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The Rational Animal: How Evolution Made Us Smarter Than We Think Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (September 10, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465032427
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465032426
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #102,833 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Sheer stupidity is what economic rationalists see when Elvis Presley buys 100 glitzy Cadillacs, when New York governor Eliot Spitzer pays as much as $80,000 for escort services, and when Steven Spielberg invests with Bernie Madoff. But Kenrick and Griskevicius see something more complex. In these apparently stupid decisions, they discern the results of an evolutionary history that impels men and women to ignore their own immediate self-interest in ways that ultimately foster the biological success of the species. That biological success, the authors argue, depends on a human identity that evolution has partitioned into seven separate subselves, each serving a different fundamental human need: self-protection, disease avoidance, affiliation, status, mate acquisition, mate retention, and kin care. When the environment triggers behaviors inscribed in any of these subselves, economic rationality may go out the window. Some readers may protest that the authors are offering biological justifications for foolishness. But the authors actually provide readers with helpful strategies for managing their evolutionary subselves prudently. A persuasive—and entertaining—look at the Darwinian dynamics of decision making. --Bryce Christensen


The Rational Animal is a fun romp through the comedy of human errors. Again and again, the authors find, evolutionary urges and hardwired brains explain behaviors rational economists cannot. Humans just don't make sense, it seems, unless you expect them not to.”
Mother Jones

“[An] entertaining and informative book.”
Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“A persuasive—and entertaining—look at the Darwinian dynamics of decision making.”

“Vigorously investigated… Sharp, piquant science/behavioral-economics writing.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Why do we overspend, underinvest, and make seemingly poor decisions? The Rational Animal shows that the answer comes from a simple, but often overlooked place: Our animal ancestors. Whether we like it or not, evolution has shaped who we are today. But rather than making us foolishly irrational, looking deeper inside ourselves reveals a surprisingly brilliant beast.”
—Jonah Berger, author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On

“Kenrick is one of evolutionary psychology's alpha males, a grizzled veteran of many battles against the Blank Slate dogma. Griskevicius is the field's most brilliant and productive young star, whose ingenious research proved the transformative power of Darwinism for understanding business and marketing. Together, they make a fascinating, compelling, and fun case that people's decision-making embodies a deep evolutionary rationality rather than a superficial economic rationality. It you want to take the Red Pill and really understand what is going on in modern consumerist capitalism—if you want to dive deeper into our paleo-rationality than Dan Ariely or Daniel Kahneman have dared to go, you must read this book.”
—Geoffrey Miller, University of New Mexico, and author of The Mating Mind and Spent

“Do you want to understand all kinds of human judgment errors that seemed inexplicable before? And do you want to be able to profit handsomely from that new and deep form of understanding? Then don’t miss the profound insights of this groundbreaking book.”
—Robert B. Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

The Rational Animal is so persuasive that it could convince an ardent Wall Street economist to throw away his copy of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations and replace it with Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species."
—Noah J. Goldstein, UCLA Anderson School of Management, and coauthor of Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive

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Customer Reviews

I had so much fun reading this book.
This book bridges the disconnection between human rationality and the foolish decisions that may stems from it.
The arguments are well researched, thoughtful, and clearly made, making the book's point readily accessible.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 25, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
There are two schools of thought about human rationality: the economics profession models humans as rational calculators, and the behavioral psychologists (in books like Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions) model humans as decidedly irrational. Both, say the authors of "The Rational Animal," are partly right and mostly wrong. To a large degree, humans do make decisions based on weighing costs and benefits, and humans do have many "blindspot" areas where their decisions are often less than rational.

But instead of asking whether we are or are not rational, these authors use evolutionary psychology to show that, given our evolved brains, many of the areas where humans look irrational exhibit a hidden rationality. So, several behavioral economic studies show that humans have a loss aversion: we value things higher when we are faced with losing what we possess than when gaining them for the first time. (In concrete terms, we will pay a lower cost to attain a thing than we would to give it up once we have it.)

The authors would respond to this above tendency as follows; we have several 'evolutionary selves' - mate attractor, survival expert, social networker, parent, etc - and each of these serves an evolutionary function and has slightly different preferences. So - and this is verified in studies the authors rehearse - when our 'mate attractor' self is primed (by having people look at pictures of attractive members of the opposite sex - we exhibit less risk aversion and are more aggressive in the amount of risk we often take.
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57 of 74 people found the following review helpful By N N Taleb on February 7, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I am not used to give 1 start reviews but I truly feel compelled to do so here, not just because this is a very bad book, but also because the authors are clueless about risk and are dangerously so, promoting silly risk bearing. The authors pathologize people for not accepting GMOs although "the World Health Organization has never found evidence of ill effects" a standard confusion of *evidence of absence* and *absence of evidence*. (This pathologizing is similar to behavioral researchers labeling hyperbolic discounting as "irrational" when in fact it is the researcher who has a very narrow model and richer models make the "irrationality" go away). They fail to understand that humans may have precautionary principles against systemic risks, and can be skeptical of the unnatural for rational reasons.
The book is a rehashing of the general ideas about evolution, except falling for a certain brand of "naive rationalism".
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By ppzahka on September 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The Rational Animal really builds upon social psychology world that I was first exposed to when reading Robert Cialdini's "Influence." It really gets to the physiological reasons of why we do things, which after you get under the surface is incredibly simplistic. When it comes down to it, the core concepts of evolution drive many of our behaviors where we know it or not. The authors talk about these seven evolutionary motivations (Self-Protection, Disease Avoidance, Affiliation, Status, Mate Acquisition, Mate Retention, & Kin Care). After reading this book on a cross country flight, I came away both incredibly entertained, via the authors' colorful and edgy examples, and also a lot more knowledgeable about the world that we live in.
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13 of 18 people found the following review helpful By TinaW on September 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I don't read books. I buy them and then I start a few pages and then it collects dust (or takes up space on my ipad until I delete it). I like the idea of reading books. I just don't have time. After reading this book, I realize that I do have time. I just never found the right material. I read this book in two days. Record for me...

This book shook me. If you have ever really wondered WHY people behave the way they do (sometimes in crazy ways) this is the book with the answers. I had a complete wake-up moment. Stories are used to illustrate every detail about the evolution of human nature. This book should be in the hands of everyone who wants to understand how to really engage people. The only way to influence people is to understand what our brains are actually designed to find meaningful. This is the only book that I have found that gives you that kind of guidance and understanding. I was really interested in the insights that apply to my personal life (and there are many! for better or worse). Highly recommend. You'll also laugh out loud to yourself more than once - if only because you wish you would have learned this stuff a long time ago!! 'bout time.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Joshua Sorkin on September 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The Rational Animal is a complex work: it's as comfortable as a luxurious soak in a hot tub after a hard day's toil, and at the same time profoundly educational about a boldly emerging area of research in social psychology. Kenrick and Griskevicius have crafted a carefully guided exploration of evolutionary psychology that embeds a treasure trove of hard research and clever deductions in a tasty confection of engaging prose.

The reader smoothly cruises through the authors' observations of the peculiarities of human decision-making, each one thoroughly backed by experimental finding and presented in a laid-back and hospitable manner. The experience is not unlike being a favored houseguest settling into a well-cushioned armchair. As they inspect each facet of _homo sapiens_' hardwired behavior, they unfold an explanation of how natural and essential our quirks of personality really are, showing that even the rudest or most bumbling foibles become valuable survival skills when deployed in the right context. The positive feeling generated by such an encouraging and well-defended message cannot be overstated.

Perhaps The Rational Animal can best be viewed from the perspective of its own theory of "sub-selves": it is composed of separate and distinct powerful elements that each take control of the text as needed. The ultimate test of the book's prowess, however, will not be a critic's observations, but how well the work succeeds at making its way into the hands and minds of the widest possible audience. And this book will surely do so, for it is smart, strong, and friendly--like a fit-for-survival human.
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