The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature

Quick Thoughts:
  1. I really enjoyed this book.  Matt Ridley is an entertaining author.
  2. The book starts by getting into evolution from a pretty hard-core biological perspective.  I have to admit, many of the concepts and terminology were outside of my everyday understand (It's been a long time since I took a Biology class - close to 25 years).  But, he makes it pretty easy to keep pace and at least walk-away with the main points of what he is talking about.
  3. One of his fundamental questions is why people (animals) use sex to reproduce.  This sounds like a simple question.  He shows that it's not.  He starts back in history and gets into the thinking of people trying to answer the question.  He shows plenty of evidence which backs up their answer to the question (often to the point where you think he's presenting THE answer).  Then he blasts their thinking with evidence that runs directly counter to their theories.  He slowly moves forward in time and does it again to other scientific thinkers.  By the time he reaches today, you have a real understanding as to why the answer to this basic question is so difficult to answer.  And in working his way through this scientific history, you get a sense for how people have gone about using experimentation and evidence to answer a very basic scientific question.
  4. Eventually he gets to his theories on human nature, which are basically those of an Evolutionary Psychologist.  Put basically, he sees men and women as having fundamentally different reproductive strategies.  Males have the capacity to spread their genetic code widely with many sexual partners.  Often in history, we have seen that remarkable wealthy, powerful men will take on many, many wives and have many, many children.  Females, on the other hand, are more limited in their total potential number of off-spring, and generally require male help in order to successfully raise her children.  A female can attract a husband, but reproduce with a different, higher status male without her husband noticing.  There are times that pursuing such a strategy gives her offspring the best chances for success.  Despite these differing strategies and conflicting interests, most of the time human society is monogamous.
  5. The previous paragraph isn't doing full justice to his ideas.  The author uses plenty of examples which show how unusual our particular mating habits are.  Then he goes to great lengths to show how we might have evolved the way we did.  It's pretty cool when he shows how aspects of our mating patterns are pretty similar to a specific bird or primate.  Finally, he takes these ideas and explains how you can see them playing out in current day society.  It's a fun ride. 
  6. What's great is that the author is convincing and does a great job of using specific evidence to back-up and challenge his points.  If you like non-fiction, sex, and evolution, then this is hard book to put down.


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