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Homicide (Foundations of Human Behavior)

10 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0202011783
ISBN-10: 020201178X
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Editorial Reviews


"The fascination of the subject and the felicity of the writing make this an irresistible book. Without sacrificing scholarship, Daly and Wilson maintain an outspoken, at times quietly humorous, often suspenseful, always lucid prose. Their book is a model of absorbing analysis for the educated layman. . . . many anthropologists might also find it a vehicle by which to explore the Darwinian approach to human behavior."

American Journal of Physical Anthropology

“The authors bring order and clarity to the welter of information about homicide by means of a bold and imaginative application of “selection thinking,” an approach they characterize as “evolutionary psychology” . . . . A brief review cannot do justice to the range and depth of Daly and Wilson’s accomplishment. This meticulously researched and elegantly written book is a stunning example of the unique power of selection thinking to illuminate human affairs.”

—Donald Symons, The Quarterly Review of Biology

“Daly and Wilson’s latest book is an attempt to understand the many aspects and varieties of homicide in terms of an “evolutionary psychological” approach founded on Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. . . . Daly and Wilson’s attempt to explain homicide in these terms has led them to undertake a wide-ranging and original review of the literature, combined with many statistical tests of various hypotheses along the way. Their study is a valuable contribution to the literature, providing many insights on homicide as well as interesting asides on sociobiology, sexual jealousy, the Oedipus complex, criminal responsibility, Geronimo and revenge murders, the decline of kin right in English law, Middle Easter harems, “May-December” relationships, “biophobia,” and many other topics.”

—Anthony R. Mawson, Contemporary Sociology

Homicide is must reading for any anthropologist interested in conflict. . . . Homicide has convinced me that from a fitness perspective killing is rational, from infanticide to capital punishment.”

—Keith F. Otterbein, American Anthropologist

About the Author

Margo Wilson (1942-2009) was professor of psychology at McMaster University. She was former editor-in-chief of Evolution and Human Behavior and former president of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society.

Martin Daly is professor of psychology at McMaster University. His other writings (which he co-authored with Margo Wilson) include Sex, Evolution, and Behaviour, and The Truth About Cinderella: A Darwinian View of Parental Love.


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Product Details

  • Series: Foundations of Human Behavior
  • Paperback: 340 pages
  • Publisher: Aldine Transaction (December 31, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 020201178X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0202011783
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #581,537 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Edward Downie on March 29, 1998
Format: Paperback
Although nominally about the material designated in its title, this book is no mere collection of statistics, but contains wide-ranging discussions of evolutionary psychology, which Daly & Wilson use as the framework for an understanding of the phenomenon of homicide. So if the propensity to homicide is bred into the human race by millennia of natural selection, so also are other phenomena with which society struggles, like sexual harassment. I guess my point is that this book is about homicide and more. It's also lucid and even witty. It reads like a detective story, which indeed it is, but the culprit here is manifold rather than singular. The book will also furnish guidance to those who subscribe to the view that arrest, conviction, and incarceration will have only limited effects on the homicide rate, and that homicide be treated also as a public health problem. Daly & Wilson consider anthropological data from around the world and historical data as well to draw their inferences. In the most common type of murder the perpetrator and victim are young men who know each other and are in (ostensible) conflict over some trivial matter. But Daly & Wilson say that murder is the rare outcome of a common situation where two men face off against each other with each trying to appear more formidable and dangerous than the other. The (biological) reason they behave as they do is that such behavior causes them to acquire (or keep) control of the reproductive behavior of their women. Think about it: wimps, who allowed their women to be taken away from themselves, left no wimp genes in the gene pool. Of course there are a lot of other kinds of murders: children are occasionally murdered, sometimes by their natural parents, but more often by step-parents.Read more ›
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 2, 2003
Format: Paperback
I've now read this book about 10 times over the past three years while teaching an evolution of human behavior course at the college where I'm employed. I was motivated to say a few supportive words about this book because I have become convinced of its groundbreaking importance in the scientific literature. After a decade of reading and studying evolutionary anthropology/psychology I find no other single book that so clearly and convincingly articulates the application of Darwinian thinking to modern human behavior. It is a perfect text to use with students as it not only teaches a wealth of information, but is also an excellent example of critical interpretation of data. Many of my students have commented on the power of this book to transform them into appreciative readers of science. From my own experience, it is one of a few books that transformed me from a standard social science undergraduate--mired in theoretical mush--into a more critical and thoughtful scholar. The other books that influenced me were by Sarah Hrdy, Don Symons, and later, Jarome Barkow et al. I encourage anyone interested in human behavior to read this book. Bring along a collegiate dictionary if your vocabulary is anything like that of my undergraduates!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Pat Barclay on January 4, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A classic in evolutionary psychology. The ideas are still fresh despite the book now being 25 years old, as most subsequent work is based on this book. Well-written and packed with data, it's considerably more careful (and less sensationalist) than some others that have followed. Strongly recommended to anyone with an interest in either the causes of violence or in evolutionary psych... it's an example of how to do it right.
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This is a very readable, scholarly analysis of the phenomenon of homicide from the point of view of evolutionary psychology. It covers all the various forms of homicide (including infanticide as practiced in hunting/gathering societies) and is very good at cross-cultural comparison. This book confirmed my suspicion that the clever homicides imaginatively depicted in classical detective fiction are very rare compared to the ordinary impulsive, garden-variety killings that take place within the family and as a result of altercations between comparative strangers (mostly young men).
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An interesting and well written book, but clearly the authors do not stray from an interpretive psychologist viewpoint. They tell a fascinating version of an anthropological and nurturing position of violence with plenty of research statistics to interpret. They seem to steer clear from biological causation of violence. Reads more like academic journal for a specific audience, than a book for the general reader.
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