Mean Genes: Can We Tame Our Primal Instincts?

Burnham, Terry; Phelan, Jay

Published by Pocket Books
ISBN 10: 0743430093 / ISBN 13: 9780743430098
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Synopsis: This text takes a look at why our toughest battles are often with ourselves. It uses a Darwinian lens to examine the issues that most affect our lives: body image, money, addiction, violence, the endless search for love and happiness. It reveals that the struggles for self-improvement are battles against our own genes, the genes that helped our ancestors flourish but are selfish and out of place in an industrial world. Burnham and Phelan don't simply describe the connections between genes and behaviour; they offer steps for improving the quality of our lives.

Review: "Don't trust your instincts." Hardly the standard self-help fare, to be sure. Arguing that Darwin has a lot more to tell us about ourselves than Freud, Mean Genes is high on evolution and low on inner child. Deemed "brilliant" by E.O. Wilson himself, the book is the work of two young Wilson disciples: Terry Burnham, an economics professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and Jay Phelan, a professor of biology at UCLA.

Burnham and Phelan divide life issues into 10 categories (debt, fat, drugs, risk, greed, gender, beauty, infidelity, family, and friends and foes), and then offer a two-step guide to better living. "Step 1 is to understand our animal nature, particularly those desires that get us into trouble and can lead to unhappiness. Step 2 is to harness this knowledge so that we can tame our primal instincts."

Needless to say, Nancy Reagan-esque bromides don't fit into the Mean Genes scheme of things:

"Just say no" to drugs is the simplest way to kick a habit. Unfortunately, this obvious and low-cost approach is also the route most likely to fail. For example, only one person quits smoking for every twenty who attempt to just say no. Raw willpower seems like a great solution right up until weakness strikes and we light up a cigarette or mix a margarita.

Instead of slogans, the Mean Genes approach to overcoming drug addiction is to first recognize that "every person has strong, instinctual cravings for destructive substances." This, coupled with a thorough scientific understanding of a given drug's pleasurable effects on the brain, offers a more realistic course of action, such as finding a less harmful substitute for achieving a similar buzz.

Be it talk of weight loss, saving for retirement, or resisting the neighbor's wife, such practical, tough-love suggestions for subduing the beast within are provided throughout the book. Phelan describes how he instantly smears mayonnaise all over tempting sweets served with airline meals to keep from eating them during long flights, and Burnham writes of giving away his Internet access cable in order to free himself of a serious day-trading fixation.

The authors also rely heavily on findings from the animal world in stating their case, which makes for fascinating reading, if not always for readily transferable lessons to daily life. Consider, for example, certain frog species that "continue individual bouts of mating for several months. If people mated for a similar percentage of our lives, a single round of intercourse would last almost ten years." And then there's the famed black widow spider. "Shunning the more traditional chastity belt, the male breaks off his sexual organ inside the female, preventing her from ever mating again. When the act is completed, the female kills and eats the male."

Put off by all the sex and violence? Don't worry. There's also a nod to family values in the form of the Australian social spider. "Soon after giving birth to about a hundred hungry spiderlings, Mom's body literally liquefies into a pile of mushy flesh. The babies then munch on the flesh so they can start their lives with full bellies." Mean genes, indeed. --Patrick Jennings

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Title: Mean Genes: Can We Tame Our Primal Instincts...
Publisher: Pocket Books
Binding: Paperback
Book Condition: Good

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Book Description -. Paperback. Book Condition: Very Good. Mean Genes: Can We Tame Our Primal Instincts? This book is in very good condition and will be shipped within 24 hours of ordering. The cover may have some limited signs of wear but the pages are clean, intact and the spine remains undamaged. This book has clearly been well maintained and looked after thus far. Money back guarantee if you are not satisfied. See all our books here, order more than 1 book and get discounted shipping. Bookseller Inventory # 7719-9780743430098

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Book Description Pocket Books 07/04/2003, 2003. Paperback. Book Condition: Very Good. Shipped within 24 hours from our UK warehouse. Clean, undamaged book with no damage to pages and minimal wear to the cover. Spine still tight, in very good condition. Remember if you are not happy, you are covered by our 100% money back guarantee. Bookseller Inventory # 6545-9780743430098

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