- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Abacus; New edition edition (18 May 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0349110840
- ISBN-13: 978-0349110844
- Product Dimensions: 0.3 x 0.3 x 0.3 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 831,316 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Survival Of The Prettiest: The Science of Beauty Paperback – 18 May 2000
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Nancy Etcoff's synthesis of up-to-the-minute evolutionary biology, neuroscience, social science and literary criticism is the very model of good popular science. So why is her account of physical beauty so damned titillating? There is nothing salacious here: Etcoff simply describes where beauty comes from, what it is for, how it is exploited and controlled today, and who stands to gain and lose from its presence in the world. There is much here that is shocking, but such shocks and surprises are intellectual, rather than erotic. "In Brazil there are more Avon ladies than members of the army," Etcoff observes. "In the United States more money is spent on beauty than on education or social services ... and in 1715 riots broke out in France when the use of flour on the hair of aristocrats led to a food shortage."
Why is reading Survival of the Prettiest such an illicit pleasure? Perhaps because, in a society informed by Christian ethics and, more recently by feminism, we feel uneasy with the manifest injustice of physical beauty and the way it runs roughshod over modern notions of virtue, democracy and the dignity of the individual. It's like the joke about the mother-in-law--as irresistibly funny as it is politically unacceptable. Why, then, should we take beauty seriously? Because, Etcoff argues, beauty exists. It is not, like mother-in-law jokes, a product of the social fabric. It is information, there to aid procreation and species survival. We may disapprove of the ways we are manipulated at so visceral a level by so primitive a mechanism. But to deny beauty its social and political force is an act worthy of Canute. "How to live with beauty and bring it back into the realm of pleasure is a task for 21st century civilisation," Etcoff writes, and, thanks to her, we are off to a good start. --Simon Ings
Erudite, pithy, witty and indeed beautiful, Nancy Etcoff's prose brings sense at last to the study of beauty (Matt Ridley, author of THE ORIGINS OF VIRTUE)
Her writings explore the existence of aesthetic beauty, without placing judgements upon it. Rather she looks at our reaction to it. (Cindy Crawford)
Forget the myths about beauty; it isn't skin deep, or in the eye of the beholder, or "culturally constructed." Our notion of beauty is ancient and universal, embedded in our genes- a Stone Age body scan brimming with information about health and fertility. Nancy Etcoff provides a lucid, authoritative guide to this latest insights of Darwinian science. At last, a book about beauty that won't go out of fashion. (Helena Cronin, author of THE ANT AND THE PEACOCK)
In this fascinating book, Nancy Etcoff makes a compelling argument that our fascination with beauty has deep roots in out genes. As a pioneer in this cutting edge field, she writes with authority, clarity and no little wit. (Dean Hamer, author of THE SCIENCE OF DESIRE)
Top Customer Reviews
Etcoff's approach then is that of a 'scientist' rather than of a philosopher, and in a fast paced and expert survey of recent research she argues persuasively the following that 'beauty' is more than in the eye of the beholder - it is a cross-cultural reality. Etcoff illustrates this with a number of studies showing how people from different races and cultures nonetheless will rank other people unerringly in order of attractiveness.
The reason people do this, Etcoff says, is that they have been programmed by millennia of evolution to identify the most 'fertile' partner. Men look for women who have the 'hour glass' shape because this maximises the chance of the woman being old enough to bear children, but young enough not to be either pregnant already or breast-feeding (in which case she is not fertile.) Women, equally, look for square jawed, tall dark and handsome men, who thereby illustrate not only their masculinity but their ability to help bring up children.
And there we have perhaps one of the first objections to Etcoff's book. It is full of supposedly incontrovertible 'scientific' statements, mixed up with really rather weak pieces of common-sense which are little more than the currency of turn of then century Harvard University.
Etcoff does not actually say 'the most beautiful of all women are blonde americans' but she comes pretty close to it.Read more ›
The book is extremely well researched (50 pages on citations only) and very convincing. The language is easy and friendly.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is a really enlightening read that explores the reasons why women are more obsessed with their looks than feminists like to believe. Read morePublished on 30 May 2002