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The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature [Kindle Edition]

Matt Ridley
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (144 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Referring to Lewis Carroll's Red Queen from Through the Looking-Glass, a character who has to keep running to stay in the same place, Matt Ridley demonstrates why sex is humanity's best strategy for outwitting its constantly mutating internal predators. The Red Queen answers dozens of other riddles of human nature and culture -- including why men propose marriage, the method behind our maddening notions of beauty, and the disquieting fact that a woman is more likely to conceive a child by an adulterous lover than by her husband. Brilliantly written, The Red Queen offers an extraordinary new way of interpreting the human condition and how it has evolved.



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.

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.

Product Details


Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
197 of 215 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Truth About Sex 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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143 of 158 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dramatic and surprising September 30, 2000
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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82 of 91 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you're deciding whether to buy this book... November 21, 2003
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking and insightful
I couldnt put it down. Sex is a crazy game and argurably the most important one we play as a species.
Published 1 month ago by Chris Van Norman
5.0 out of 5 stars Only half way through and LOVE it
This book was recommended by my AP Bio teacher (I'm a highschool student) and since his copy was always checked out, I just bought one for myself. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Jack693
2.0 out of 5 stars Mixed
The first part of the book was based upon science, worth reading. Once into human nature there was little science and a lot of opinion.
Published 2 months ago by Susan Whitfield
5.0 out of 5 stars Does for gender what "Selfish Gene" does for evolution in general
This book discusses all things with evolution and gender - why two of them exist, and what and why there are differences between them. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Lisa
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read
I read this book after my sister, who is in the STEM fields, told me about the topic and said she'd like it. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing and thought provoking
The author is rather dismissive of alternative points of view, but has managed to compile a myriad of different studies, papers and research to create a thought provoking thesis. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Ryan S.
4.0 out of 5 stars Evolution for the Layperson
Matt Ridley is a layperson's science writer. While the book has its complex moments -- evolution is complex -- the book is fascinating and full of amazing facts about human and... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Caro
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting topic
In a nutshell here's why I didn't give it the full five stars:

1) Didn't seem to cover much new ground past what I had read in the selfish gene by Sir Richard Dawkins. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Ms Muffintop
4.0 out of 5 stars A survey of sexual selection theories
This is the 3rd book I have read by Matt Ridley. The others were "Genome" and "Agile Gene". Matt Ridley is a fabulous writer, intelligent and very knowledgeable in the evolutionary... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Igor Faynshteyn
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended
Although it starts dry and technical later on the extensively researched Red Queen is witty, clearly written and full of sound arguments and counter arguments. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Amazon Customer
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More About the Author

Matt Ridley's books have been shortlisted for six literary awards, including the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (for Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters). His most recent book, The Agile Gene: How Nature Turns on Nurture, won the award for the best science book published in 2003 from the National Academies of Science. He has been a scientist, a journalist, and a national newspaper columnist, and is the chairman of the International Centre for Life, in Newcastle, England. Matt Ridley is also a visiting professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York.

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