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The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  14,950 ratings  ·  594 reviews

Sex is as fascinating to scientists as it is to the rest of us. A vast pool of knowledge, therefore, has been gleaned from research into the nature of sex, from the contentious problem of why the wasteful reproductive process exists at all, to how individuals choose their mates and what traits they find attractive. This fascinating book explores those findings, and their i

Kindle Edition, 416 pages
Published (first published October 1993)
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Average rating 4.05  · 
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 ·  14,950 ratings  ·  594 reviews

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Oct 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who has no idea why they fall in love with the wrong person
Things I learned from this book: (human) women like tall men, (human) men like beautiful women, (barn swallow) women like men with long, symmetrical tails, gentlemen prefer blondes, sperm are small because they made a dastardly deal with nature, gender exists (and there are two of them) essentially as an accidental by-product of a primordial genetic arms race, why (we think) that we (or anything else) has sex (as opposed to splitting in half or excanging packets of DNA), why roosters have wattle ...more
Arleen Jenson
Coming out of pre-veterinary medicine and a slew of genetics classes, I can say that nothing in this book is particularly mind-blowing... except the hubris. The author has drawn up a laundry list of assumptions about all of humanity and left out a good deal of its subjects. As a scientist or, at the very least, as a lover of science... the references were interesting enough to keep me reading. But as someone with sexual awareness, a hesitancy to polarize gender and sexuality, and my own idea of ...more
Jan 22, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: z-lib, en, non-fiction
What could have shaped the human mind is an endlessly interesting subject, no question about that. Speculating about contributions of the genes, nature, nurture, culture is fun, as much as getting a new perspective on what has always seemed "obvious". Still, I did not like this book as much as I probably would, had it a bit less of sheer speculations. Some readers praise Ridley for objectively presenting to them so many different and often contradictory theories. When discussions are heated, it ...more
Feb 18, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jason by: Heather
Well, I had hoped to write this review closer to having read the book, but I'll write this anyway, just without some of the examples I was hoping to remember.

Roughly the first 1/2 to 2/3 of the books covers the different explanations for why sex arose and the mating habits of various non-human species. One thing that is great about this book is it will relate a theory, then an insufficiency in the theory, then a counter theory, then additional findings, and back and forth and so on. If there isn
This was one of those books that I bought because I was sucked in by the title and the cover. Plus I thought, hey that's kinda out of my comfort zone, I'd like to push myself to read something new and possibly difficult to understand.

I couldn't make it past the first chapter, so I read the end in hopes to find what his conclusion is and its we are all apes in the end. I find that rather depressing and quite hard to believe. I find it hard to swallow that we are only biological animals who are dr
This is really well written, but I just can't really wrap my head around the themes of sexuality in this book, especially as it concerns the idea of gender. Also I don't really trust men of science who can write things like "boys are better in math than girls" or "girls are better at linguistic tasks" as if they are universal truths instead of biased theories.
Nikolas Alixopulos
I enjoyed this book and recommend it highly. Some may see it as a cynical view of human nature, however I found it to be an engaging and convincing one.  My favorite quote from this book sums up the totality of the text for me: "...the choosiness in human beings in picking their mates has driven the human mind into a frenzied expansion for no reason except that wit, virtuosity,inventiveness, and individuality turn people on. It is a somewhat less uplifting perspective on the purpose of humanity ...more
Alex ☣ Deranged KittyCat ☣
How much more generous it would be if, instead of writing parables about childhood wounds, psychologists were to accept that some differences between the sexes just are, that they are in the nature of the beasts, because each sex has an evolved tendency to develop that way in response to experience.

The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature is a very accessible book. It is easy to read, follow and understand.

After reading this book, you will never look the same at a cheating spous
Jun 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ridley throws a lot of interesting hypotheses at the question of why there is sex & why/how we indulge without ever coming to a firm conclusion & admitting such. I liked that since I didn't find a lot of the studies or statistics he referenced too convincing. This is more a book with points to ponder rather than a definitive text. He writes this at the end of the book, Half the ideas in this book are probably wrong. The history of human science [in this regard] is not encouraging. But he goes on ...more
Aaron Arnold
I might have rated this more highly if I hadn't just come off a spate of reading very similar and slightly better works that incorporate much of its content in pithier form (Daniel Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea and Steven Pinker's How the Mind Works, though those were both written afterwards), yet its central metaphor of sexual selection as arms race is compelling enough that I finished it alongside the superior Dennett and Pinker books anyway. The "red queen" of the title is derived from th ...more
Mark Colenutt
Jul 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Matt Ridley was educated at Oxford and is a journalistic scientist, which means he is able to translate the more complicated scientific breakthroughs and understandings to the wider public in a clear and succinct manner.

Almost anything he has written, including his Guardian articles, are worthy of a reader's time. This particuar publication is a mind blowing look at evolutionary biology from the origin and end game of sex in our cultural and genetic lives.

There are many books on this topic but f
Mar 03, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I really wanted to love this book. It was a fun and at times thorough overview of human sexuality. I do have some complaints about it, however.

First, the author seemed extremely out of touch with society and came across as a very typical privileged white male in his views. It was painful to read sometimes when he'd go on about how women can do whatever they want these days with no limitations! Painful.

Second, I especially disliked his lambasting of feminism as being completely wrong due to som
I like Matt Ridley, but I’ve read this book too late. It’s been 15 years since its publication, and it’s too long for the science to be still groundbreaking. There is absolutely nothing in it that is new to me. Moreover, some of it feels already outdated and a bit too authoritarian on many issues which we now realize will have to be updated. Hence no rating.
Ridley is intelligent enough to know it himself, too. I had to smile at his own comments on the book.
‘Half the ideas in this book are proba
David Joseph
Dec 15, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: everything-else
This was like being in a work release program with an educated half-wit.
Very questionable reasoning throughout.

Juan Pablo
As I was reading the first chapter, I kept thinking I was embarking on something written by a geek giggling at the word "sex"; I don't think I was entirely wrong, but if there was any giggling from the author at the mention of sex, it was for truly fascinating reasons.

I disliked the first chapter: anything titled "Human Nature" in this day and age seems preposterous. I kept on reading, nevertheless, hoping I'd find salvageable bits from this.

I was absolutely enraptured by chapter three, at which
Nick Davies
Mar 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
This was an interesting exploration of the reasons for sexual reproduction in many organisms, as well as then discussing the science with relation to human sexuality and sociology. Ridley makes good thorough use of a broad range of research findings in the area, discussing these with (mainly) even-handedness and a breadth of illustrative examples. The central theme relates to the importance of sexual reproduction in protection from disease and in best perpetuating our genes. It's an educational ...more
May 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biology, non-fiction
I learned a lot from this book.
The thesis is that much of human intelligence is a result of a sex-selection arms race.
As a background, we are asked basic questions like, "why sex"?
Ridley does a good job quantifying this question and providing an honest, if uncertain answer.
The short answer is, the perpetual arms races with viruses and parasites makes sex worth the cost.
That cost can be as large as the Peacock's tail feathers, or the giant human brain.
In the case of the human brain, the battle of
May 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
My God, I loved this book. Extremely accessible, yet very substantial. I don't think I can ever think about sex or human nature the same way. I feel that this is one of those seminal books that a person can't go back from.

And it certainly does make it strange to go to a party and watch all the humans hooking up.
Jun 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent review of science (theories and methodologies for determining causes) of sexual reproduction, that passes the test of time (originally published in 1993!). Highly recommend. I will likely re-read this again.

This book is far superior to Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality. They are often paired and compared, even though they are not, and should not be considered to be, in the same category: The Red Queen is how proper science is done, while Sex at Dawn is a theoreti
Jan 27, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is Evo Psych masquerading as hard science. It is sometimes dense and technical, sometimes defensive and condescending. There is some well-researched science, some reasonable observations, and some logical conclusions, but they are so inextricably tangled with sweeping generalizations, correlations misinterpreted as causations, and ambiguous data presented as certainty as to render the whole mess too annoying to read. I gave up with about 70 pages to go. Life is too short, and surely there i ...more
May 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: big-brained sexy apes
an exposition of the basic idea that 'man is a self-domesticated animal', only far more interesting and accessible than that sounds. matt ridley tackles the question of why human beings reproduce sexually- you'd think the answer'd be 'because it's fun!', but you'd be wrong- when in the race for genes to reproduce themselves in mass quantities, asexual reproduction is more efficient and a more certain success, numbers-wise.

the general answer has to do with parasites, and with the idea that like
Jul 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
The Red Queen theory stems from the Queen in Alice in Wonderland who runs and runs but stays in the same place. She never gets any further because the world is moving with her.
Genes change their locks to combat parasites and parasites make new keys. They prey is always one step faster that the predator. “Sex, according to the Red Queen theory, has nothing to do with adapting to the inanimate world—becoming bigger or better camouflaged or more tolerant of cold or better at flying—but is all abou
Sep 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I didn't give five stars because I found this book something of a slog in the beginning.

To make his case, it's necessary for Ridley to give an account of what has been found true of animal behavior before moving on to relate it to the most familiar animal, man. These accounts of the sex lives of birds and mammals and so on are rather dull to me.

But stick with it! The book gets more interesting until it becomes absolutely fascinating with the chapter "Sexing the Mind". From that point on I was ha
Taylor Pearson
Jul 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting book about human evolution, and the sciences around it. I read it for the first time maybe ten years ago and found it just as thought-provoking the second time around.

Evolution is a process of survival and reproduction, but most evolutionary theory focuses on the survival side of things. The Red Queen argues that, in fact, the action is on the reproduction side of things.

This book offers a take on how sex, not survival, has been the primary driver of evolution, and more importantl
Cassandra Kay Silva
Apr 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
This was an absolutely fantastic book. I love this author! The questions posed in the work are terribly to the point. Why do we have two sexes? Why not perform Asexual reproduction as many plant species do? What are the genetic, and social functions of sex from an evolutionary standpoint? I remember wondering about this very thing when studying botany in college. How did we evolve to be a diplontic species? (I want to be a dikaryotic fungus by the way... yes I did go there). Basically if you lov ...more
Jun 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The payoff in this book is in the last 1/3rd of the book. The beginning is really really dry and academic. The theories are fascinating and some were mind-blowing. Ridley himself admits that they are just theories and probably half of them are wrong. But it's just a fascinating way to view human behavior through sexual selection and evolutionary advantage.
Sep 20, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Since this is a science book it is troubling that this doesn't follow the scientific method. Frequently topics are not developed logically leading to confusing and odd sentences.
Some interesting propositions -- read for a lark.
Aug 27, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nothing sexier than reading about about the genetic reasoning behind objectifying the opposite sex, that's what I always say.
Had it for my Human Behavioral Ecology in upper level Anthropology. The least dry book we had. It's not really what it sounds.
This was the July selection for my bookclub, and came highly recommended at a talk that one of the members went to. However, I really didn't like it and it set off my "wishful thinking" meter throughout. There is very little hard data about genetics included in the book. While there are interesting studies referenced about the mating habits of different birds, we don't have many studies done on the evolutionary mating habits of people. That is called evolutionary psychology, and most theories in ...more
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Matthew White Ridley, 5th Viscount Ridley DL FRSL FMedSci (born 7 February 1958, in Northumberland) is an English science writer, businessman and aristocrat. Ridley was educated at Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford where he received a doctorate in zoology before commencing a career in journalism. Ridley worked as the science editor of The Economist from 1984 to 1987 and was then its Washington cor ...more

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“Life is a Sisyphean race, run ever faster toward a finish line that is merely the start of the next race” 30 likes
“Sex is not about reproduc-tion, gender is not about males and females, courtship is not aboutpersuasion, fashion is not about beauty, and love is not about affec-tion. Below the surface of every banality and cliche there lies irony,cynicism, and profundity.” 18 likes
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