The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World—And Us

The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World—And Us

A major reimagining of how evolutionary forces work, revealing how mating preferences--what Darwin termed "the taste for the beautiful"--create the extraordinary range of ornament in the animal world.

In the great halls of science, dogma holds that Darwin's theory of natural selection explains every branch on the tree of life: which species thrive, which wither away to extinction, and what features each evolves. But can adaptation by natural selection really account for everything we see in nature?
Yale University ornithologist Richard Prum--reviving Darwin's own views--thinks not. Deep in tropical jungles around the world are birds with a dizzying array of appearances and mating displays: Club-winged Manakins who sing with their wings, Great Argus Pheasants who dazzle prospective mates with a four-foot-wide cone of feathers covered in golden 3D spheres, Red-capped Manakins who moonwalk. In thirty years of fieldwork, Prum has seen numerous display traits that seem disconnected from, if not outright contrary to, selection for individual survival. To explain this, he dusts off Darwin's long-neglected theory of sexual selection in which the act of choosing a mate for purely aesthetic reasons--for the mere pleasure of it--is an independent engine of evolutionary change.
Mate choice can drive ornamental traits from the constraints of adaptive evolution, allowing them to grow ever more elaborate. It also sets the stakes for sexual conflict, in which the sexual autonomy of the female evolves in response to male sexual control. Most crucially, this framework provides important insights into the evolution of human sexuality, particularly the ways in which female preferences have changed male bodies, and even maleness itself, through evolutionary time.
The Evolution of Beauty presents a unique scientific vision for how nature's splendor contributes to a more complete understanding of evolution and of ourselves.

Title:The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World—And Us
ISBN:9780385537216
Format Type:

    The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World—And Us Reviews

  • Mehrsa

    You have to make it past the 2/3rd of the book that’s about bird and duck sex to get to the part about why men have dangly penises. Not that the bird sex isn’t fascinating, but obviously I’m muc...

  • Rossdavidh

    I am a little conflicted about this book.Popular science books may be usefully divided into those with One Big Idea, and those with Many Small Ideas. Both are useful, but I typically judge them differ...

  • Socraticgadfly

    Great until the last two chapters, then some slippageThis book is worth five stars for two starter reasons alone.One is the sheer depth and breadth of Prum's speculative intelligence, especially in ge...

  • Carl Zimmer

    Over the years, I've interviewed Prum several times for various articles about birds--from the way some birds can sing with their wing feathers to the baroque sexual anatomy of ducks. In those intervi...

  • Veronica

    An excellent book seeking to revive Darwin’s hypothesis in Descent of Man that female sexual autonomy is an evolutionary force, occupying a separate sphere from that of adaptive mate choice. Darwi...

  • Alexander

    It's often forgotten that Darwin was not, strictly speaking, the bloke who discovered evolution. What he did discover was arguably far more important: the mechanism through which evolution takes place...

  • Scott  Hitchcock

    Interesting. Very clinical. If you're a fan of Darwinian theory this is for you. If you're not you'll hate it. ...

  • Yun

    The Evolution of Beauty is utterly fascinating. It puts forth the notion that evolution is not all due to natural selection, where every mating display is an honest signal of genetic superiority. Rath...

  • Ken-ichi

    This book's title *and* subtitle are not enticing enough. It should simply be called "Sextastic Sexiness Sexplains Everything (Not Just Sex)." Not only would it sum up the main point of the book, but ...

  • Robert Sheard

    The topic is fascinating and Prum's argument is intriguing (challenging the mainstream evolutionary dogma that has existed since Darwin), but it gradually grew repetitive as he goes down each successi...