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The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin's…

The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice…

by Richard O. Prum

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1614113,542 (3.95)2
What can explain the incredible diversity of beauty in nature? Richard O. Prum, an award-winning ornithologist, discusses Charles Darwin's second and long-neglected theory--aesthetic mate choice--and what it means for our understanding of evolution. In addition, Prum connects those same evolutionary dynamics to the origins and diversity of human sexuality, offering riveting new thinking about the evolution of human beauty and the role of mate choice, thereby transforming our ancestors from typical infanticidal primates into socially intelligent, pair-bonding caregivers. Prum's book is an exhilarating tour de force that begins in the trees and ends by fundamentally challenging how we understand human evolution and ourselves. -- "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." -- Publisher's website.… (more)



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Showing 4 of 4
How female sexual autonomy drives beauty in birds. The author then attempts to draw patallels to primates. ( )
  ghefferon | Mar 23, 2018 |
Y'all.... I just finished reading _The Evolution of Beauty_
This is an absolutely amazing book. He argues that there is more to natural selection than "survival of the fittest." He says that some evolution happens because females make aesthetic decisions. He studies this in birds first, because he's an ornithologist. Female birds think bright plumage is pretty, so they pick males with bright plumage, so males evolve brighter plumage which gives them no survival advantages whatsoever but girls like it so they evolve it. In other words, evolution happens because _females make decisions and have preferences_. Not only that, but in birds, those female decisions have led to greater female autonomy and female control over male behavior: females decisions have made rape harder (almost impossible) among birds. He then extends this to human evolution, and his conclusions are utterly amazing. He even manages to use this whole idea of aesthetic evolution to account for the existence of races, homosexuality, and female orgasm. Even if you aren't normally into this kind of book, this is an amazing work of feminist science and I can't recommend it enough. It will make you think about patriarchy in a totally new light. And I generally hesitate to call anything written by a man "feminist", but this book is totally feminist, and I'm actually surprised it is written by a man. Also. he has a great sense of humor. He gets really sarcastic about the patriarchy, and it's hilarious. Prum fully acknowledges how the work of his women students has been really revolutionary and has led him to these conclusions. I hope this book has a huge impact on the future of the study of evolution. ( )
  Gwendydd | Mar 5, 2018 |
The bird parts of this book are fascinating. I found the parts about human evolution to be less compelling. ( )
  MarthaJeanne | Jan 1, 2018 |
As a very amateur birder, I was attracted to this book by its cover, but despite much focus on birds, this is a broader book and a most radical one. Prum basically advocates for the discarded theory of Darwin, i.e., that mate choice or sexual selection is as powerful an evolutionary factor as natural selection. At times, Prum's eloquent style is overwhelmed by the complexity of his arguments or the subtlety of his points, but he is always clear and his arguments, though complex, are straightforward. The latter third or so of his book are a powerful set of arguments, conclusions and observations applied to human beings and the cultural wars that plague U.S. society. ( )
  nmele | Nov 16, 2017 |
Showing 4 of 4
And then along comes Richard Prum to tell you there’s more to it than that. Prum is an ornithology professor at Yale University and a world authority on manakins, a group of sparrow-sized birds whose dazzling males perform mate-attracting gymnastics on branches in the understories of Central and South American forests. Years of watching the males carry on until they nearly collapsed convinced him that much of the selection is linked to nothing except a female love of beauty itself, that the only force pushing things forward is female appreciation. This, he says, has nothing to do with functionality: it is pure aesthetic evolution, with “the potential to evolve arbitrary and useless beauty”.
added by danielx | editNew Scientist, Adrian Barnett (Feb 15, 2018)
Prum sees such aesthetic choices as driving a gradual “aesthetic remodeling” — an evolutionary reshaping of mating behavior, and even of male social behavior more widely, by the civilizing pressure of female preference. Prum stresses this is not about emasculating males, or dominating them; it’s simply about selecting for males who allow females autonomy and choice.
added by rybie2 | editNew York Times, David Dobbs (Sep 24, 2017)
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