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Homo Mysterious: Evolutionary Puzzles of Human Nature 1st Edition

18 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199751945
ISBN-10: 9780199751945
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Editorial Reviews


"A beautifully written book. It has the wisdom of maturity but with none of its ponderousness, the enthusiasm of youth with none of its brashness." -- Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion

"David Barash has long been one of our wittiest, warmest, and most insightful writers on the implications of evolution for human nature." -- Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

"David Barash is a thinker who combines deep understanding of evolutionary science with a deft pen, an unpretentious erudition, and a mischievous sense of humor. If you've ever been puzzled by, longed for, or found comfort in female orgasms, literary art, or the idea of an afterlife, this is your chance to see how a wise scientist uses Darwinian theory to try to unravel those riddles, and many more besides." -- Melvin Konner, author of The Evolution of Childhood: Relationships, Emotion, Mind and The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit

"David Barash is incapable of writing a dull word. Any discussion of human nature is bound to be controversial, and Barash is fearless in plunging in and assessing ideas and making suggestions. You will surely not agree with everything he says, but equally surely, you will come away better informed and wiser in your future judgments about our ever-fascinating species." -- Michael Ruse, editor of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Darwin and Evolution

"A thoughtful, witty book." --Publishers Weekly

"Evolutionary psychologist David Barash takes a crack at the enduring enigmas of human evolution. Starting with what we don't know, he strides boldly into a jungle of hypotheses. It is an entertaining exploration through sexual phenomena such as concealed ovulation, breasts and the menopause; art, where explanations such as Steven Pinker's "cheesecake for the mind" feature; the roots of religion, from the "God gene" to feel-good neurochemicals; and, finally, our big brains and the vast reach of human intelligence." -- Nature

"After summarizing current scientific research on these topics, Barash discusses supporting or contradictory theories, acknowledging that, while much is speculation, it is only through discussion and examination that explanations may eventually be found. A prolific writer, Barash has discussed issues of sexuality and sociobiology in previous books, e.g., How Women Got Their Curves and Other Just-So Stories and The Gender Gap: The Biology of Male-Female Differences. VERDICT A fascinating, well-researched introduction to the conundrums of evolutionary psychology and sociobiology written for the general reader." -- Lucille M. Boone, San José P.L., CA, Library Journal

"Homo Mysterious: Evolutionary Puzzles of Human Nature (Oxford), a new book by David Barash, a professor of psychology and biology at the University of Washington, Seattle, inadvertently illustrates how just-so stories about humanity remain strikingly oversold. As Barash works through the common evolutionary speculations about our sexual behavior, mental abilities, religion, and art, he shows how far we still are from knowing how to talk about the evolution of the mind." -- Anthony Gottlieb, The New Yorker

"...Homo Mysterious poses fascinating questions, and the potential answers are often informative." -- Science News

"Homo Mysterious is a well-researched, well-articulated, and unpretentious attempt to resolve a number of unanswered human evolutionary questions." --The Quarterly Review of Biology

About the Author

David P. Barash is Professor of Psychology and Biology at the University of Washington, Seattle, and author or coauthor of dozens of books, including The Hare and the Tortoise: The Conflict between Culture and Biology in Human Affairs; Madame Bovary's Ovaries: A Darwinian Look at Literature; and Payback: Why We Retaliate, Redirect Aggression, and Take Revenge. He is also a regular contributor to the Chronicle of Higher Education and to the op-ed page of the Los Angeles Times, one of the founders of sociobiology, a Fellow of the AAAS, and the recipient of numerous awards.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (June 29, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780199751945
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199751945
  • ASIN: 0199751943
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.2 x 6.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #541,673 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David P. Barash is an evolutionary biologist (Ph.D. zoology, Univ. of Wisconsin), a professor of psychology at the University of Washington, and the author of 30 books, dealing with various aspects of evolution, animal and human behavior, and peace studies. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and has received numerous awards. He is most proud, however, of his very personal collaboration with Judith Eve Lipton, his three children, one grandchild, and having been named by an infamous rightwing nut as one of the "101 most dangerous professors" in the United States. His dangerousness may or may not be apparent from his writing!

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By PatCali500 on August 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I also purchased this book after a review in 'Scientific American.' It includes very entertaining discussions considering unsolved human mysteries, from menstruation and hidden ovulation to religion. If chapter 1 gets you down, I recommend continuing on to chapter 2 and beyond, which will not disappoint. Now this is only my opinion, of course -- but I almost put the book down never to pick it up again when trying to read the first chapter, which reads like an Introduction instead of a chapter. Chapter 1 discusses reasons for the title and what the author hopes to accomplish in the text. Why? Maybe in the interest of brevity and fewer pages, editors no longer allow Introductions, forcing the poor authors to include introductory material in chapter 1. However, after skimming/skipping the few pages of introductory material, my expectations for a good read were met beginning with chapter 2. I'll pass the book on to my husband and recommend it to my friends.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By W. Cheung on December 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Essentially this is a fascinating book on some proposed evolutionary psychology explanations of human behaviors and characteristics, i.e. the ways these behaviors might have conferred survival and reproductive benefits. Four areas are explored: sex, art, religion and intelligence. The first is most satisfactorily explained. So successful that I don't think there is any mystery left (although the author poses a more modest claim). It attempts to explain for instance, quoting Dr Sarah Hrdy, "a disconcerting mismatch between a female capable of multiple sequential orgasms and a male partner typically capable of one climax per copulatory bout" (page 58). Likewise, with five pages of 83 references, it attempts to explain how natural selection allows the persistence of homosexuality, when this should ostensibly reduce reproductive success by definition. Another interesting topic covered is the uniqueness of human females having prominent breasts even when not lactating - this is not observed in other mammals or primates.

The chapters on art and religion, however, are less rewarding. Readers can decide themselves how convincing they are. E.g. if art is a by-product of sexual selection (Chapter 6), then should we not expect more female connoisseur when/if there is a preponderance of male artists? And shouldn't artists in general have disproportionately more progeny?

There are two chapters on religion. Although interesting, there is something missing or even amiss here. The two definitions of religion used in the book, one by Daniel Dennntt (p. 210) and the other by Emil Durkheim (p. 239), restricts the discussion primarily to the social aspects of religion. The book does not discuss religious experience at all. Arguably this is of utmost importance to a religious believer.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAME on August 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover
At the outset of this work David Barash distinguishes between religious 'mystery' and scientific 'mysterious' His approach is one in which he is seeking to understand by scientific means elements in human development which are 'mysterious' By 'mysterious' he means that they may not be known now but are 'knowable' He also makes clear that his focus is on nuts- and- bolts explanations of certain behaviors but rather on the 'why' behind them. He, a long - time teacher of Science, wishes too to stimulate the reader into understanding that while Science is often taught as if he we know and understand completely the subject matter in question in fact in most areas of scientific work unanswered questions abound. For Barash it is clear that these answers will eventually be found by Science. In this work he is taking what he regards as some of the most interesting questions related to human development and exploring them. At the outset he will study pecularities of female human sexuality including 'concealed ovulation' 'prominent breast size and 'women's orgasm'. He will also study same- sex sexuality, the question of why women live longer than men, the development of art and culture, and religion. The explanations he will give will be in terms of what adds to 'reproductive advantage' of those involved. And this though he makes it clear that the answers he gives our not definitive and are subject to further investigation. Still he seems to opt for the hypothesis that none of these behaviors might have simply emerged and remained as part of the human without their having some evolutionary advantage. The one underlying grand principle behind every explanation he suggests is 'reproductive advantage'.Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jon S. Chorley on January 10, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Highly engaging yet rigorous review of the evolutionary history of our species, with special emphasis on energy trade-offs, which effectively sets the stage for the second part, which discusses the health impacts of the resulting evolutionary miss-matches in our modern over-abundant lifestyle.
This book had sufficient "substance" to give the conclusions credibility, without being dry or overlay accademic. It also explained many aspects of our species that had previously appeared odd to me - such as why we, the naked ape, still hair on our heads.
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