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124 of 132 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars safe for consumption
True to the spirit of this book, I purchased a flawless copy of it at a library book sale for $5 (I believe it was an unread review copy). As an insatiable reader of Evolutionary Psychology books, I immediately read it, even though I have several thousand other books previously purchased from library sales waiting in my queue. This is one of the most entertaining books I...
Published on May 18, 2009 by Dr. Fred J. Mbogo

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63 of 68 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars fascinating, frustrating
This book is an evolutionary psychology (EP) look at consumerism. If you're not familiar with EP, this is probably not the best introduction (try Buss, Dawkins, or Ridley instead). If you are, this is definitely worth a read.

Miller focuses on trait display (how we show others we are worth mating with) as expressed through purchases. He concentrates a lot on...
Published on September 14, 2009 by C. P. Anderson


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124 of 132 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars safe for consumption, May 18, 2009
True to the spirit of this book, I purchased a flawless copy of it at a library book sale for $5 (I believe it was an unread review copy). As an insatiable reader of Evolutionary Psychology books, I immediately read it, even though I have several thousand other books previously purchased from library sales waiting in my queue. This is one of the most entertaining books I have read, both in terms of its academic content and the writing style (the author has a great sense of humor). The book does not assume background knowledge, though I found that it tied together ideas I had previously encountered in books such as "The Moral Animal", The Third Chimpanzee", "The Red Queen", "The Origins of Virtue", "The Economic Naturalist", etc. (all of which I also highly recommend). The description of consumers as narcissists (great spelling bee word, I hope I got it right) and the various discussions of the central six personality traits are quite thought-provoking. The author isn't afraid to discuss issues backed by evidence that are, however, "politically incorrect", such as the negative effects of the dearth of shared norms in culturally diverse communities. The book also stays consistently well-written and informative throughout (i.e. it shows no evidence of the last third of the book being rushed to meet a deadline or padded to meet a length requirement). The section toward the end about consumption taxes and negative/positive externalities should be required reading for everyone.

One final thing I admire about the book. Concerned parties (author, publisher, editor, etc.) didn't submit a fake 5-star first review posted by someone who has only reviewed one book and writes in an obviously promotional style. I think this book will receive great reviews based on merit. I actually read the book and highly recommend it.

Oh, one other thing. The jacket design is superb. The picture reminds me of myself hunting/gathering at Trader Joe's.
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63 of 68 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars fascinating, frustrating, September 14, 2009
By 
This book is an evolutionary psychology (EP) look at consumerism. If you're not familiar with EP, this is probably not the best introduction (try Buss, Dawkins, or Ridley instead). If you are, this is definitely worth a read.

Miller focuses on trait display (how we show others we are worth mating with) as expressed through purchases. He concentrates a lot on the OCEAN personality inventory (also known as the Big 5), plus intelligence. OCEAN means openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. It's an inventory that has a lot more validity and serious research behind it than, say, something like Myers-Briggs (see Personality: What Makes You the Way You Are for more).

On the plus side, Miller has some fascinating insights. He also has a good writing style and a wicked sense of humor.

On the negative ... well, there's quite a bit. The first problem I saw was his having a really hard time simply getting to the point. It takes until chapter 3 before he really gets into it.

What does he spend the first two chapters doing? One is talking about himself. In fact, he's rather enamored and engages in quite a bit of trait signaling on his own. Take the section called About This Author. On the surface, he's letting you know his particular biases. A little reading, though, and it seems more like a personals ad: listens to Tori Amos and Ani DeFranco, drives a Land Cruiser, is a feminist and environmentalist, has lived abroad, has some impressive academic credentials, reads cool books, watches hip movies.

Another is going off on diversions. As an example, one particluar favorite is attacking anyone who might be considered a rival - marketing, Stephen Gould, Ivy League universities (even the Educational Testing Services) ... To return to EP again, all of this aggressiveness struck me rather as a young bull trying to take on some of the old patriarchs so he could get a harem of his own.

How much better if he had taken some time to explain EP a little more. He does a pretty good job of that with OCEAN.

Speaking of OCEAN, I'd really like to know why he doesn't cover extroversion and neuroticism. He dismisses them rather out of hand. Also, the openness chapter talks very little about consumerism.

One final thing that might drive you to distraction is the wicked sense of humor I mentioned above. Sometimes he is quite funny, but a lot of the time he simply sounds pissy and cranky. Here's his take on "kids these days":

"Kids told fifty times a day that they have `done awesome,' regardless of their talents and virtues, seem likely to acquire a grandiose sense of entitlement and a penchant for egotistical self-indulgence - not to mention an inability to use adverbs properly."

Huh? Here he is on "New Age" types:

"Likewise, there are plenty of open-minded novelty seekers who love strange ideas and experiences, but who are not very bright. They constitute the market for fantasy novels, self-help books, nutraceuticals, facial piercings, music by Enya, degrees in non-evolutionary psychology, and every product labeled `homeopathic.' Indeed, their combination of neophilia and inanity make them an extremely profitable market segment."

And here is on anti-consumerist, anti-materialist types:

"Since this type of self-deception looks naive and witless to those who understand the evolutionary origins and functions of self-display - including my dear readers by now - the renunciation strategy itself ends up looking stupid and childish."

He spends a lot of time trying to defend himself and EP as sufficiently liberal and open-minded, but name-calling and snarkiness like this doesn't really help much. There's a real contrast between him and a lot of the other EP writers out there in this regard.

Another difference between him and the other writers is what I'd have to call his rampant speculation. Yes, he does say he was trying to write something a little lighter, a little more fun.

However, all this is exactly what EP doesn't need at this point. The ideas of EP are ground-breaking and revolutionary enough that responsible EPers need to simply focus on making claims that they can legitimately - and dispassionately - back up. Bad boy behavior, even though it may look impressive to undergraduate coeds, does very little to advance the discipline.
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54 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I buy, therefore I am, May 21, 2009
By 
Julie Neal (Celebration, Fla.) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
My husband and I play a game when we drive: he points out a car and I tell him what I think that driver thinks other people think of his choice of car. Then I say what I think it really reveals. A Hummer? The driver is a primal hunter-gatherer, powerful and dripping in testosterone. There are very different stories about the Jeep with no doors, the yellow Beetle, the big slow Cadillac.

Spent is all about the prehistoric origins behind the decisions to buy these cars, and every other product, as well. The science of human nature, called evolutionary psychology, teaches us that people decide to buy stuff to advertise "our biological potential as mates and friends." Understanding the reasons behind these decisions can help us become better consumers, and more aware of why people act the way they do.

It's a fascinating read! The idea that you can use the Info section on Facebook to accurately sum up a person is right on target. And I loved the quiz identifying the Central 6 human characteristics: General intelligence, openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, stability and extraversion. Apparently I'm very open and pretty extraverted; I'll have to work on my stability!

Here's the chapter list:

1. Darwin Goes to the Mall
2. The Genius of Marketing
3. Why Marketing is Central to Culture
4. This Is Your Brain on Money
5. The Fundamental Consumerist Delusion
6. Flaunting Fitness
7. Conspicuous Waste, Precision and Reputation
8. Self-Branding Bodies, Self-Marketing Minds
9. The Central Six
10. Traits That Consumers Flaunt and Marketers Ignore
11. General Intelligence
12. Openness
13. Conscientiousness
14. Agreeableness
15. The Centrifugal Soul
16. The Will to Display
17. Legalizing Freedom
Exercises for the Reader
Further Reading and Viewing
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Caveman Meets Molly Ringwald, December 12, 2009
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After reading "Spent. Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior", by Geoffrey Miller only a few weeks before Christmas I have to say that I am spent. But not in the sense Miller uses the term; although I have to admit I'm not sure how exactly Miller is using the term. It was a tough read and my mind is tired. Why? Because Miller is adept at having us believe he has something important to tell us, but also a master of never quite telling us what that might be. So he tells us a lot of things, and in truth a lot of the things he tells us are really quite interesting (see below). Miller is clearly a very smart man and well read. This book springs from hundreds of others. Miller spent (there's that word again) a decade perhaps researching and compiling his thoughts for this book, the illusion is one of hard science and fact, to which he brings us the universal theory of all consumer behavior. We buy things because we are like a peacock, we evolved to signal something to the world around us, whatever that may be...health, status, intellect, etc.

Although he goes to great length to tell us why we signal, what we signal, and where the signaling comes from his overwhelming tone seems to be that there is something inherently wrong with this, with us, because we manifest our colors by purchasing commercial goods and services as consumers and not signaling using old fashioned face to face communication, the more human communication of the caveman, with other's of our species. But then he tells us it's not really wrong, it's just wrong because we should be buying used clothes instead of new clothes, because if we want to buy Armani shirts to impress women, it's better to spend $5 dollars in a second hand store than $100 dollars at the Galleria. The signaling is the same, whether we are really buying the shirts because we like quality and good fit, or because we want to display to others that we are something we may not be, which is rich. Even if we are lying about our status we still get to save a few bucks. But what if we really are rich? Can we still fly on our private jet to Italy to buy that Armani shirt at the source? This is where he really begins his discussion of consumption and moves away from any science related to evolution and behavior.

This book could be sold as a freshman introductory text on evolutionary psychology using consumer behavior as a case study but Miller didn't stop in time. He continued into a rage against consumer consumption, materialism, the capitalist consumer culture of the United States, and all that is wrong with our superficial and what he calls centrifugal souls. We are a shallow people us Americans, and if you didn't know that, the rest of the world knows that all this country really is, is a coast to coast shopping mall. It's a shame that such a bright man has such a jaded view of our culture. We, as Americans, are far more than the valley girl shopper's that he thinks we are, if only he would leave his academic perch and come have a talk with one of us cavemen as individuals. What you would find, Dr. Miller is that although "we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention [analogy for reading his book] for whatever it is that we did wrong. We think you are crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us: in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is . . . a brain. And an athlete. And a basket case. A princess. And a criminal. Does that answer your question?

Sincerely yours,

The Breakfast Club."

P.S. As promised above, a truly interesting idea: Colleges and universities dismiss the notion of IQ as being a true indicator of intelligence but go to great length to only recruit those with high IQ so that they can market a diploma from their institution as the true measure of intelligence.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Time well-spent, July 5, 2009
By 
Deb (Palo Alto, CA) - See all my reviews
_Spent_ offers a valuable opportunity to escape from consumerism craziness and get back in touch with our evolutionary roots. Geoffrey Miller does an amazing job in showing how consumer capitalism preys on our evolutionary drives for displaying fitness indicators and chasing fitness cues, but it ultimately results in our flaunting traits that are often redundant, misleading, useless, or counterproductive. Under the spell of runaway consumerism, we get distracted from the truth that "we humans have already spent millions of years evolving awesomely effective ways to display our mental and moral traits to one another through natural social behaviors such as language, art, music, generosity, creativity, and ideology. We can all do so without credentials, careers, credit ratings, or crateloads of product." Highly entertaining, informative, and thought-provoking, _Spent_ is one of those books that stays with you long after you've read the last word.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Mating Mind: Part II, April 7, 2010
By 
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Geoffrey Miller again doesn't disappoint, and his recent book Spent represents the natural result of the outstanding previous book "The Mating Mind".

Maybe not as immediately fascinating as The MM (I've read it twice in a row, having much more pleasure in the second reading), Spent reveals once again how deep and unconventional is prof.Miller's intellectual work, even compared to other Evolutionary Psychology scholars.

Engaging and insightful read, it enriches the discussion made earlier by Prof. Miller, which focused mostly on the birth of human intelligence as a means of self-promotion to potential partners (mating signal), and widens it to include the display of personal traits to friends and relatives as well (social signal).
From this broader perspective Miller can make a critical analysis of the behavior of modern humankind, and in particular of the consumerist behavior, which happens to be the preferred way to display our own qualities in the modern world.
His analisys of modern consumerism is not negative and unfavorable in every aspects, as could be a marxist one, as he acknowledges the marketers ability to turn our world into a big playground. The problem is that through the purchase of consumer products, and this is one of the theses of the book, we have chosen a very poor and inadequate way of "advertise" our traits, conveying often no information about ourselves but our spending power (Pecunia non olet mode).

And what's more important is that, although the urge to display is unescapable (doomed to display), the way we do it is not carved in stone, but contingent and determined by historical conditions, and could have been different.
Miller then suggests some ways to counteract this state of things, trying, for example, to create local communities of like-minded people, where it is easier to be valued and appreciated without the necessity to pass through the consumeristic gate. I have to say that some advices could result a bit visionary and utopian, but they are anyway witty and thought-provoking.

Eagerly waiting for the next book, I strongly recommend this one, in particular to those high in Openness.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars why we spend, October 4, 2009
Spent is a fun read, if a bit repetitive. The author is an evolutionary psychologist with a great sense of humor who accesses considerable research in the writing of this book. The chapter headings are even entertaining:
1. Darwin Goes to the Mall
2. The Genius of Marketing
3. Why Marketing is Central to Culture
4. This Is Your Brain on Money
5. The Fundamental Consumerist Delusion
6. Flaunting Fitness
7. Conspicuous Waste, Precision and Reputation
8. Self-Branding Bodies, Self-Marketing Minds
9. The Central Six
10. Traits That Consumers Flaunt and Marketers Ignore
11. General Intelligence
12. Openness
13. Conscientiousness
14. Agreeableness
15. The Centrifugal Soul
16. The Will to Display
17. Legalizing Freedom
Exercises for the Reader
Further Reading and View

I enjoyed the theory in the book of the six central traits the consumers flaunt, the traits that influence what and how we buy. The second half of the book explores these traits in great depth. The author compares his system to many other personality tests.
I found the first part of the book insightful and entertaining. There is a great deal of rich information about the evolution of human personality and desire. We are still connected to that past in which having a good mate is important. Our brains developed as we walked across savannahs, searching for food and trying to attract a mate. Our brains still respond to this need to collect and have as a sign of our desirability.
We are in so many ways a product of our brain's evolution.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but not Convincing, July 14, 2009
By 
Jiang Xueqin (Toronto, Canada) - See all my reviews
In "Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior" the University of New Mexico professor Geoffrey Miller combines insights from marketing and evolutionary psychology to criticize consumer capitalist culture. Professor Miller's main complaint is that marketing and the consumer economy has brainwashed us into studying hard and pointlessly so that we could work hard and pointlessly in order to buy expensive items to impress potential mates. In this process we seek superficial status symbols that neither convey meaning nor attract potential mates, and forget that potential mates are above all attracted to our intelligence, personality, kindness, and humor.

According to Professor Miller and much of the psychology establishment variations in the human population can be divided into six core personality traits, and it is our evolutionary design to want to express our most desirable traits in order to attract the most desirable mates. General intelligence (G) is the most important trait, because it also signals good health, body symmetry (beauty), and overall fitness (genetic superiority). Then there are openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, stability, and extraversion. Because Professor Miller happens to be intelligent, open, conscientious, agreeable, and stable he also coincidentally believes that these people -- instead of the psychopaths (low agreeableness) who dominate Wall Street and Washington -- ought to run the world, and the world ought to be re-structured to ensure that his brethren rise to the top.

That means curbing the excessive individuality and individualism that our consumer capitalist culture nurtures and is nurtured by. Professor Miller advocates like-minded individuals congregating to communities because our current obsession with ethnic diversity, individual rights, and discrimination are not conducive to the creation of coherent communities. Without access to neighbors' support and approval everyone turns to wealth accumulation and display to demonstrate "fitness."

Of course, building coherent cohesive communities is merely the first step. The main goal is to override and destroy this consumer capitalist culture itself. And to do that governments must tax consumption instead of income, thereby drastically reducing the power of amoral corporations over the individual psyche.

What Geoffrey Miller proposes, in other words, is an intellectual's wet dream. It's slightly ironic that in the beginning he wittily attacks both the left and the right perspectives on consumer capitalism, proposes a "sensible model," and then goes on to propose something totally outrageous and revolutionary.

I also happen to fall in the intelligent, open, conscientiousness, agreeable, and stable (relatively) part of the human spectrum so I'm not unsympathetic to Professor Miller's call to replace psychopaths with nicer people. Of course, I will not be the only one to point out the impossibility of this task. First, in a battle with "intelligent and agreeable" liberals who believe in compromise and compassion, psychopaths -- because by definition they don't mind killing people -- will always win. Psychopaths will do anything to maintain their power, which means maintaining the status quo, which means maintaining the consumer capitalist culture. It probably hasn't even occurred to anyone in government that there's anything wrong with consumer capitalism. In fact, it's the very basis of our economy. If middle-class Americans weren't so obsessed with material acquisition and debt formulation how could the world economy exist? To even believe that change in the consumer capitalism from within is possible is both naive and silly. Consumer capitalism will inevitably lead us to war, environmental destruction, famine, disease, and hell -- but only when it's too late will humanity begin questioning consumer capitalism.

I could endlessly critique this book's arguments but I think Geoffrey Miller's main intention was to provoke rather than to prove. Still, I have a major problem with the argument assumed by Professor Miller and much of evolutionary psychology that we're on this planet to mate and to propagate our genes. "Spent" takes this assumption to a logical extreme: we buy a Porsche that gets us laid once a year, but if we visited a prostitute daily we'd save more money and get laid more and better.

But buying a Porsche may not be about getting laid. A more important function would be to identify friends and allies, which is a foundation for finding a desirable mate and raising the offspring. But it's also a foundation for advancing your career and winning respect from your friends and family. In that way, it actually makes a great deal of economic sense to buy a Porsche, and that's why people continue to do it.

Now Geoffrey Miller would argue that we could achieve the same results if we just listened to Dale Carnegie and be nice to people: smile, ask questions, listen, and take a genuine interest in other people. But we're just human, right?
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The book was so-so, August 14, 2009
By 
Timothy P. (New York City) - See all my reviews
Geoffrey Miller is cocky in this tirade on modern consumerism. I highly recommend the Mating Mind, but found this book so-so at best.

He advances a central idea that is better-developed in his first book, the Mating Mind; the point being that fitness indicators can be better displayed through conversation, socialization, and relationship-building than through artificial displays of wealth and personality (sports cars, etc.). He hammers this point hard, and in many ways his feeling reflects the anguish of many 18-to-30 yr-old-males that are pushed into hard work, study, and thousands of dollars of debt trying to get laid in today's society.

Unfortunately, his proposed solutions to today's mating game, and his explanation of "the attractive personality" are intermeshed with harebrained ideas of "trait tattoos", obvious money-saving tips, and a repeated disdain for marketing professionals.

I felt this book was more of a personal rant on modern consumerism than a book on evolutionary psychology.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars entertaining intro to many ideas, February 2, 2011
By 
Nancyhua (New York, NY) - See all my reviews
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I enjoyed reading the book and felt it contained some valuable ideas but also found some big problems.

Firstly, Miller is a talented, funny writer and I found his examples and stereotypes to be contemporary and hilarious (sample quote: "The fortysomething trophy wives of sixtysomething movie producers know that... by maintaining a svelte figure, subtly made-up face, and strong fashion sense, they can remind a husband that they still have sufficient savvy and self-respect to make a useful ally in parenting and networking, or a formidable opponent in divorce court").

Miller explains that branding creates associations to a product so that consumers pay more for the brand than for the physical features of the product ("Commodities cannot be sold for serious profits in a competitive market" (compared to branded things associated with abstract properties, presumably)).
Another idea Miller explores is that people use possessions to signal their properties to potential mates. Like other animals, humans use conspicuous waste, precision, or reputation to indicate fitness. High maintenance, impractical objects such as expensive suits and cars act as expensive signals of fitness via conspicuous waste, precision, or reputation, like human versions of the peacock's tail.

In addition to general fitness, brands/objects serve to display people's personalities. Miller describes the orthogonal "Big 6" characteristics that explain most of the variation between personalities: general intelligence, conscienciousness, agreeableness, openness, extraversion, and stability. He goes through a few of these characteristics in detail and argues for the superiority of the Big 6 model over demographics or whatever hand wave-y model marketers are using.

Miller concludes with a prescription of how to avoid the trap of defining oneself through consumption and enters into almost a self-help section.

Flaws I perceive in this book:
Although Miller's writing is entertaining, it often diverges solely for the sake of entertainment and I don't appreciate these embellishments- they add fluff to the book. I think I could have skipped about 50% of this book without missing out on any ideas. Some people may enjoy this kind of writing but it is not what I'm looking for from this kind of non-fiction book.

There are a lot of different themes he brings up (what people try to accomplish via spending from an evolutionary perspective, the perspective of the marketers, the Big 6 model of the range of human personality, how to achieve the goals of signaling/expressing yourself outside of spending) and they are not all fully developed or tied together. I especially found the last part about how to stop spending to be just appended to the end of the book with little connection to the previous ideas and to be of a different tone from the first 80% of the book.

I'd recommend this book as a light intro to evolutionary psychology from the perspective of modern consumerism. The book does not contain hard science or math, is meant to read as a pop-science book, and is probably not going to change your life or spending habits but may make you think twice about different brands that you see and about why someone has purchased something.
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Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior
Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior by Geoffrey F. Miller (Paperback - May 25, 2010)
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