Ridley contends—not a popular thesis in recent decades—that such genetic programming is far more central to...

THE RED QUEEN

SEX AND THE EVOLUTION OF HUMAN NATURE

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.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-02-603340-2

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1993

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THE JOHNSTOWN FLOOD

The Johnstown Flood was one of the greatest natural disasters of all time (actually manmade, since it was precipitated by a wealthy country club dam which had long been the source of justified misgivings). This then is a routine rundown of the catastrophe of May 31st, 1889, the biggest news story since Lincoln's murder in which thousands died. The most interesting incidental: a baby floated unharmed in its cradle for eighty miles.... Perhaps of local interest-but it lacks the Lord-ly touch.

Pub Date: March 18, 1968

ISBN: 0671207148

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1968

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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