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Mean Genes: From Sex to Money to Food: Taming Our Primal Instincts
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Mean Genes: From Sex to Money to Food: Taming Our Primal Instincts

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  939 ratings  ·  76 reviews
Why do we want-and do-so many things that are bad for us? In Mean Genes Terry Burnham and Jay Phelan argue that we need to stop looking to Sigmund Freud for answers and start looking to Charles Darwin. Mean Genes reveals that our struggles for self-improvement are, in fact, battles against our own genes - genes that helped our distant ancestors flourish, but are selfish ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published September 1st 2001 by Penguin Books (first published August 2000)
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Average rating 3.82  · 
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 ·  939 ratings  ·  76 reviews

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Alex Zakharov
Apr 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
Cute short book of heuristics to overcome human (mis)behaviors/drives that are somewhat surprising but expected outcomes of our evolutionary past. The authors main theme is that many of our sinful habits (e.g. overeating, gambling, over spending, cheating) are expected side-effects of survival strategies that worked very well in our ancestral past. In modern day many of these strategies are no longer necessary but we are still hard-wired for them from evolutionary perspective. Armed with this ...more
Mar 15, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've got to stop reading the same book--albeit with different titles--over and over. This book was solid but I think I knew almost everything in it. A few new nuggets, though:

"Fertility is modulated by weight changes. Even minor weight loss caused by short-term dieting or exercise dramatically decreases fertility....If a woman wants to get pregnant, she should eat normally and avoid losing weight. This is true for all women, regardless of their weight." - p7

"In a study of 1300 alcoholics in
Apr 15, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Although this book’s subject is based on evolutionary biology and is written by a couple of Ph. D.s, it’s anything but dry and stuffy. This slim book is written with a chatty flair and is a quick and fascinating read. “Mean Genes reveals that our struggles for self-improvement are, in fact, battles against our own genes—genes that helped our distant ancestors flourish, but are selfish and out of place in the modern world.” Using countless quirky examples, the authors illustrate their point that ...more
Jaak Ennuste
Apr 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Great book, since it is based on science, yet highly readable. Genetically, humans have not changed almost none at all for thousands of years, whereas life around us has. This had led us to numerous challenges in keeping fit, saving money, being faithful, not losing money while gambling, and so on. Most of the primal urges are very difficult to deny, to tame it we must use our mental power and various tricks to not fall prey to our instincts.
Nov 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting...
Vikas Agarwal
Jun 02, 2014 rated it liked it
Why is it so hard to lose weight? What are our standards for beauty? Does it depend on culture or is it a universal norm? Why are we not satisfied with our current state and are perpetually greedy? Are there innate differences between girls and boys? The author seeks explanations to these questions (and more) through the lens of evolutionary biology by comparing human behavior across different culture as well as with other animals showing similar characteristics.

A very short and quick read, most
Jun 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is a really cool book. It discusses some of the behavior traits that have been 'bred' into us. For example, if you had ancestors who risked crossing the seas for a chance at a better life you are genetically programed to be a risk taker and may . The author applies this idea to eating habits, what we consider to be beauty, etc. I found it really interesting.
Jennifer Sykora jaenke
I thought this book was "just okay." It had some insight into our human behavior but I thought it was poorly organized and contained just snippets of information that sometimes did/or did not flow well with each other.
Oct 27, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: adults
This book is fantastic. You would be amazed at the things going on in our bodies courtesy of our genes. They really are "mean". :)

Jun 02, 2017 rated it liked it
This is a competently-written, entertaining book for a lay audience. It asserts that humans are now living under radically different conditions than our ancestral environment for which most of our evolutionary history has adapted us. Our genes have wired us to eat large amounts of food whenever it is available, reproduce abundantly, attack and kill our fellow humans to take their territory, and carry out other behaviors that are not optimally suited to present-day conditions. This book is ...more
Jan 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Nobody will believe in evolutionary biology fully, and that genes have their own cutthroat agenda. Among us humans - the notion that biology dictates most our behaviour in the world is unthinkable. Author tries to convince the readers that we're just like the animals, and like then our genes are selfish, only we have the willpower and discipline to choose where our genes take us.
It's a fascinating read. Did you know that there are worms that will inject sperm into another worm and the sperm
Jun 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Overall, a really good book. Read for college course taught by one of the authors, Jay Phelan. Great at explaining key biological concepts and phenomenons in an easy to understand way. Gives advice on how to outsmart our genes & natural instincts; many applications to real life. Fun and also informative read.
Filip Konrad
Nov 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Yet again book that should be at least 1/3 shorter :) Despite that fact it is a good read with facts from human evolution which explain puzzling situations of today. eg. why we tend to over-eat: because of genetic programming from past when the scarcity of food was quite common and our predecessors needed to have a buffer for future.
Jasmine Bhalla
Oct 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Not very fond of this one. It talked about how everything we do, our actions, our perspectives are related to how we have evolved and hence, our genes. It can be true but being a practical person, I could not accept/relate to many ideas ..
Jul 23, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It’s been ok, but nothing really that one hasn’t heard of before. There were quite a lot of connections made to the animal lifestyle, maybe a bit too many?!
Amit Goenka
Jul 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the few books which I have read more than once...thrice actually. Plan to read it once more so that write a review
Joe Teibel
Feb 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
Some interesting anecdotes but repitition, style and far too many assumptions couched as "science" make this book a must-not-read.
Sep 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Albeit brief, it was a rather fascinating introduction to many examples of studies on animals of different species and humans, many examples of behaviour and species I never heard about before.
Fabian Il.
Oct 06, 2017 rated it liked it
Had still had some good points on fasting and its health benefit.
Achal Augustine
Jan 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Operating manual of humans

Great book to understand the reasons for behaviors that we not helpful in modern world but was very good for survival in preindustrial world.
Mar 06, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 19-2-2017
It's a collection of thoughts about a variety of matters.
It lacks a coherent structure and a concise point.
It was part of a larger buy. I did not adequately research in the goodreads reviews.
It's unlikely that i could gain insight by reading the book completely.

I found no relevance of the findings to my own life. Terms like cuckoldry are not much relevant to me.
Also i don't care if i submit my request for a grade change in person or by writing.

Considering these topics would lead me down the
Apr 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is a book about our genes and how they drive our behavior. Published in 2000, it seems to be one of the more widely cited books in the field of evolutionary psychology, though it is not a work of original research. However, it does summarize of mountain of that research, and very entertainingly too. If you want a good intro, this book or another very similar one called "Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters" are both great choices.

Mean Genes starts with this premise: Our genes spent most
Aug 10, 2014 rated it liked it
I feel like this book was major deja vu reading. Think shades of Malcolm Gladwell - if you like his books you will enjoy reading this. The title is catchy and no, it's not a book about people who are awful. 'Mean Genes' examines how our genes ensure certain behaviors (some seemingly irrational but with definite biological payoffs) and also down the path of addiction and self destruction.

I have come across a lot of the information in here before in various book). It's a quick easy read and it has
Feb 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is more of a book to make you think about things than it being a book that will provide you with reliable facts. The argument of the book is that we have genetic programming that is approximately a million years old that has helped our species to survive. That programming is causes disastrous behaviors for us during the past 10 thousand years since our social behaviors have changed. And it is even more true during the past 150 years of industrialization.

An example, food was scarce for the
Jun 25, 2010 rated it liked it
This is a good and often interesting summary of the research on evolutionary psychology. I’m not sure why I initially decided to read this book; usually I read books that have been recommended somewhere by someone. As I read the first two chapters I began to wonder why I even picked up the book. I almost considered putting it down and would have if there wasn’t a prominent display of E.O Wilson’s recommendation on the front cover. The first chapters on “thin wallets and fat bodies” were a bit ...more
Mar 17, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
An entertaining book! Quick and easy to read, very basic and qualitative, and written well enough.

Unfortunately, not much is particularly new or insightful. I do like some of the ideas about violence, and the various comparisons to primitive cultures (and primates) are fascinating.

I wished the authors had spent a little more time trying to figure out ways to "out-smart" our genes; there is some discussion of this, but they never quite make the logical leaps necessary to fully interpret this
Nov 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: All
Shelves: non-fiction, science
"Why do we do what we do?" has been the question that drove philosophers and scientists for centuries. Mean Genes intend to answer some of the question from the gene's point of view. In doing so, the book not only spells out our ancestral derivation but also speaks of insightful experiments that prove the speculations. The book is actually a 'self-help' type of book which sees our problems such as drug addiction, obesity, greed, and such from a scientific point of view and offers tips that are ...more
Jul 21, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommended to Christine by: Simon Verghese
Do we really love or do we just want to keep our genes alive?

One of the things this book talked about: how physical attraction can arise from significant genetic differences. If I remember correctly one story illustrated that people detect different immune markers and seek partners sufficiently different to ensure healthy offspring.

Last year I also learned that my ethnic group was among one of 3 studied by the Human Genome Project for being so homogeneous. So no wonder I never dated any
Sandra Soetanto
Sep 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love how this book offers a unique point of view of human behavior. It said that our primitive and so-called ‘mean’ genes drives how people think, act, and speak. Even in the modern world, the primitive genes are still take control inside our brain, impacting our action and way of thinking of things (e.g. money, overeating behavior, risk seeking instinct, cheating in marriage, and taking advantage of social relationships). These ‘mean’ genes in us, however, can be outsmarted, in order to help ...more
Dec 03, 2014 rated it it was ok
Couldn't finish this. The book starts off with the premise that all human behavior is primarily determined by their genes. Then it goes on to give all kinds of advice on how to reduce weight, how to exercise more, how to have healthy marriages, how to stop addictions and so on. The information is quite unorganized and seems to have random bits of advice thrown in together to make a book. The chapters of the book IMHO would individually be best suited for magazines or newspaper articles rather ...more
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