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The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature Paperback – April 1, 1995

4.3 out of 5 stars 199 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Why do we have sex? One of the main biological reasons, contends Ridley, is to combat disease. By constantly combining and recombining genes every generation, people "keep their genes one step ahead of their parasites," thereby strengthening resistance to bacteria and viruses that cause deadly diseases or epidemics. Called the "Red Queen Theory" by biologists after the chess piece in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass which runs but stays in the same place, this hypothesis is just one of the controversial ideas put forth in this witty, elegantly written inquiry. Ridley, a London-based science writer and a former editor of the Economist , argues that men are polygamous for the obvious reason that whichever gender has to spend the most time and energy creating and rearing offspring tends to avoid extra mating. Women, though far less interested in multiple partners, will commit adultery if stuck with a mediocre mate. In Ridley's not wholly convincing conclusion, even human intellect is chalked up to sex: virtuosity, individuality, inventiveness and related traits are what make people sexually attractive. Photos. BOMC and QPB alternates.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This is a fascinating book filled with lucid prose and seductive reasoning. Freelance science writer Ridley reaches into the literature of genetics; molecular, theoretical and evolutionary biology; ecology; sociology; and anthropology to weave an extraordinary tale of the evolution of human nature, beginning with the evolution of sex. Using Lewis Carroll's Red Queen (who runs as fast as she can to stay in the same place) as a metaphor for evolution, Ridley shows how sex was the result of an evolutionary arms race between hosts and their disease-causing parasites. Ridley covers so much ground that transitions may be abrupt or unclear, particularly in the last two chapters; also, his review of human homosexuality is thin. His occasionally pompous style (including his immediate dismissal of those who do not believe in evolution) may offend some readers. However, Ridley clearly explains many complex and remarkable concepts for a wide audience. Highly recommended.
- Constance Rinaldo, Dartmouth Coll., Hanover, N.H.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (June 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140245480
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140245486
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.9 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (199 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #221,059 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By The Spinozanator VINE VOICE on March 29, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read the celebrated "Moral Animal" some 10 years ago, re-read it and underlined it at least twice. Finally I had found a theory of human nature and psychology I could wholeheartedly believe in. Ten years later, I have now found "Red Queen" - more of the same, but specialized particularly in the huge role sexual selection played during our evolutionary history.

Experienced scientist and science journalist Matt Ridley compiled these findings of evolutionary psychology (EP) for the lay reader in 1993 - and "Red Queen" is still a timely treatise. Disclaimer: For those who are offended by the very suggestion that our behavior evolved from a pre-ape ancestor - and that our behavior is an elaborate, sophisticated manifestation of language and socialization which evolved by natural selection along with a huge brain - you won't like this book.

I realize the following assessments of mine are anecdotal, but here goes: I have seen how men and women preen, peacock-like, showing off their best (?) sides during courtships, and how they pair off in society according to commonly accepted determinants of status, differing depending on sex. I have seen how the competitive, power-seeking behavior of men is drastically tempered by marriage. I have seen how married men who are careful in all other endeavors will take uncharacteristic risks for a sexual fling. I have observed how women tend to choose (in a mate) financial success and stability over looks (if they have to choose), whereas men tend to choose beauty over all else. I have seen how men and women differ in their outlooks: Men (generally) want to be practical, shrewd, assertive, dominating, competitive, critical, and self-controlled. Women (usually) want to be loving, affectionate, impulsive, sympathetic, and generous.
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Format: Paperback
"Men and women have different minds - says Matt Ridley in one of the central chapters of his book-. The differences are the direct result of evolution. Women's minds (and bodies, as he states in a previous pharagraph) evolved to suit the demands of beraring and rearing children and of gathering plant and food. Men's minds (and bodies) evolved to suit the demands of rising in a male hierarchy, fighting over women and providing meat to a family".
To arrive to this and other conclusions, Ridley goes a long and difficult way through biology, genetics and continents, starting with a basic question: why is there sex at all? After all, many species reproduce without it. The first three or four chapters of "The Red Queen" may be a little onerous, but apparently they are necessary to support the last ones.
This is a book about evolution with a focus on human sexuality and the human mind. Everything on humans - our bodies, our behavior towards the opposite sex, even our minds and social rules - is a direct result of a process called sexual selection that allows the reproduction of the fittest, therefore transmiting their genes to the next generations.
When answering why there is sex at all and how men and women's bodies and minds evolved in the last million years, we come to many uncomfortable truths about adultery, rape, incest and life. Why do more rich men marry beautiful women and not the other way around? Why have the attempts to sell pornogrphy to women and romantic novels to men failed? And above all this: why did evolution produce different minds in men a women?
Take all of the above and pack it with a red cover, and you have one of the most amazing readings of the year.
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Format: 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!
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