The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature

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9780140245486: The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature

Two fascinating questions lie at the heart of The Red Queen: Why is Homo sapiens a sexual species, and what implications does this have for human nature? That man is sexual may seem unremarkable, yet in fact not all plants and animals need to have sex to reproduce; simple cloning is practiced by many animals with much greater efficiency. To understand how life evolves, and what benefit sex provides for humans, we must think like the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass, who had to keep running just to stay in place. According to a controversial yet persuasive new theory, evolution is not about progress, but about changing in order to survive. Because humans are in a perpetual battle with the parasites lurking within our bodies, we need to be able to change molecular locks as fast as parasites invent new keys. Sex enables us to alter genetic combinations every generation. Sex, then, is a vital weapon in disease resistance. It enables us to change, not so we progress ahead, but so we avoid falling behind. But what does all this mean for human nature? From a lucid overview of the Red Queen theory, Matt Ridley follows the logic of its argument into the heart of human behavior. For just as the human eye is a product of evolution, so is human nature. Evolutionary theory provides the clues to help us understand fundamental facts about human beings, from our fashion consciousness to our "system of monogamy plagued by adultery." Ridley's probing mind asks a series of provocative questions. Is mankind naturally polygamous like most of our ape relatives? Are men and women mentally different as well as physically, and if so why? Why do people share so many sexual habits withswallows? Are our notions of human beauty arbitrary, or is there method in them? Jumping into the middle of the debate over the definition of "human nature, " The Red Queen offers an extraordinary new way of interpreting the human condition and how it has evolved. It throws fresh light

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About the Author:

MATT RIDLEY is a research fellow of the Institute of Economic Affairs and a Trustee of the International Centre for Life, living in Northumberland. His last book, The Red Queen, was short-listed for the Rhone-Poulenc Prize for science books and the Writers' Guild Award for non-fiction.

From Kirkus Reviews:

A former editor of The Economist asks how sexual selection has molded human nature. The title here alludes to a scene in Lewis Carroll in which Alice and the Red Queen run as fast as possible to remain in the same place. Ridley looks first at current thinking on why sexual reproduction exists at all, when many organisms manage quite well without it. The answer has to do with disease: a species must rebuild its defenses from one generation to the next merely to keep from falling behind in the race against opportunistic viruses. Sex, by allowing a new shuffle of the genetic material with each generation, improves the chance of survival. But the predators also improve with each generation, so the race (vide Lewis Carroll) is never over. Turning to animals, Ridley describes mating patterns with an eye as to whether mates are selected for health and vigor, or for esthetics. He concludes that both play a role: neither sickly fashion-plates nor healthy wallflowers will pass on their genes as often as those who combine both beauty and health. Given the contrast between a brief sexual act and long years of child- rearing, aggressive males will tend to have more children, while nurturing women will have healthier ones. Those who select mates with these qualities will transmit them to ensuing generations, along with other qualities affecting offspring survival. Ridley contends--not a popular thesis in recent decades--that such genetic programming is far more central to human nature than social conditioning. Extensively researched, clearly written: one of the best introductions to its fascinating and controversial subject. (Notes, bibliography, index; eight pages of photos--not seen) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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