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The Evolution of Beauty

The Evolution of Beauty by Richard O. Prum
May 09, 2017 | 448 Pages
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    May 09, 2017 | 448 Pages

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    May 09, 2017 | 448 Pages

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“Prum’s argument is exhilarating . . . The Evolution of Beauty should be widely read, as it will provoke readers, shaking them (as reading Hume did to Kant) from their dogmatic slumbers . . . I don’t see how any biologist could read this book and not walk away at least questioning the idea that adaptation must explain every last trait. Survival of the fittest might not be enough to explain nature. We might need survival of the prettiest, too.”
—Sam Kean, Wall Street Journal

The Evolution of Beauty is at once fascinating, provocative, and totally compelling. Anyone interested in science or art or sex—which is to say everyone—will want to read it.”
—Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction
“A fascinating account of beauty and mate choice in birds and other animals. You’ll be amazed by the weird things that birds do to win mates—such as male manakins, which bounce up and down in coordinated displays but only one gets to mate. You’ll also discover why both men and women have armpit hair, why men lack the penis bone widespread in other mammals, and what really happened in the Garden of Eden.”
—Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel
“A smorgasbord of evolutionary biology, philosophy, and sociology, filtered through Prum’s experiences as a birdwatcher and his diverse research on everything from dinosaur colors to duck sex. Through compelling arguments and colorful examples, Prum launches a counterstrike against the adaptationist regime, in an attempt to ‘put the subjective experience of animals back in the center of biology’ and to ‘bring beauty back to the sciences.’”
—Ed Yong, The Atlantic
“Prum’s career has been diverse and full, so that reading this fascinating book, we learn about the patterning of dinosaur feathers, consider the evolutionary basis of the human female orgasm, the tyranny of academic patriarchy, and the corkscrewed enormity of a duck’s penis. Combining this with in-depth study of how science selects the ideas it approves of and fine writing about fieldwork results in a rich, absorbing text . . . The dance Prum performs to convince you to take him on as an intellectual partner is beautiful and deserves to be appreciated on its own terms.”
—Adrian Barnett, New Scientist

“Reads like a memoir, argues like a manifesto, and shines with Prum’s passion for all things ornithological.”
—Erika Lorraine Milam, Science

“A provocative redress of a powerful idea: beauty for the sake of beauty. Like all the best science, Prum’s exploration builds on the past with an eye toward the future, creating something bold, challenging, and deeply insightful. Anyone with even a passing interest in evolution should read this book.”
—Thor Hanson, author of Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle
“Splendid colors and lovely songs did not arise in birds because of their usefulness, Richard Prum argues, but because they pleased potential mates. Prum offers an exciting new take on evolution and a whirlwind tour of beauty in the animal kingdom, full of wonders and intellectual stimulation.”
—Frans de Waal, author of Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?
“Life isn’t just a dreary slog of survival. It brims with exuberance—from extravagant plumage to strange courtship rituals. In The Evolution of Beauty, Richard Prum takes us into this universe of delights to discover a fascinating idea: that beauty is central to the history of life.”
—Carl Zimmer, author of Parasite Rex and Evolution: Making Sense of Life

“I thought I knew a fair bit about sexual selection, but as I read The Evolution of Beauty I was excited by the many stimulating comparative examples Prum cites. From fantastic manakin displays captured by the author’s own field work to bowerbird constructions, duck genitalia, and monkey sex (what little of it there is), Prum’s important insights illuminate beauty, human sexuality, mate choice, and human society. A refreshing new look at compelling age-old topics.”
—Bernd Heinrich, author of Mind of the Raven
“This highly original, must-read book is a fast-paced, passionate and witty wake-up call for us to acknowledge just how powerfully sexual selection has influenced the bodies and behaviors of birds and other beasts, including humans. Prum convincingly builds his case with his unrivaled and sometimes ribald knowledge of birds and then applies these insights courageously and creatively to challenge much of the conventional wisdom about humans. You probably never thought you would learn so much about the human penis from reading about those of ducks!”
—Daniel E. Lieberman, author of The Story of the Human Body
“Darwin thought evolution was beautiful, but modern biologists have forgotten this. Now Richard Prum, who discovered the real color of dinosaurs, has eloquently reminded us. His book is essential for all who wish to learn how nature works.”
—David Rothenberg, author of Survival of the Beautiful and Bug Music
“Well-documented and wholly accessible, enriched by Prum’s warm personal touches. Prum writes that his goal was to present the ‘full, distinctive richness, complexity, and diversity of this aesthetic view of life.’ He absolutely succeeds.”
Kirkus Reviews

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