- Hardcover: 448 pages
- Publisher: Doubleday (May 9, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385537212
- ISBN-13: 978-0385537216
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,134 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World - and Us
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“The Evolution of Beauty is at once fascinating, provocative, and totally compelling. Anyone interested in science or art or sex—which is to say everyone—will want to read it.”
—Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction
“A fascinating account of beauty and mate choice in birds and other animals. You’ll be amazed by the weird things that birds do to win mates—such as male manakins, which bounce up and down in coordinated displays but only one gets to mate. You’ll also discover why both men and women have armpit hair, why men lack the penis bone widespread in other mammals, and what really happened in the Garden of Eden.”
—Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel
“A smorgasbord of evolutionary biology, philosophy, and sociology, filtered through Prum’s experiences as a birdwatcher and his diverse research on everything from dinosaur colors to duck sex. Through compelling arguments and colorful examples, Prum launches a counterstrike against the adaptationist regime, in an attempt to ‘put the subjective experience of animals back in the center of biology’ and to ‘bring beauty back to the sciences.’”
—Ed Yong, The Atlantic
“Prum’s career has been diverse and full, so that reading this fascinating book, we learn about the patterning of dinosaur feathers, consider the evolutionary basis of the human female orgasm, the tyranny of academic patriarchy, and the corkscrewed enormity of a duck’s penis. Combining this with in-depth study of how science selects the ideas it approves of and fine writing about fieldwork results in a rich, absorbing text . . . The dance Prum performs to convince you to take him on as an intellectual partner is beautiful and deserves to be appreciated on its own terms.”
—Adrian Barnett, New Scientist
“A provocative redress of a powerful idea: beauty for the sake of beauty. Like all the best science, Prum’s exploration builds on the past with an eye toward the future, creating something bold, challenging, and deeply insightful. Anyone with even a passing interest in evolution should read this book.”
—Thor Hanson, author of Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle
“Splendid colors and lovely songs did not arise in birds because of their usefulness, Richard Prum argues, but because they pleased potential mates. Prum offers an exciting new take on evolution and a whirlwind tour of beauty in the animal kingdom, full of wonders and intellectual stimulation.”
—Frans de Waal, author of Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?
“Life isn’t just a dreary slog of survival. It brims with exuberance—from extravagant plumage to strange courtship rituals. In The Evolution of Beauty, Richard Prum takes us into this universe of delights to discover a fascinating idea: that beauty is central to the history of life.”
—Carl Zimmer, author of Parasite Rex and Evolution: Making Sense of Life
“I thought I knew a fair bit about sexual selection, but as I read The Evolution of Beauty I was excited by the many stimulating comparative examples Prum cites. From fantastic manakin displays captured by the author’s own field work to bowerbird constructions, duck genitalia, and monkey sex (what little of it there is), Prum’s important insights illuminate beauty, human sexuality, mate choice, and human society. A refreshing new look at compelling age-old topics.”
—Bernd Heinrich, author of Mind of the Raven
“This highly original, must-read book is a fast-paced, passionate and witty wake-up call for us to acknowledge just how powerfully sexual selection has influenced the bodies and behaviors of birds and other beasts, including humans. Prum convincingly builds his case with his unrivaled and sometimes ribald knowledge of birds and then applies these insights courageously and creatively to challenge much of the conventional wisdom about humans. You probably never thought you would learn so much about the human penis from reading about those of ducks!”
—Daniel E. Lieberman, author of The Story of the Human Body
“Darwin thought evolution was beautiful, but modern biologists have forgotten this. Now Richard Prum, who discovered the real color of dinosaurs, has eloquently reminded us. His book is essential for all who wish to learn how nature works.”
—David Rothenberg, author of Survival of the Beautiful and Bug Music
“Well-documented and wholly accessible, enriched by Prum's warm personal touches. Prum writes that his goal was to present the ‘full, distinctive richness, complexity, and diversity of this aesthetic view of life.’ He absolutely succeeds.”
About the Author
RICHARD O. PRUM is William Robertson Coe Professor of Ornithology at Yale University, and Head Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. He has conducted field work throughout the world, and has studied fossil theropod dinosaurs in China. He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2010.
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Top Customer Reviews
Prum respects them. He doesn't revere them, and he challenges them. The book is rich with citations of other younger scientists who are breaking new ground.
Prum's heresy is to refute the Darwinists by going back to Darwin's original texts, in particular The Descent of Man. This second opus was not nearly as well received as The Origin of Species. Darwin's avid fans, led by Alfred Russell Wallace, thought that Darwin had gone off the deep end to propose that sexual preference, alone and apart from evolutionary fitness, was a prime mover in evolution. Wallace and Darwin argued until the latter's death, after which it became standard Darwinist dogma to insist that aesthetics operated only as signals of evolutionary fitness. Viz: the peacock's cumbersome tail is a signal that it must be a very healthy bird indeed to bear such a handicap and yet survive.
Prum became a devoted bird watcher as a child in the 1960s. Barely mentioned here is his ground-breaking work in the evolution of feathers. The first few chapters, however, cover a wealth of innovative science on avian evolution, and especially the evolution of their mating behavior. He makes a strong case that (1) female choice operates among all bird species, though more strongly among some than others, (2) that male and female behavior co-evolved in ways that were (3) often unrelated to adaptive fitness – how well the birds could cope with their environment.
Starting with Chapter 8 he generalizes his theories to human beings. We are quite different from old world monkeys and apes. A major difference is that, as with birds, females have had considerable power to choose the fathers of their children. They have also had incentive – humans are the only ape males who help much with their upbringing. Prum theorizes that female choice has been a major factor driving human evolution.
He then launches into politically sensitive issues, providing Darwinist arguments to support feminism and homosexuality. While the early chapters hint at Prum's political liberlism, these are where the gloves come off.
One hopes that conservative scientists will take up the argument. This is the kind of intellectual ferment in which science progresses rapidly. While some of Prum's conclusions may be overdrawn, one suspects that many of his claims will stand. One of my frustrations as a reviewer is that the opponents of books such as The Bell Curve and Climate Change Reconsidered talk them down, they seldom offer refutations. Prum's book is serious, his arguments well formed, and intellectual honesty demands that those (conservatives) who would disagree cite scientific arguments to refute him. It is a five-star effort all around.
Below is the table of contents. Discussions of the individual chapters are included as comments 1-3..
1: Darwin’s Really Dangerous Idea
2: Beauty Happens
3: Manakin Dances
4: Aesthetic Innovation and Decadence
5: Make Way for Duck Sex
6: Beauty from the Beast
7: Bromance Before Romance
8: Human Beauty Happens Too
9: Pleasure Happens
10: The Lysistrata Effect
11: The Queering of Homo sapiens
12: This Aesthetic View of Life
John V. Wylie