am 6. Juli 2000
This is the book that first demonstrated to me the power of evolutionary psychology to help us understand ourselves. Published a year before Robert Wright's The Moral Animal, which covers much of the same territory, this is to my mind a more sophisticated and more direct exposition. Both books are characterized by a sly wit and an incisive expression, but Ridley meanders less among the relics of Freud and Darwin and is less concerned about whether we're moral or not and more concerned with what's sexy and why. He had a lot of fun with this book and it shows.
The "red queen" is a metaphor for an arms race. In an arms race both sides run as fast and as hard as they can to stay in the same place relatively speaking. In evolution the arms race is between parasite and host or between predator and prey. Both are running as fast as they can just to keep up, because when one gets an advantage, the other finds a counter. The red queen comes from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1871) since that monarch ran as fast as she could but never got anywhere at all. The red queen is also a metaphor for the theory that there is no "progress" in evolution, that "...species do not get better at surviving... Their chances of extinction are random" (p. 64).
Ridley covers a lot of territory here, ranging from sex to the handicap principle to gossip to why our brains are big (to figure out what the other person is up to!). The Red Queen answers the question, "Why is there sex?" Apparently we have sexuality rather than asexuality because of the arms race between microbes and our immune systems. Sex is a way of storing defenses against parasites in the gene pool of the species and then mixing them anew each generation to fool the microbes. Without the gene pool and the DNA mixing, the microbes would quickly evolve a way around the organism's defenses; but with sexuality the organism juggles its "locks" every generation and so is able to keep up with the fast-mutating microbes. When again the microbes evolve the keys to these locks, the gene pool is mixed again and the organism comes up with an old lock that the microbes again have to evolve a key to.
Some of the fun is the incisive way Ridley presents the ideas, and the ideas he chooses to present. For example, note how effectively he demolishes Freud's naive incest taboo theory on pages 282-286. Also interesting is his presentation of the idea that it is not thinness in women per se that attracts men, but a low ratio of waistline to hip line that fetches them. There are chapters entitled "Polygamy and the Nature of Men," and "Monogamy and the Nature of Women." In Chapter 9, "The Uses of Beauty," Ridley goes into some detail on why men prefer thin and blond women. And on pages 217-218 he explains why women cuckold their mates: "This is because her husband is, almost by definition, usually not the best male there is-else how would he have ended up married to her?" She wants the parental care of her husband and some other man's superior-she thinks-genes.
Ridley is rather modest and says that most of the ideas in the book are not his and at any rate many of them will undoubtedly be proven wrong. This is refreshing to read when I think about all the delusive ideas so proudly trumpeted by popular books on evolution and human behavior in the past. Desmond Morris's The Naked Ape (1967) and Elaine Morgan's The Aquatic Ape: A Theory of Human Evolution (1982) come to mind, both fine books, but now seen to be substantially mistaken.
Written in an engaging and lucid style, The Red Queen really is the best of a number of books on evolutionary psychology to appear over the last decade and one that is a delight to read.
am 10. Mai 2000
This is on my list of Books Everyone Should Read, up there with _The_Gift_of_Fear_. Where deBecker explains violence, Ridley explains sex. You might not like what you read, but Ridley has really done his research. I disagree that he is unbiased; Ridley also says he is not unbiased, but he does say he tried hard not to be. In fact, it's the best job of research analysis and synthesis I've seen in a long time. One should never be afraid to face facts, and really, it doesn't say anything that you don't already know - it just makes it more comprehensible.
If you want to see how scientific and rational thought should be done, this is the book for you. Arguments and counterarguments are presented clearly and given equal time. If the behavior of the opposite sex ever confused you or angered you, this is the book for you. There's nothing like understanding to help us get along with each other.
He's a bit idolizing of some of his sources but it doesn't get in the way of what he's saying. It's information dense, but the writing is not at all dry. It was hard for me to put down.
am 5. Juli 2000
Another great book by Matt Ridley. It's a bit more dense than his outstanding book "Genome". It's certainly more focused, and filled with intellectualy interesting information. I also suspect, the religious folk will not like it at all, for it contains the seeds of doom for their silly notions of sex and evolution. This book is written for lay persons, but has much for biologist and scientist to appreciate as well. I highly recommended.
am 24. Juni 2000
I found this book concerning scientific research on the evolution of sex pretty darn good, but rather complicated. Dont expect light holiday reading, but do expect a congenial informative style, and a smoragasboard of ideas regarding the evolution of a very complex part of biological behaviour, with particular reference to one homo sapien sapien.
Matt Ridley provides a good overview of scientific debate and research regarding the evolution of sex in the myriad species of earth (blue planet, third rock form sun). He melds the tension between inborn/innate characteritics and learning/culture amicably. This 'tension' is a perennial one, being more about definitions and models than absolutes, but one in which a better understanding and complementary framework is gradually gaining consensus. Any scientist worth his salt will realise that the tension between these two complimentary parts of our existance will be continued to be modified, updated, redefined and reviewed with the further gathering of knowledge. There are no absolutes when it comes to such things. Matt Ridley manages to hold and communicate this understanding pretty admirably.
Having read and admired some of his works, I do detect a subtle bias in his discourses, but it is not a bias which is held without evidence, nor one in which the tension between doubt and certainty is absent. He backs up his assertions with empirical evidence, he bases models of the human condition on such evidence, and he allows room for modification and review where necessary. Just the way science should be. He does have his leanings, but he makes it clear where these are, holding these with sobriety.
There are many theories of sex outlined in this book. I won't spoil the fun by detailing them. Be prepared for the Red Queen, Cain, sex, asex, changing sex, no sex, lots of sex, fungi sex, bacteria sex, sea horse females with a kind of penis, selfish genes and sex, organisms which appear to be all female, male redundancy, female choice, male choice, female redundancy, marriage, hermaphrodites, harems, infidelity, monogomous albaltrosses,promiscuous bonobos, cheating cuckoos, prancing peacocks, the list goes on and the discussion is fairly exhaustive.
As I said, don't expect "Where I came from" part 2. Rather: "Where I came from, a general guide for the species of earth, with particular reference to homo sapien sapien" (adult informative version).
am 11. März 2000
This is a thorough, cogent and very readable treatise on the one subject that fascinates us all. I have also read Ridley's "The Origins of Virtue." In characteristic style, his conclusions are sometimes disturbing, sometimes exhilarating, and always illuminating. Each step of the way, Ridley builds his case by citing behavioural research performed by many different disciplines on the whole gamut of the animal kingdom. However, the book stretches far beyond pure science. He offers the reader an holistic and mind altering viewpoint of sex and human behavior by weaving in the thoughts of poets, philosophers and literary writers. This is mandatory reading for anyone that is trying to make sense of the human condition. Read this book and your world will be fundamentally changed forever, but be prepared to have some dearly held beliefs challenged and torn down!
am 26. März 2000
This is the book that introduced me to what has become a favourite avocation: Evolutionary Biology.
The Red Queen is a fascinating and accessible introduction to a profoundly interesting way of looking at the world. While reading it, I couldn't put it down. I found it far more fascinating than bestseller fodder like The Hotzone, and to have more staying power than the other usual fare of the bestseller lists (i.e., diet and smarmy self-help books).
In trying to answer the seemingly simple question of how sexual reproduction came to dominate despite the faster reproductory potential of the asexual strategy, Ridley has cover the entire subject of how we came to act and function the way we do. After reading it I found could not look at things quite the same way again.
am 14. Juni 1999
This is an extraordinary account of why we, humans, are as we are. Ridley develops a conclusive argument for how genetic and evolutionary influences moulds our reality. He demolishes the foundations of those who claim that the "evils" of society are the causes and drivers of human behaviour.
Ridley also shows that the differences between women and men are rooted in in-born features rather than as a consequence of patriarcal societies. This in no way justifies gender inequality. The key point here is that the social engineering agenda of bureaucrats is essentially flawed because our nature dictates the way we are.
Overall, a great read for free-thinkers and free-spirits.
am 15. September 2013
The arguments presented here withstand scrutiny, the author includes his own doubts about the arguments presented and admits that the red queen theory isn't perfect but is the one that fits most expectations, it does give light on human behavior and is particularly interesting in understanding your fellow human's unconscious primitive driven instincts.