Friday, June 22, 2007
Matt Ridley, The Red Queen
Matt Ridley, The Red Queen: sex and the evolution of human nature. I love natural history books for the general public. They lack some of the passion of the partisan (think Stephen Jay Gould)- and I do enjoy the enthusiasm of scientists - but outsiders usually add interpretation and synthesis to make a larger picture cohesive. This was a pretty fun discussion of the evolutionary aspects of sex, well written and argued. Ridley gets a little more controversial, interesting, and tenuous when he ventures into the shaping of "human nature" by sexual selection - but that correlates pretty well with the current state of affairs in the field. The arguments he's collected are so diverse that at times they don't support each other: there are so many examples that eventually you feel that any theory can be supported by some animal model. The near-infinite number of reproductive strategies in the world make it difficult to prove any particular system by analogy. But I loved the way he traced through all the competing theories, and all the animal examples were the best part of the book, whether or not they detracted from the argument. Who doesn't love to read about the sex lives of chimps, lions, minnows, woodpeckers, snails, rotifers, and grackles?