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Editor’s Note

“Fascinating Evolutionary Take…”

What does buying a Mercedes have to do with evolutionary psychology? Plenty. From our basest desires to our greatest achievements, author Douglas Kenrick explains the fascinating biological instincts that drive human behavior.
Alex P.
Scribd Editor
“Kenrick writes like a dream.”—Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Biology and Neurology, Stanford University; author of A Primate’s Memoir and Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers   What do sex and murder have to do with the meaning of life? Everything.

In Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life, social psychologist Douglas Kenrick exposes the selfish animalistic underside of human nature, and shows how it is intimately connected to our greatest and most selfless achievements. Masterfully integrating cognitive science, evolutionary psychology, and complexity theory, this intriguing book paints a comprehensive picture of the principles that govern our lives. As Kenrick divulges, beneath our civilized veneer, human beings are a lot like howling hyenas and barking baboons, with heads full of homicidal tendencies and sexual fantasies. But, in his view, many ingrained, apparently irrational behaviors—such as inclinations to one-night stands, racial prejudices, and conspicuous consumption—ultimately manifest what he calls “Deep Rationality.”

Although our heads are full of simple selfish biases that evolved to help our ancestors survive, modern human beings are anything but simple and selfish cavemen. Kenrick argues that simple and selfish mental mechanisms we inherited from our ancestors ultimately give rise to the multifaceted social lives that we humans lead today, and to the most positive features of humanity, including generosity, artistic creativity, love, and familial bonds. And out of those simple mechanisms emerge all the complexities of society, including international conflicts and global economic markets. By exploring the nuance of social psychology and the surprising results of his own research, Kenrick offers a detailed picture of what makes us caring, creative, and complex—that is, fully human.

 Illuminated with stories from Kenrick’s own colorful experiences -- from his criminally inclined shantytown Irish relatives, his own multiple high school expulsions, broken marriages, and homicidal fantasies, to his eventual success as an evolutionary psychologist and loving father of two boys separated by 26 years -- this book is an exploration of our mental biases and failures, and our mind’s great successes. Idiosyncratic, controversial, and fascinating, Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life uncovers the pitfalls and promise of our biological inheritance.

Published: Basic Books on Apr 26, 2011
ISBN: 9780465023424
List price: $16.99
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Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life by Douglas Kenrick is a very engaging review of the latest research in the field of evolutionary psychology (that is, explaining our actions from an evolutionary perspective). What could be a dry non-fiction book is light, humorous, and interesting, primarily because of the author's breezy writing style, and his willingness to include personal observations and life lessons in the material. A very thought-provoking and interesting introduction to a field of research that can be dry and confusing. Recommended.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This was a very thought-provoking little book. I loved the humorous tidbits and the interesting asides. The treacherous waters of evolutionary anything can be difficult, but thanks to Kenrick's light writing style, the waters are navigated well. Certainly recommendedread more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I suspect most people’s objections to psychological research that demonstrates a trend toward our more base instincts (e.g., it’s all about mating!) is rooted in a basic misunderstanding of how said research is conducted. It’s a series of surveys and other tests administered to a semi-random group of volunteers. The findings imply general tendencies - none of which are all that surprising, by the way - but that does not mean we are mindless automatons at the mercies of our impulses. Obviously. For example, women tend to notice and remember powerful men regardless of looks while men are more drawn toward beautiful women regardless of status. Does this mean I judge every male I come across by his earning potential? Of course not. But it’s not a shocking notion that we may subconsciously be more aware of those more ideally suited to pass along our genes. And that’s most of what this book is about: our view of the world through the eyes of our evolutionary makeup, most of which has to do with creating viable offspring. I do wish homosexuality had been mentioned earlier and delved into more deeply, but if you’re only curious in heterosexual reactions, this could be quite interesting. Alas, there was very little I hadn’t heard before, and nothing I could not have suspected on my own, but this might serve as an interesting book to one new to the field of evolutionary psychology.A note on the audio: Kenrick mentions early on that he has a New York accent, so Stella is a good choice. As an added bonus, his friendly, conversational tone makes what could in less competent hands (throats?) be somewhat dry material fun, quirky, and personal.read more
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Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life by Douglas Kenrick is a very engaging review of the latest research in the field of evolutionary psychology (that is, explaining our actions from an evolutionary perspective). What could be a dry non-fiction book is light, humorous, and interesting, primarily because of the author's breezy writing style, and his willingness to include personal observations and life lessons in the material. A very thought-provoking and interesting introduction to a field of research that can be dry and confusing. Recommended.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This was a very thought-provoking little book. I loved the humorous tidbits and the interesting asides. The treacherous waters of evolutionary anything can be difficult, but thanks to Kenrick's light writing style, the waters are navigated well. Certainly recommended
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I suspect most people’s objections to psychological research that demonstrates a trend toward our more base instincts (e.g., it’s all about mating!) is rooted in a basic misunderstanding of how said research is conducted. It’s a series of surveys and other tests administered to a semi-random group of volunteers. The findings imply general tendencies - none of which are all that surprising, by the way - but that does not mean we are mindless automatons at the mercies of our impulses. Obviously. For example, women tend to notice and remember powerful men regardless of looks while men are more drawn toward beautiful women regardless of status. Does this mean I judge every male I come across by his earning potential? Of course not. But it’s not a shocking notion that we may subconsciously be more aware of those more ideally suited to pass along our genes. And that’s most of what this book is about: our view of the world through the eyes of our evolutionary makeup, most of which has to do with creating viable offspring. I do wish homosexuality had been mentioned earlier and delved into more deeply, but if you’re only curious in heterosexual reactions, this could be quite interesting. Alas, there was very little I hadn’t heard before, and nothing I could not have suspected on my own, but this might serve as an interesting book to one new to the field of evolutionary psychology.A note on the audio: Kenrick mentions early on that he has a New York accent, so Stella is a good choice. As an added bonus, his friendly, conversational tone makes what could in less competent hands (throats?) be somewhat dry material fun, quirky, and personal.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I should, before reviewing, disclaim that this was a free book from Librarything, which I got on the condition that I review it. Douglas Kenrick's Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life: A Psychologist Investigates How Evolution, Cognition, and Complexity Are Revolutionizing Our View of Human Nature was, on the whole, a very enjoyable audiobook.Generally, Kenrick does a good job of bringing together his personal experiences and the research he and others have done -- both pointing towards very interesting insights into human nature. This is especially interesting given Kenrick's unusual background (at least, unusual for an academic): his experience having a father who landed in prison, his youthful days as a street hoodlum, and his frank discussion of his past divorces all lend interesting notes to the discussion of evolutionary psychology he presents. I realized, only late into reading the book, that I'd heard of Kenrick before: he was in the news -- a certain kind of rarefied academic news, that is -- as one of the researchers who had proposed a revised form of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. (I'd been researching the Maslovian concept of a hirarhcy of needs for a paper a couple of summers ago and come across Kenrick and company's proposed rearrangement.) I'm not sure what I think of Kenrick's reconstruction -- on the one hand, I'm not wholly sure that self-actualization need be discarded, or separated from child-rearing, and on the other, I rather think that the "self-actualization" that Kenrick folds down into Esteem and other social-capital related values is a bit problematic. Some people, for example, compose music for respect: others do it to get the music in their heads out into the world, to give it life. (Most writers I know write for the same reason.) I think, rather, there may be a sort of fluidity in our brains about different kinds of offspring, whether biological, mechanical (in the case of an inventor or repairman), memetic (the musician or writer), or whatever. The book does raise interesting questions, while explaining things clearly and understandably. I especially appreciated the section where he and other researchers find evidence supporting a proposition that they'd originally doubted: that the difference between the Religious Right and the Left in America is fruitfully seen as a playing-out of different mating strategies... though it presents us with the dilemma (which Kenrick doesn't address, beyond saying he takes the issue less personally now) of what we are to do with this reality, given how things far removed from child-rearing (such as foreign policy, the state of public education, and more) hinge on something as basic as the conflict between different mating strategies? In any case, I liked the book for rounding out my knowledge of some studies, for raising anew certain questions that vex me, and for lending a new perspective on a few interesting questions. Kenrick's book may not be a groundshaking new contribution to the popularization of evolutionary psychology, but he is interesting and funny... and I think you can safely ignore reviewers who imply he's sexist, or doesn't know what he's talking about. From what I can tell, they weren't "reading" (or listening) all that carefully, or are hellbent on being offended by scientific inquiry into human sex differentiation... or, they simply don't understand what's being argued. I am pretty sensitive to people justifying sexism on the basis of theory, whether scientific, cultural, or otherwise, and I saw none of that. And Kenrick doesn't gloss over racism: indeed, his discussion offers a partial explanation for it. (Incomplete, yes, but what are we expecting him to do, explain it all the way through?) As for the audio, Fred Stella is a good narrator in general, with a friendly and engaging narrative voice. The only thing that drove me crazy was the amount of punched-in dubbing in the text, especially -- and somewhat embarrassingly -- in the names of researchers who had worked with Kenrick. One wishes that whoever was producing the audiobook had gone ahead and either gotten the pronunciations checked beforehand, or at least allowed Stella to punch in and out with longer clips. Or, hell, a little more professional handling of the audio setup could have made the edits done later a little bit less apparent. But all in all, it was very well narrated.
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An entertaining overview of evolutionary psychology. Kenrick takes examples from the real world (mainly his own life) and explains our irrational behaviors from the perspective of evolutionary psychology. He explains the development of theories and the supporting evidence so clearly and engagingly, it is possible to forget you're reading about such an in-depth topic.Recommended for those who are interested in psychology or biology but don't have degrees in either.
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This book had some interesting information, but I felt it lacking in actual substance. The passages seemed highly anecdotal without real statistics to back things up. In a research type book, I think those "hard numbers" are very important. Without that, I felt much of the time I was getting the author's opinion, but questioned exactly how he arrived at that opinion.
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