Sex is a subject as fascinating to scientists as it is to the rest of us. From the contentious problem of why the wasteful reproductive process exists at all, to questions of how individuals choose their mates and what traits they find attractive and why, research into the nature of sex has given rise to a vast range of findings. This book explores these findings, and their implications for the sexual behaviour of our own species, putting forward the metaphor of the red queen (from "Alice in Wonderland"), who has to run at full speed to stay where she is as a highly effective metaphor for a whole range of sexual behaviours. The book was shortlisted for the 1994 Rhone-Poulenc Prize for Science Books.
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MATT RIDLEY is a research fellow of the Institute of Economic Affairs and a Trustee of the International Centre for Life, living in Northumberland. His last book, The Red Queen, was short-listed for the Rhone-Poulenc Prize for science books and the Writers' Guild Award for non-fiction.From Kirkus Reviews:
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. (Notes, bibliography, index; eight pages of photos--not seen) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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