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Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life: A Psychologist Investigates How Evolution, Cognition, and Complexity are Revolutionizing our View of Human Nature

by Douglas T. Kenrick

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1007273,496 (3.6)1
The founder of social evolutionary psychology argues that many apparently ingrained human behaviors--including prejudice, over-consumption, and religious devotion--are actually easier to explain and avoid than one would imagine.
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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
An entertaining overview of evolutionary psychology. Kenrick takes examples from the real world (mainly his own life) and explains our irrational behaviors from the perspective of evolutionary psychology. He explains the development of theories and the supporting evidence so clearly and engagingly, it is possible to forget you're reading about such an in-depth topic.

Recommended for those who are interested in psychology or biology but don't have degrees in either. ( )
  kaelirenee | Mar 30, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I should, before reviewing, disclaim that this was a free book from Librarything, which I got on the condition that I review it.

Douglas Kenrick's Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life: A Psychologist Investigates How Evolution, Cognition, and Complexity Are Revolutionizing Our View of Human Nature was, on the whole, a very enjoyable audiobook.

Generally, Kenrick does a good job of bringing together his personal experiences and the research he and others have done -- both pointing towards very interesting insights into human nature. This is especially interesting given Kenrick's unusual background (at least, unusual for an academic): his experience having a father who landed in prison, his youthful days as a street hoodlum, and his frank discussion of his past divorces all lend interesting notes to the discussion of evolutionary psychology he presents.

I realized, only late into reading the book, that I'd heard of Kenrick before: he was in the news -- a certain kind of rarefied academic news, that is -- as one of the researchers who had proposed a revised form of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. (I'd been researching the Maslovian concept of a hirarhcy of needs for a paper a couple of summers ago and come across Kenrick and company's proposed rearrangement.) I'm not sure what I think of Kenrick's reconstruction -- on the one hand, I'm not wholly sure that self-actualization need be discarded, or separated from child-rearing, and on the other, I rather think that the "self-actualization" that Kenrick folds down into Esteem and other social-capital related values is a bit problematic. Some people, for example, compose music for respect: others do it to get the music in their heads out into the world, to give it life. (Most writers I know write for the same reason.) I think, rather, there may be a sort of fluidity in our brains about different kinds of offspring, whether biological, mechanical (in the case of an inventor or repairman), memetic (the musician or writer), or whatever.

The book does raise interesting questions, while explaining things clearly and understandably. I especially appreciated the section where he and other researchers find evidence supporting a proposition that they'd originally doubted: that the difference between the Religious Right and the Left in America is fruitfully seen as a playing-out of different mating strategies... though it presents us with the dilemma (which Kenrick doesn't address, beyond saying he takes the issue less personally now) of what we are to do with this reality, given how things far removed from child-rearing (such as foreign policy, the state of public education, and more) hinge on something as basic as the conflict between different mating strategies?

In any case, I liked the book for rounding out my knowledge of some studies, for raising anew certain questions that vex me, and for lending a new perspective on a few interesting questions. Kenrick's book may not be a groundshaking new contribution to the popularization of evolutionary psychology, but he is interesting and funny... and I think you can safely ignore reviewers who imply he's sexist, or doesn't know what he's talking about. From what I can tell, they weren't "reading" (or listening) all that carefully, or are hellbent on being offended by scientific inquiry into human sex differentiation... or, they simply don't understand what's being argued. I am pretty sensitive to people justifying sexism on the basis of theory, whether scientific, cultural, or otherwise, and I saw none of that. And Kenrick doesn't gloss over racism: indeed, his discussion offers a partial explanation for it. (Incomplete, yes, but what are we expecting him to do, explain it all the way through?)

As for the audio, Fred Stella is a good narrator in general, with a friendly and engaging narrative voice. The only thing that drove me crazy was the amount of punched-in dubbing in the text, especially -- and somewhat embarrassingly -- in the names of researchers who had worked with Kenrick. One wishes that whoever was producing the audiobook had gone ahead and either gotten the pronunciations checked beforehand, or at least allowed Stella to punch in and out with longer clips. Or, hell, a little more professional handling of the audio setup could have made the edits done later a little bit less apparent. But all in all, it was very well narrated. ( )
  gordsellar | Dec 27, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I suspect most people’s objections to psychological research that demonstrates a trend toward our more base instincts (e.g., it’s all about mating!) is rooted in a basic misunderstanding of how said research is conducted. It’s a series of surveys and other tests administered to a semi-random group of volunteers. The findings imply general tendencies - none of which are all that surprising, by the way - but that does not mean we are mindless automatons at the mercies of our impulses. Obviously. For example, women tend to notice and remember powerful men regardless of looks while men are more drawn toward beautiful women regardless of status. Does this mean I judge every male I come across by his earning potential? Of course not. But it’s not a shocking notion that we may subconsciously be more aware of those more ideally suited to pass along our genes. And that’s most of what this book is about: our view of the world through the eyes of our evolutionary makeup, most of which has to do with creating viable offspring. I do wish homosexuality had been mentioned earlier and delved into more deeply, but if you’re only curious in heterosexual reactions, this could be quite interesting. Alas, there was very little I hadn’t heard before, and nothing I could not have suspected on my own, but this might serve as an interesting book to one new to the field of evolutionary psychology.

A note on the audio: Kenrick mentions early on that he has a New York accent, so Stella is a good choice. As an added bonus, his friendly, conversational tone makes what could in less competent hands (throats?) be somewhat dry material fun, quirky, and personal. ( )
  melydia | Nov 11, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Review based on ARC

This was, for me, someone without much of a background in "evolutionary psychology," interesting and thought provoking. I appreciated that the author presented the theory without dumbing it down too much, while still making it accessible to someone who is interested in psychology but doesn't quite have the time to really focus on it.

The author expresses his theories on how our natural inclinations toward selfishness and pleasure have often given way to the some of society's greatest achievements. He uses anecdotes, including personal ones, to offer examples of his theories and, ultimately, makes the book intriguing and entertaining, without really losing sight of his "sciency" theories.

Whether, in the end, you agree with Mr. Kenrick and the other evolutionary psychologists or not, it is worth reading this fascinating exploration of our motivations and how they move society and individuals forward in a productive way (or, at least someone's theory of that ;)).

Definitely recommend for the curious reader. ( )
  avanders | Sep 7, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
In a world numbed and 'dumbed down', Douglas T. Kenrick's work "Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life" is a unique animal: one that manages to say something intelligent, say it well, and still be readable by what one would consider the "average public". Kenrick has a knack for seamlessly blending the jargon of academia with everyday metaphors and situations, creating for his readers - or listeners, in the case of the audio version - a working vocabulary that is built upon in degrees. The impressive part is the manner in which the reader's attention is captured and maintained through use of wit and anecdote; comedy ever was and ever will be one of the most difficult genres to write. Compound this difficulty with that of wrenching the fiction loving masses' twitter-induced attention span away from the easy to swallow sugar fed by most modern publications and the work gains even more kudos. ( )
  LissaRhys | Sep 7, 2011 |
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The founder of social evolutionary psychology argues that many apparently ingrained human behaviors--including prejudice, over-consumption, and religious devotion--are actually easier to explain and avoid than one would imagine.

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Douglas T. Kenrick's book Sex, Murder and the Meaning of Life - AUDIO EDITION was available from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

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