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Survival of the Beautiful: Art, Science, and Evolution

3.19  ·  Rating Details ·  125 Ratings  ·  22 Reviews
"The peacock's tail," said Charles Darwin, "makes me sick." That's because the theory of evolution as adaptation can't explain why nature is so beautiful. It took the concept of sexual selection for Darwin to explain that, a process that has more to do with aesthetics than the practical. Survival of the Beautiful is a revolutionary new examination of the interplay of beaut ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published November 1st 2011 by Bloomsbury Press
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Nelson Zagalo
Jul 13, 2015 Nelson Zagalo rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Rothenberg é filósofo e artista, e só desse modo se explica o modo como aborda o evolucionismo na arte. A sua proposta é polémica, porque assenta num princípio, que apesar de oferecer demonstração dedutiva, corre contra outra proposta, que ainda que seja também apenas passível de demonstração dedutiva, é aceite pelas restantes ciências.

Vamos ao que nos é dito. Rothenberg faz um belo trabalho de revisão da teoria estética evolucionária, nomeadamente Denis Dutton (ver "The Art Instinct", 2008), de
Jason Rondinelli
Feb 04, 2013 Jason Rondinelli rated it it was amazing
I understood this to be a book written by an artist not a scientist. I know post Lehrer everyone wants their science served up on a meaty researched plate, but I enjoy Rothenburg's dabbling on the evolution of aesthetics. I enjoyed the meandering. Also I didn't interpret Rothenburg's writing to be arrogant although many people seem to think so.
Brittany Kelly
Dec 21, 2011 Brittany Kelly rated it did not like it
I read enough of this book to where I am counting it as read. This book is terrible. The author is pompous and repetitive. I felt like he never made his argument, he just jumped from topic to topic and talked about them -- but never gave any "answers." Just bad bad bad.
Jeff Lilly
Aug 07, 2014 Jeff Lilly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating book. Rothenberg admits near the end that he's not a storyteller, and the book does meander a bit. At times, it errs on the side of skipping lightly across philosophy and science rather than digging into the meat of the matters, at least to my taste. But Rothenberg's stated goal is to spark wonder and appreciation, not to make an ironclad argument, and in that he certainly succeeds.

The central question of the book (is sexual selection simply a special, semi-random subset of natural
Mikael Lind
David Rothenberg makes an ambitious attempt to tackle the topic of the relationship between art and science. The book starts off with some interesting question, but quickly becomes a bit repetitive, and Rothenberg's final answers to his questions are simply too vague. Also, the book is a bit sketchy, with long interviews with people who Rothenberg finds worth to quote in lenght, as well as with some parts that read almost like the author's diary or something. Too bad - the first chapter was prom ...more
Mar 25, 2012 Stef rated it liked it
I picked this book up because it seemed like it would be an interesting read. While I think the author makes several good points about sexual selection being too narrow to accurately understand evolutionary designs like the peacock's tail or the cuttlefish's natural ability for camouflage. However, the chapters either felt like individual short articles or repeated themselves alittle too much. Not the most coherent book, but does raise some interesting thought points.
Cassandra Kay Silva
Jun 24, 2013 Cassandra Kay Silva rated it liked it
Shelves: science, art
Some parts of this were really engaging but he got a bit too side tracked and I think lost his audience through much of this book. I couldn't find any evidence, any "points", or even any real connection to this book for some reason, other than the bowerbird parts and few bits about the arts.
Madeline W
I've done some heavy reading on both evolutionary and artistic theory before and felt interested in some melding of the two, but Rothenberg really misses the mark through his lack of organization and muddled goals. It's an unsuccessful bridge of the disciplines.
Apr 19, 2012 Erika rated it did not like it
Shelves: book-club
I couldn't even finish this one. What a crock! If the author had been a little less full of himself, maybe I could have made it beyond page 40.
Jun 03, 2013 Rose rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
Horribly written with no concrete ideas, fluffy filler language and general BS.

Anything can be published now a days apparently.


Jane Walker
May 17, 2012 Jane Walker rated it did not like it
I did try with this, but gave up. It rambles incoherently and had arrived nowhere by the time I lost patience.
May 11, 2012 Douglas rated it it was amazing
A beautiful book and provocative.
Jan 22, 2012 Rachel rated it it was ok
Boring. Sweeping generalizations about the philosophy of science but no science. Returned skimmed.
Bob Nichols
Jan 14, 2014 Bob Nichols rated it it was ok
Rothenberg picks up Darwin's sexual selection theory and runs with it for awhile. Like Darwin, he argues that there are two fundamental strains in evolutionary development. One is the random mutation and natural selection that most are familiar with. The other is sexual selection for traits that mates find attractive. This part of Darwin's theory does not get much attention. It's the lost child of evolutionary theory. Whereas the former requires that all traits perform a survival function, the l ...more
Roy Kenagy
Dec 07, 2011 Roy Kenagy marked it as to-read
Book web site:

"The nerdy mind-set of modernity often suffers allergic outbreaks when confronted with the softer side of cognition. Aesthetic pleasures are then cordoned off from the serious core work of science. But David Rothenberg makes a convincing case that beauty is an intrinsic aspect of reality. He argues, among other things, that without modern art, modern science would have been hobbled by inadequately challenged cognitive habits. Beauty evolved. Perhaps we shou
Oli Freke
Mar 28, 2015 Oli Freke rated it it was ok
I'm only giving this two stars rather than one because it stimulated me to think more about *why* we should find certain aspects of nature beautiful.

Unfortunately, this badly written, self-indulgent book provides no answers or bothers to find out if anyone has come up with any convincing answers.

For the record - bower birds do not make 'art' - a nonsensical premise. The author confuses what humans might find attractive with the intention of the animal.
Apr 25, 2012 Wayne rated it liked it
The most interesting ideas in this book surround sexual selection in evolution. Specifically, the examples where evolved traits do not relate to signs of fitness (in the chapter "It Could Be Anything"), and selection is happening in the mind of the female based on aesthetics, rather than a contest between males.
Carolyn Haley
Oct 31, 2011 Carolyn Haley rated it really liked it
An interesting discussion of the relationship of art and evolution. See my review at New York Journal of Books:
Nov 26, 2015 Nancy rated it really liked it
This is not rigorous even for a popular science book but I did gain much wonder and delight from this read. Highly recommend.
Nov 04, 2015 Perry rated it really liked it
Intriguing book that examines the question of whether aesthetics figure into evolution.
Mar 07, 2015 Beth rated it liked it
This book had a lot of promise and explored a lot of really neat ideas, but ultimately was too rambling and the concepts too loosely tied together.
Sara rated it did not like it
Jul 27, 2013
Vivien Lim
Vivien Lim rated it did not like it
Mar 03, 2013
Dawn Piper
Dawn Piper rated it did not like it
Oct 29, 2013
Elsa María
Elsa María rated it liked it
May 13, 2014
Tam Hunt
Tam Hunt rated it really liked it
Feb 13, 2013
Ania rated it it was ok
Oct 20, 2016
Jean Hess
Jean Hess rated it it was amazing
Dec 04, 2014
Ann Michael
Ann Michael rated it really liked it
Nov 05, 2013
Violet rated it liked it
Jan 20, 2013
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