. If you believe in creationism, go elsewhere. Otherwise, read this book! This is not a political or an ideological work - this is a scientific text on human evolution, and how it has been influenced by sex.
I have been able to RIVET people with discussions of facts and theories from this book. It's the best money I've spent on a single book in quite a long while. And in case I sound like way too much of a suck-up - I haven't read any of Ridley's other works, not because I haven't bought them, but because I looked through them in bookstores, and every one I looked at seems either uninteresting, wrong, or awful. But this one is GREAT!
4.0 out of 5 stars Brain candy.,
This review is from: The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature (Paperback)I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It is well written, attention grabbing, humorous, and ultimately engages the reader in critical thought. Ridley draws from vastly different fields in attempts to weave a holistic rug of the adaptive nature of sex, but in doing so he leaves out some important studies. I challenge future readers to do their homework, and to follow up by reading some of the material he references. Definitely a stimulating read!
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative, witty and fun to read,
The "red queen" is a metaphor for an arms race. In an arms race both sides run as fast and as hard as they can to stay in the same place relatively speaking. In evolution the arms race is between parasite and host or between predator and prey. Both are running as fast as they can just to keep up, because when one gets an advantage, the other finds a counter. The red queen comes from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1871) since that monarch ran as fast as she could but never got anywhere at all. The red queen is also a metaphor for the theory that there is no "progress" in evolution, that "...species do not get better at surviving... Their chances of extinction are random" (p. 64).
Ridley covers a lot of territory here, ranging from sex to the handicap principle to gossip to why our brains are big (to figure out what the other person is up to!). The Red Queen answers the question, "Why is there sex?" Apparently we have sexuality rather than asexuality because of the arms race between microbes and our immune systems. Sex is a way of storing defenses against parasites in the gene pool of the species and then mixing them anew each generation to fool the microbes. Without the gene pool and the DNA mixing, the microbes would quickly evolve a way around the organism's defenses; but with sexuality the organism juggles its "locks" every generation and so is able to keep up with the fast-mutating microbes. When again the microbes evolve the keys to these locks, the gene pool is mixed again and the organism comes up with an old lock that the microbes again have to evolve a key to.
Some of the fun is the incisive way Ridley presents the ideas, and the ideas he chooses to present. For example, note how effectively he demolishes Freud's naive incest taboo theory on pages 282-286. Also interesting is his presentation of the idea that it is not thinness in women per se that attracts men, but a low ratio of waistline to hip line that fetches them. There are chapters entitled "Polygamy and the Nature of Men," and "Monogamy and the Nature of Women." In Chapter 9, "The Uses of Beauty," Ridley goes into some detail on why men prefer thin and blond women. And on pages 217-218 he explains why women cuckold their mates: "This is because her husband is, almost by definition, usually not the best male there is-else how would he have ended up married to her?" She wants the parental care of her husband and some other man's superior-she thinks-genes.
Ridley is rather modest and says that most of the ideas in the book are not his and at any rate many of them will undoubtedly be proven wrong. This is refreshing to read when I think about all the delusive ideas so proudly trumpeted by popular books on evolution and human behavior in the past. Desmond Morris's The Naked Ape (1967) and Elaine Morgan's The Aquatic Ape: A Theory of Human Evolution (1982) come to mind, both fine books, but now seen to be substantially mistaken.
Written in an engaging and lucid style, The Red Queen really is the best of a number of books on evolutionary psychology to appear over the last decade and one that is a delight to read.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, But Dense,
This review is from: The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature (Paperback)One of the mysteries that I've been struggling with for the past few years is why so many people engage in extramarital affairs. If most people agree that it's wrong to break marriage vows, why do so many people do it. Another way of looking at the question is by asking why we are so obsessed with sex that it overcomes our better judgment.
Although I don't agree with everything in Mr. Ridley's book, it adds a dimension to the debate that I hadn't really considered, which is that almost all human behavior is driven by sexual urges and reproduction at an evolutionary level. The behaviors that lead to successful reproduction are likely to be passed to later generations, while the only trait that cannot be passed along is abstinence. From this model, people will engage in all kinds of seemingly irrational behavior when doing so is biologically advantageous.
My fundamental distress with this premise is that it diminishes the value of human reason, which is something that evolved through generations just as much as the biological drive to reproduce. While Mr. Ridley premise is that one of the main values of being smart is that it allows the brainy people to outwit their sexual competitors, I get depressed when I think of us as essentially no more than reproductive machines.
Mr. Ridley writes a good story that adds some nice twists to understanding human behavior. The writing did not move as quickly as I would have hoped, and some of the details about other species' sexual behavior dragged at times, but I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for explanations for behaviors that might not otherwise make sense.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 5 Stars are not enough,
Elsewhere on these pages, many have reviewed the book itself. I would like to add that not only does the prose sparkle, but reading the book might make you view people's behaviour anew. I found myself doing that.
Read this book. It is provocative and entertaining. This is one of the few books that actually had me 'tingling' like a good mystery does......
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Fascinating. But...,
This review is from: The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature (Paperback)This is an excellent book. Every few paragraphs or so along the way, you are almost forced to stop reading so as to give yourself more time to think about and digest the truly interesting details or studies Mr. Ridley has just outlined or explained. And, unlike other books of its sort, it does not seem to have any blocks of five or ten pages of sheer tedium buried anywhere inside. If there are any boring bits, I simply do not recall suffering through them.
As Ridley is often presenting competing schools of thought on specific topics, giving the reader an excellent overview of the leading expert's views and theories, you cannot hold him responsible for any logical errors in any of the arguments as those arguments belong to other people, namely the biologists he introduces.
But there is one bit of faulty reasoning which Mr. Ridley does not seem to catch along the way, but he is not alone. It has to do with the question of why organisms reproduce sexually. This topic is one of the first big questions addressed by the book. While the answer in the book is most probably right (and I will not give it away here), the problem of sexual reproduction as stated is wrongly conceived.
According to the book, an asexual organism has a genetic advantage over a sexually reproducing organism of the same species because the latter only donates half of its genetic information to each of its offspring, whereas the former passes on all of its genetic code to each and every one of its offspring (by foregoing meiosis, and simply cloning itself, so to speak). So, the reasoning goes, if both the asexual and the sexual individuals have the same survival and reproduction rates (obviously a key assumption), the genes of the asexual individuals will very soon crowd out those of the sexual individuals, that is over the course of several generations, giving rise to a population of asexual organisms. Looked at this way, it would appear that any given species of sexually reproducing organisms is vulneralbe to being replaced by asexual members once the mutation arises which allows for an individual to dispense with sexual repoduction.
The flaw with this reasoning comes from looking at an individual's whole genome instead of looking at what, genetically speaking, determines what type of repoduction the individual organism will practice. Individuals which reproduce sexually do indeed sacrifice half of their genetic content per offspring, but that is irrelevant to the problem. The gene (assume it is one gene for simplicity sake) for sexual reproduction is simply not out-competed numerically by the gene that causes asexual reproduction for one simple reason: in order for a sexually reproducing organism to have an offspring, it must receive a genetic contribution from another sexually reproducing organism. In this way, all of the offspring of any given sexually reproducing individual will end up with two copies of the gene for sexual reproduction (I know I should say allele) -- one from each parent, instead of both from one parent. Therefore the sexual gene suffers no automatic disadvantage because all sexually reproducing individuals produce offspring which contain two copies of that same gene. So, by virtue of meiosis alone, the sexually reproducing population is not vulneralbe to being replaced by asexual individuals.
This does not mean that there are no other serious costs to sexual reproduction that are relevant, and may be worth avoiding if at all possible by asexual reproduction, but the biggest reason cited by the book is actually no reason at all.
I happily concede that even if I am right, this takes nothing away from The Red Queen, as this issue is but one of many addressed by Mr. Ridley.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well worth the read.,
This review is from: The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature (Paperback)I am not a biologist, anthropologist, genetecist.... or, indeed, any sort of 'ist' in the scientist sense. This book covers some very complex biological issues, but it does so in a way that can easily be grasped by the lay-person... perhaps I don't understand all the minutiae of the processes and principles being discussed, but at least I am led by Mr Ridley to a basic understaning of those things.
I read a second book by this same gentleman (I forget the title for the moment) and I didn't enjoy it quite as much, but this book is a great read for the non-scientist who wants to learn more.
I think, even though I am admittedly not as long-steeped in the studies of Mr Ridley, not always convinced by everything he suggests but I have no doubt that Mr Ridley is enough of a scientist to allow for the possibility of error or in his conclusions. I have read this book several times already and will read it again.
C. John Thompson
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sexy Reading,
This review is from: The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature (Paperback)Sex sells. And so it should. Zoologists recognise sex as a major driving force in evolution. In this enthralling book, Matt Ridley turns his attention to the implications for humans. Polygamy, monogamy, infidelity, beauty, sexual jealousy; all can be understood anew in the light of evolution.
There are surprising conclusions to be drawn. For example, polygamy may not serve the interests of men, since it excludes many from sex entirely. Monogamy may be the result of the male majority competing for a slice of the sexual pie (mmm... sexual pie).
Ridley is an excellent guide in this exploration of human nature. His style is seductively easy to read, sometimes lulling you into accepting his arguments uncritically. But keep your wits about you and you will enjoy an engaging and clear - if somewhat whistle stop - tour of how sex has shaped humanity. This book can be read by anyone interested in what makes us human, from school pupils to professional scientists.
One final tip: the first section of the book concentrates on animals other than humans. This is necessary to set the scene, but for the really juicy stuff, skip to the later chapters.
4.0 out of 5 stars A different sex discussion,
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The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature by Matt Ridley (Paperback - April 16 2003)
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