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Referring to Lewis Carroll's Red Queen from Through the Looking-Glass, a character who has to keep running to stay in the same place, Matt Ridley demonstrates why sex is humanity's best strategy for outwitting its constantly mutating internal predators. The Red Queen answers dozens of other riddles of human nature and culture -- including why men propose marriage, the method behind our maddening notions of beauty, and the disquieting fact that a woman is more likely to conceive a child by an adulterous lover than by her husband. Brilliantly written, The Red Queen offers an extraordinary new way of interpreting the human condition and how it has evolved.

Topics: Disease, DNA, Evolution, Sex, Genetics, Sexuality, Anthropology, Popular Science, Informative, and Essays

Published: HarperCollins on
ISBN: 9780062200716
List price: $10.99
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I've meant to read this book for the last twenty years. I finally got around to doing it this year, and... I realized halfway through that I've read it already. Oops. I have a terrible memory thanks to one of my medications, so The Red Queen completely slipped my mind. {pause} Yep, I read it in August of 2001. I forgot I'd put it in my old homemade book database. I gave it a score of 4 out of 5, same as I did this time. I feel silly, but I'm glad I reread it. Good book.more
Tthis was both an interesting and irritating book. The words ‘aggrieved’ and ‘beleaguered’ would apply to his first few chapters as well as his summation, but I try to remember that the book was written 16 years ago, when the various divisions of social and biological sciences may have been more at odds. Ridley has little or no patience for anthropologists, sociologists, and even sociobiologists (that last surprised me a little) – evolution explains it all.What does it explain? Well, why so many species in the world reproduce sexually, in spite of the biological expense and complication. And what that method does to push evolution along, in ways we might or might not be willing to recognize. His primary theory is that the exchange of DNA caused by sexual reproduction (as opposed to budding, splitting, and other asexual methods) has to do with the race between any organism and its parasites and diseases. He makes a pretty persuasive argument, with many examples from both current and ancient species.His second thesis rests on how this arms race creates a feedback loop of reinforced inherited characteristics, some obvious, some almost chance. Again, many examples support his thesis. Where he gets most defensive is concerning the examples of our own species – that is where the book feels most out of date. I think we have become more sophisticated about our own responses as we have had the advantage of enhanced brain imaging of various kinds in the intervening decade and a half.His querulous defensiveness left me wondering how he chose his evidence. The text is lavishly footnoted, but most of the evidence itself is hidden, and I wonder how much the selection is biased to prove his points, intentionally or not. Without copious research in his tracks, I don’t think there’s any way to tell.I wonder if this is why I don’t read more non-fiction – I can trust the fiction to be fiction, but with non-fiction, I’m constantly asking myself “how does he know? And would I agree with his interpretation?”more
The Red Queen is an interesting presentation of the roll of sex in evolution, and the evolution of sex. It provided much food for thought, especially the roll of parasites in driving evolution, the idea of the red queen (things evolve to stay even, there is no long term winning). I liked the authors dealing with the nature vs nurturing conflict, that they are both always involved. Especially towards the end, it seemed schools of thought were flippantly tossed on the trash heap rather than more thoughtfully analyzed. Most any theory has something to add.more
An eloquent exposition of the known facts and the then currently likely explanations for them. Written in 1993 but still a great overview. I am no expert on the subject but do follow it, and I think that nearly all of his content stands up today. Part of the reason for this is his wonderful habit of not just giving the summary but looking into to hows and whys of the conclusion the scientists have come to. I find the very concept of the books title to be a deceptive one. At first glance you think, "hey that's clever, what a fascinating glimpse into a rather strange set of circumstances that bring out such an effect". By the time you are half way through the book you begin to realise that in fact this quirky little twist on the game of life is almost all pervasive and you are surrounded.By the end of the book you have a new lens through which to view the world. Not many books do this, and hardly any of them do it using reality and logical thought, so this must be a keeper.So ignore the various political pot shots taken at him (I speak as one who would happily cheer the mob onwards) and enjoy the quality of the writing and the fact you now have another way to think about the world.more
Read all 10 reviews

Reviews

I've meant to read this book for the last twenty years. I finally got around to doing it this year, and... I realized halfway through that I've read it already. Oops. I have a terrible memory thanks to one of my medications, so The Red Queen completely slipped my mind. {pause} Yep, I read it in August of 2001. I forgot I'd put it in my old homemade book database. I gave it a score of 4 out of 5, same as I did this time. I feel silly, but I'm glad I reread it. Good book.more
Tthis was both an interesting and irritating book. The words ‘aggrieved’ and ‘beleaguered’ would apply to his first few chapters as well as his summation, but I try to remember that the book was written 16 years ago, when the various divisions of social and biological sciences may have been more at odds. Ridley has little or no patience for anthropologists, sociologists, and even sociobiologists (that last surprised me a little) – evolution explains it all.What does it explain? Well, why so many species in the world reproduce sexually, in spite of the biological expense and complication. And what that method does to push evolution along, in ways we might or might not be willing to recognize. His primary theory is that the exchange of DNA caused by sexual reproduction (as opposed to budding, splitting, and other asexual methods) has to do with the race between any organism and its parasites and diseases. He makes a pretty persuasive argument, with many examples from both current and ancient species.His second thesis rests on how this arms race creates a feedback loop of reinforced inherited characteristics, some obvious, some almost chance. Again, many examples support his thesis. Where he gets most defensive is concerning the examples of our own species – that is where the book feels most out of date. I think we have become more sophisticated about our own responses as we have had the advantage of enhanced brain imaging of various kinds in the intervening decade and a half.His querulous defensiveness left me wondering how he chose his evidence. The text is lavishly footnoted, but most of the evidence itself is hidden, and I wonder how much the selection is biased to prove his points, intentionally or not. Without copious research in his tracks, I don’t think there’s any way to tell.I wonder if this is why I don’t read more non-fiction – I can trust the fiction to be fiction, but with non-fiction, I’m constantly asking myself “how does he know? And would I agree with his interpretation?”more
The Red Queen is an interesting presentation of the roll of sex in evolution, and the evolution of sex. It provided much food for thought, especially the roll of parasites in driving evolution, the idea of the red queen (things evolve to stay even, there is no long term winning). I liked the authors dealing with the nature vs nurturing conflict, that they are both always involved. Especially towards the end, it seemed schools of thought were flippantly tossed on the trash heap rather than more thoughtfully analyzed. Most any theory has something to add.more
An eloquent exposition of the known facts and the then currently likely explanations for them. Written in 1993 but still a great overview. I am no expert on the subject but do follow it, and I think that nearly all of his content stands up today. Part of the reason for this is his wonderful habit of not just giving the summary but looking into to hows and whys of the conclusion the scientists have come to. I find the very concept of the books title to be a deceptive one. At first glance you think, "hey that's clever, what a fascinating glimpse into a rather strange set of circumstances that bring out such an effect". By the time you are half way through the book you begin to realise that in fact this quirky little twist on the game of life is almost all pervasive and you are surrounded.By the end of the book you have a new lens through which to view the world. Not many books do this, and hardly any of them do it using reality and logical thought, so this must be a keeper.So ignore the various political pot shots taken at him (I speak as one who would happily cheer the mob onwards) and enjoy the quality of the writing and the fact you now have another way to think about the world.more
An interesting view of mating rituals and genetics.more
The reasons and the evolution of sexual reproduction. The title refers to the red queen in Alice in Wonderland, who ran very fast but stayed in the same place, which Ridley illustrates with fine language skills which have won him prizes for science writing.more
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