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VINE VOICEon September 3, 2007
What happens when two psychologists write a book on why people do the things they do?

It gets a loooong title: Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters: From Dating, Shopping, and Praying to Going to War and Becoming a Billionaire-- Two Evolutionary Psychologists Explain Why We Do What We Do.

This book, written primarily by Alan Miller, has, as its core, a commitment to the Savanna Principle: "The human brain has difficulty comprehending and dealing with entities and situations that did not exist in the ancestral environment" (p. 21).

In other words, look to humans (or early hominids) hundreds of thousands of years ago to get a clue to why, well, if Hillary Clinton is elected President of the US, she will not have an affair.

Intriguing?

This book is going to irritate some, be the subject of water cooler conversations, be involved in harassment complaints (seriously... someone is going to use the "Savanna Principle defense"), and hit the Jay Leno show. How can it not, when it is rich with topics like:

- The human "semen displacement device" (p. 85).
- The "horny sister hypothesis" (p. 181).
- The myth of the midlife crisis (p. 140).
- Why most suicide bombers are Muslim (p. 165).
- Why do children love their parents (p. 187).

The authors revisit early humans in the savanna. What strategies, environmentally and genetically based, lead to humans making more copies of themselves than other strategies ("genetic fitness"). How did natural selection affect humans from the shoulders up?

When I first read the "Savanna Principle" ( "The human brain has difficulty comprehending and dealing with entities and situations that did not exist in the ancestral environment"), I immediately thought of some very non-savanna issues: flying a F-22 Raptor, performing Shakespeare, developing open heart surgery... very non-ancestral environment human activities and accomplishments. I would say that the human brain does not have difficulties here. We are very trainable. Yet the focus of this book is on our interactions with other people, particularly male-female interactions.

I was immediately reminded of an earlier book titled Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine, by Randolph Nesse and George C. Williams. They also took the view that we can better understand human health and sickness with a "Savanna Principle" approach.

The book is really hypothesis based. There are many ideas here, some of which will be found to be untrue, but others will be found to be true. These hypotheses are out there for scientists to investigate. In fact, just this morning there was an article in the newspaper that indicated researchers had proven (this will be debatable) that men are attracted to good-looking women, while women are attracted to good providers.

What would a savanna-raised primate do?
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on November 24, 2007
This book is really good, because besides a few repetitions it really is interesting and presents novel ideas (at least to people like me, who are not familiar with this topic) to old questions. It is really easy to understand, not too complicated, and shows the whole picture, not just the ideas the authors think are right, but the the other side as well (even tho they try their best to point out what they believe in, but thats reasonable). It really isn't biased and is a really good book, I recommend it to anyone who isn't afraid of new ideas.
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on November 20, 2007
The authors of this book have done an excellent job giving the reader a simple overview of the relatively new field of evolutionary psychology. Unfortunately, they tend to rely on a number of gimmicks to "spruce up" some questionable theorizing. On the whole however, readers will find many traditionally liberal and conservative social assumptions not only critiqued, but in many cases demolished entirely.

Two minor grievances I had: The authors repeatedly refer to natural selection with flavorful yet somewhat incorrect language. For example, explaining the universal male preference for youthful women, they describe men as looking for the most fertile partner. Yet men have no such interest. It is the process of SELECTION which has given certain men the adaptation (desire for youth) allowing them the procreational advantage.

My other grievance concerns the reductionism with which they assault the "traditional social scientific view". Absurdly, they declare that most social scientists find little biological basis for human behavior. While their adoption of biological explanations is certainly greater and more radical, the social science "norm" lies more precisely at a middle ground between the age-old nature/nurture polarities. I'm sure they fancy themselves more courageous this way, but it's quite fallacious.

That said, however, the book is a fascinating primer on evolutionary psychology, and highly recommended.
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on October 30, 2007
This book is great fun. It is both a wide-ranging and slightly audacious romp through the field of evolutionary psychology and a compelling illustration of the explanatory power of the theory.
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on September 4, 2007
What's the song line: is that all there is? Well, yes, pretty much according to Miller and Kanazawa in this wide ranging, interesting, and sometimes upsetting book. The Fight: are we driven by genes or by how we are raised? For them, it is the genes, no contest. Men still look for blonde women because being blonde told a man 10,000 years ago that a woman was young and thus fertile(most women with blonde hair in their youth have it turn brown as they age) and a man's brain is still wired to see it that way, ignoring the fact older women can get all sorts of cosmetic help. Same with large breasts: small ones do not sag as much as a woman ages but large ones do---thus an indication of age and less fertility. Do good looks matter? Yes they do---faces that have more symmetry are considered by our genes to be better looking(experiments with babies show they spend more time looking at these faces) and symmetry is a sign of health and a sign of health is a sign that the progeny will be healthy. And a woman will cheat for the sake of producing better looking offsping. And on it goes. A final nugget: men and women have different brains, with a man's brain big on classifying and developing systems to look at the world(thus more men and less women of science) and a woman's brain is more empathetic(thus more nurses and grade school teachers). (For a very good book on women, check out "The Female Brain,") Some of the book is likely true(genes do play a role), some of the book good only for cocktail party chatter, and some of the book destined for the dust bin. But whichever category it goes in, this is an easy to read and provocative introduction to evolutionary biology.
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on April 20, 2008
I know that some claims are a little bit crazy and there is no strong evidences supporting many of its claims (like Muslim suicides relation with religious and sexual life)

In other words, some parts are very interesting and others are very funny.

But the main point that the book points is strong. The natural selection of human beings basically has stopped at Savannah Age, because the last thousands years was very few time for important evolutionary changes.

There is a very strong cultural and religious pressures against any idea that the mankind, at last, is not so related to political correctness.

It hurts, but not all truth is beautiful or good. Few can support that nowadays world is a goodness and happiness land.

Several modern behaviors is illogical. The everlasting status hunting lead many people to unhappiness. The book stated that the sex is a very important force behind money, power and economics issues. It seems absolutely real but is not easy the people recognize it. In part, they are not so aware.

So I like this book very much, because it makes me think. Stay open-minded but practices skepticism and lightness. Don't take it so serious and have fun.
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on December 31, 2007
Although some of the theories are still in fledgling stages and research is thin, they are none the less compelling and exciting to read about. Then again, many of the other theories have been well researched, peer-reviewed and tested. The author(s) do a good job of pointing out the evidence, validity, and assumptions regarding each. The format is simple and intuitive, very well put together. This book is basically a primer for people interested in evolutionary psychology with some fascinating insight and entertaining bits of information thrown in. It's excellent and I seriously couldn't put it down. I read the book from cover to cover in less then three days.

Warning: This book is not PC. The author(s) make a well argued case for this up front. Some of the material can be offensive to some people but the true message is the evidence of science, not our emotional reactions to it. If you can let go of your emotional attachments to a few social paradigms and review the evidence logically, you'll be OK. If not, this may not be the book for you. By the way, it does not confirm any particular racial biases or abilities, etc. Quite the opposite. It exposes that the cultural kit and the abilities we share are universal across all of humanity. So no, this is no eugenics revival or anything sad and unscientific like that.

The other issue I've noticed with certain readers is that they apply a very egotistical view to the theories. For example, I don't personally like blonds any more than brunettes. I am a statistical anomaly, just like many other people are. Simply because I don't share the majority view point of subjects tested the world over, does not mean that the results of the testing are invalid or that a trend significant enough to warrant some explaining does not exist. I keep hearing things like 'Hey, I don't like blonds! This is wrong!' Anyway, you can see the fallacy in that.

Take theories and hypotheses presented in this book for what they are based upon the research and evidence presented, not your gut reaction to the outcomes. Of course further rational explanations will evolve as further studies are taken and new evidence is uncovered. That's the nature of the scientific process!

Anyway, very fun read. I really enjoyed it.
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on January 9, 2008
This book is clearly written and a quick, easy read. Many of the main arguments are backed by solid research and logic. Some of the theories seem to be a stretch, which is to be expected in a new, rapidly expanding body of knowledge. This book provides some of the best explanations of human behavior I have come across. The world seems a little less confusing to me after reading this book.
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on September 25, 2007
I love this book!

If you ever wondered why men would rather date Barbie than her brunette sister Midge, whether marriage can make a bad boy "settle down," why most suicide bombers are Muslim, and why the heck we even bother with religion, read this book!

You might like to believe you're a sophsticated creature who has risen above animalistic behavior, but this book proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the human mind quit evolving shortly after the stone age, and that we're all a lot closer to knuckle dragging baboons than we think.

Hilarious and insightful.
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on January 16, 2008
A good example of what I've come to term "sound bite nonfiction", this book was a quick read with several "hmmmm" moments. The premise of evolutionary psychology - that the evolution of human minds has not kept up with the changes in our environment, and that the unconscious reason for everything we do is based on sex and the desire to reproduce - is discussed in short sections with titles such as "Why do men like blonde bombshells (and why do women want to look like them)?", "Why might handsome men make bad husbands?", "What do Bill Gates and Paul McCartney have in common with criminals?" For the first three-quarters of this book, I had few problems with the author's conclusions, and enough "yeah, that makes sense" moments to keep me interested. However, in the last couple chapters, they stretch the concepts of evolutionary psychology to try to explain suicide bombers, why single women travel more than men, and several other questions that I just don't quite buy. But there's enough in the beginning of the book to make it worth picking up.
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