The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World - and Us

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A FINALIST FOR THE PULITZER PRIZE

NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEWSMITHSONIAN, AND WALL STREET JOURNAL


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.
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About the author

RICHARD O. PRUM is William Robertson Coe Professor of Ornithology at Yale University, and Head Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. He has conducted field work throughout the world, and has studied fossil theropod dinosaurs in China. He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2010.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Anchor
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Published on
May 9, 2017
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Pages
448
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ISBN
9780385537223
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Health & Fitness / Sexuality
Science / Life Sciences / Evolution
Science / Life Sciences / Zoology / Ornithology
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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This root-and-branch re-evaluation of Darwin’s concept of sexual selection tackles the subject from historical, epistemological and theoretical perspectives. Contributions from a wealth of disciplines have been marshaled for this volume, with key figures in behavioural ecology, philosophy, and the history of science adding to its wide-ranging relevance. Updating the reader on the debate currently live in behavioural ecology itself on the centrality of sexual selection, and with coverage of developments in the field of animal aesthetics, the book details the current state of play, while other chapters trace the history of sexual selection from Darwin to today and inquire into the neurobiological bases for partner choices and the comparisons between the hedonic brain in human and non-human animals.

Welcome space is given to the social aspects of sexual selection, particularly where Darwin drew distinctions between eager males and coy females and rationalized this as evolutionary strategy. Also explored are the current definition of sexual selection (as opposed to natural selection) and its importance in today’s biological research, and the impending critique of the theory from the nascent field of animal aesthetics. As a comprehensive assessment of the current health, or otherwise, of Darwin’s theory, 140 years after the publication of his Descent of Man, the book offers a uniquely rounded view that asks whether ‘sexual selection’ is in itself a progressive or reactionary notion, even as it explores its theoretical relevance in the technical biological study of the twenty-first century.

The present book aims to examine how sexual selection works in the human species. Almost all scholarly effort focuses on sexual selection in non-human species and extrapolates the findings to the human one. However, human mating has a unique pattern not found in any other species, namely parental influence over mate choice. Across preindustrial societies, the typical pattern of long-term mating is arranged marriage, where parents choose spouses for their children. By doing so, parents effectively become a sexual selection force. Traits that enhance an individual’s chance to be selected as a son- or a daughter-in-law confer important reproductive advantages to those who are endowed with them, increasing in frequency in the population.

The author has coined the term parental choice to describe the sexual selection force that arises from parental control over mating. He synthesizes extensive theoretical and empirical work in order to understand and model this force. The aim is to understand which factors give rise to parental choice and to combine these insights into constructing a more formal model. It also aims to further examine whether the predictions of the model fit the patterns of mating found across different types of human societies, and how the model can be used to understand the evolution of behavioral traits involved in mating.

By synthesizing the various arguments put forward and published across the literature, the book offers a comprehensive argument and overview of an aspect of sexual selection unique to our species. Furthermore, the book revises and extends previously made arguments and models, while it provides useful insights on how the proposed revision of sexual selection theory can enable us to understand a wide range of human behavioral phenomena. It should be key reading for those interested in studying sexual selection in general and in the Homo sapiens species in particular.

In species with internal fertilization, sperm competition occurs when the sperm of two or more males simultaneously occupy the reproductive tract of a female and compete to fertilize an egg (Parker, 1970). A large body of empirical research has demonstrated that, as predicted by sperm competition theory, males and females in many species possess anatomical, behavioral, and physiological adaptations that have evolved to deal with the adaptive challenges associated with sperm competition. Moreover, in recent years, evolutionary biologists and psychologists have begun to examine the extent to which sperm competition may have been an important selective pressure during human evolution. Some research has suggested that male humans, like males of many bird, insect, and rodent species, might be able to adjust the number of sperm they inseminate according to the risk of sperm competition. Other research has examined whether such responses might be accompanied by psychological changes that motivate human males to pursue copulations when the risk of sperm competition is high. Furthermore, there is research suggesting that aspects of human penile anatomy might function to enhance success in sperm competition. Much of this work has been controversial; some of the findings have been disputed and others have been greeted with skepticism. However, the idea that some aspects of human psychology and behavior might best be understood as adaptations to sperm competition remains intriguing and, in certain cases, very persuasive.
On Valentine's Day 1985, biologist Stacey O'Brien first met a four-day-old baby barn owl -- a fateful encounter that would turn into an astonishing 19-year saga. With nerve damage in one wing, the owlet's ability to fly was forever compromised, and he had no hope of surviving on his own in the wild. O'Brien, a young assistant in the owl laboratory at Caltech, was immediately smitten, promising to care for the helpless owlet and give him a permanent home. Wesley the Owl is the funny, poignant story of their dramatic two decades together.

With both a tender heart and a scientist's eye, O'Brien studied Wesley's strange habits intensively and first-hand -- and provided a mice-only diet that required her to buy the rodents in bulk (28,000 over the owl's lifetime). As Wesley grew, she snapped photos of him at every stage like any proud parent, recording his life from a helpless ball of fuzz to a playful, clumsy adolescent to a gorgeous, gold-and-white, macho adult owl with a heart-shaped face and an outsize personality that belied his 18-inch stature. Stacey and Wesley's bond deepened as she discovered Wesley's individual personality, subtle emotions, and playful nature that could also turn fiercely loyal and protective -- though she could have done without Wesley's driving away her would-be human suitors!

O'Brien also brings us inside the prestigious research community, a kind of scientific Hogwarts where resident owls sometimes flew freely from office to office and eccentric, brilliant scientists were extraordinarily committed to studying and helping animals; all of them were changed by the animal they loved. As O'Brien gets close to Wesley, she makes important discoveries about owl behavior, intelligence, and communication, coining the term "The Way of the Owl" to describe his inclinations: he did not tolerate lies, held her to her promises, and provided unconditional love, though he was not beyond an occasional sulk. When O'Brien develops her own life-threatening illness, the biologist who saved the life of a helpless baby bird is herself rescued from death by the insistent love and courage of this wild animal.

Enhanced by wonderful photos, Wesley the Owl is a thoroughly engaging, heartwarming, often funny story of a complex, emotional, non-human being capable of reason, play, and, most important, love and loyalty. It is sure to be cherished by animal lovers everywhere.
Finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction

An extraordinary narrative history of autism: the riveting story of parents fighting for their children ’s civil rights; of doctors struggling to define autism; of ingenuity, self-advocacy, and profound social change.

Nearly seventy-five years ago, Donald Triplett of Forest, Mississippi, became the first child diagnosed with autism. Beginning with his family’s odyssey, In a Different Key tells the extraordinary story of this often misunderstood condition, and of the civil rights battles waged by the families of those who have it. Unfolding over decades, it is a beautifully rendered history of ordinary people determined to secure a place in the world for those with autism—by liberating children from dank institutions, campaigning for their right to go to school, challenging expert opinion on what it means to have autism, and persuading society to accept those who are different. 

It is the story of women like Ruth Sullivan, who rebelled against a medical establishment that blamed cold and rejecting “refrigerator mothers” for causing autism; and of fathers who pushed scientists to dig harder for treatments. Many others played starring roles too: doctors like Leo Kanner, who pioneered our understanding of autism; lawyers like Tom Gilhool, who took the families’ battle for education to the courtroom; scientists who sparred over how to treat autism; and those with autism, like Temple Grandin, Alex Plank, and Ari Ne’eman, who explained their inner worlds and championed the philosophy of neurodiversity.

This is also a story of fierce controversies—from the question of whether there is truly an autism “epidemic,” and whether vaccines played a part in it; to scandals involving “facilitated communication,” one of many treatments that have proved to be blind alleys; to stark disagreements about whether scientists should pursue a cure for autism. There are dark turns too: we learn about experimenters feeding LSD to children with autism, or shocking them with electricity to change their behavior; and the authors reveal compelling evidence that Hans Asperger, discoverer of the syndrome named after him, participated in the Nazi program that consigned disabled children to death.

By turns intimate and panoramic, In a Different Key takes us on a journey from an era when families were shamed and children were condemned to institutions to one in which a cadre of people with autism push not simply for inclusion, but for a new understanding of autism: as difference rather than disability.
This stunningly illustrated book from acclaimed birder and photographer Richard Crossley revolutionizes field guide design by providing the first real-life approach to identification. Whether you are a beginner, expert, or anywhere in between, The Crossley ID Guide will vastly improve your ability to identify birds.

Unlike other guides, which provide isolated individual photographs or illustrations, this is the first book to feature large, lifelike scenes for each species. These scenes--640 in all--are composed from more than 10,000 of the author's images showing birds in a wide range of views--near and far, from different angles, in various plumages and behaviors, including flight, and in the habitat in which they live. These beautiful compositions show how a bird's appearance changes with distance, and give equal emphasis to characteristics experts use to identify birds: size, structure and shape, behavior, probability, and color. This is the first book to convey all of these features visually--in a single image--and to reinforce them with accurate, concise text. Each scene provides a wealth of detailed visual information that invites and rewards careful study, but the most important identification features can be grasped instantly by anyone.


By making identification easier, more accurate, and more fun than ever before, The Crossley ID Guide will completely redefine how its users look at birds. Essential for all birders, it also promises to make new birders of many people who have despaired of using traditional guides.


Revolutionary. This book changes field guide design to make you a better birder
A picture says a thousand words. The most comprehensive guide: 640 stunning scenes created from 10,000 of the author's photographs
Reality birding. Lifelike in-focus scenes show birds in their habitats, from near and far, and in all plumages and behaviors
Teaching and reference. The first book to accurately portray all the key identification characteristics: size, shape, behavior, probability, and color
Practice makes perfect. An interactive learning experience to sharpen and test field identification skills
Bird like the experts. The first book to simplify birding and help you understand how to bird like the best
An interactive website--www.crossleybirds.com--includes expanded captions for the plates and species updates
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