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Customer reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars

on 30 June 2014
Great book but be warned its over 600 pages
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on 23 July 2002
Miller's book provides a fascinating, witty journey through the development of human mental, linguistic, behavioural and physical traits, all of which contributed to making those who possessed these traits more attractive. Miller does not skimp on counter-arguments that might weaken his own thesis, but he refrains from indulging in academic hatchet jobs, thus making his book a pleasant spectacle of intellectual fencing, rather than a back alley broken bottle ballet. This is one of the book's main qualities - open intellectual debate - and provides a refreshing change from the flood of one-sided polemic that seems to dominate so much of the media today. A great read.
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on 23 August 2015
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on 24 September 2016
Nothing really damage that could interfere with the reading.
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on 31 July 2014
If you think this book can fix your inabilities as a man then you need to get out there an talk to women.
On the other hand this exposes some very interesting facts that will make you aware of things you do subconsciously.
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VINE VOICEon 3 June 2009
In Geoff Miller's terminology, there are two Darwinian processes. Natural selection determines whether you live or die; sexual selection determines whether you can impress a mate sufficiently to produce offspring. Both tests need passing to leave descendants.

A female will have most descendants if she mates with a male with a good genetic set of cards (and conversely of course). In humans, it's normally the case that males present themselves to a female and then she gets to decide.

The decision process works better if there are fitness indicators: traits of appearance and/or behaviour which are reliably correlated with an underlying good-quality set of genes. As there are a number of different ways to excel in human societies, fitness indicators could include athletic prowess, firm leadership, intellectual sparkle, superior moral character and so on.

Miller believes that many aspects of the human mind, including intelligence, language and pleasant personality are best understood as proxies for underlying genetic fitness (and thereby sexually-selected), rather than survivalist adaptations.

Sexual selection, once it's understood in its full beauty, is a new paradigm for thinking about human behaviour in all fields of life. Many sections of the book explore the implications for literature, visual arts, politics and even the practice of science itself. I think it is fair to say that the practitioners of all these arts - mostly men - do not see themselves as primarily advertising their biological fitness to women. However once you open your eye in the status-hoarding, inter-personal viciousness and aphrodisiac consequences of success in any of these fields, the reality is pretty obvious.

My reservations are as follows.

1. Reading this large book is like eating high-quality muesli. There are a few drab and repetitive parts but on a regular basis one come across delicious nuggets of genuine insight and depth. The problem is the lack of an overarching structure, so at the end one finds oneself asking - what exactly does this all amount to?

2. As we're talking about humans here, we have to note that many psychological traits differ quite markedly between different human races, based on their adaptations to significantly different ecologies over the last 40,000 years. Talking about women being able to raise children without the active involvement of men thereby freeing the men up for elective sexual displays of hunting prowess, for example, works for equatorial latitudes where women may gather fruits and berries all the year round. But hunting is not so elective in highly-seasonal environments where little can be gathered in the snowy winter. I know Miller doesn't want to go there, but the result is sloppy reasoning.

3. Many sciences are somewhat reflexive: physicists and chemists are constructed from the same quantum and chemical processes that they describe; economists propose macroeconomic policies whose success depends upon people behaving as modelled, not trying in an informed way to game the policies. However, in evolutionary psychology one can directly predict just why people will be so hostile to the underlying results which the science unfortunately keeps unearthing. Evolutionary psychology, done honestly, just keeps turning up non-PC results.

Miller discusses this quite openly on pages 420 ff. "Creative Ideologies vs. Reliable Knowledge". There seems little biological payoff for generating theories which seem to violate most people's value systems (to give a crass example, many people still feel uncomfortable with the statement that not everyone is of the same intelligence). I think this is a real problem for evolutionary psychology as history tells us that, in practice, scientists are under enormous, career-terminating pressure not to violate conventional mores in their research, even when those mores state that the psychological earth is in fact flat.

Miller has continued his research on sexual selection (there's a recent book Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior and another in the works for 2011). The ideas feel right and one can only hope we don't have to wait another century for evolutionary psychologists to turn these compelling intuitions and speculations into testable mathematical theories.
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on 27 March 2010
This book is a great presentation of a very important idea.

Natural selction allows for small changes in the phenotype based on the environment. If the environment changes too fast it can outstrip the speed with which natural selection can adjust and cause extinction.

There is evidence that the human race has undergone periods of extemely fast (in evolutionary terms) change.

Darwin himself saw the importance of sexual selection, and Miller revists that with the benefit of almost 150 years more science.

Obviously being eaten (or other form of natural selection) is a severe impediment to reproduction, but being super-fit and able to escape predation is worth nothing if you can't find someone who will share your genes with the next generation.

If intelligence of human levels was THAT great a survival trait, other species would have it. Any good survival trait is 'found' by natural selection on numerous occasions. How did we get our brains? Why are there no other species like us in terms of intellect?

Just as peahens just happened to favour males with big tails (and these also happened to be very capable of staying alive even with such an encumberance - not that this secondary benefit was in the 'minds' of peahens), it would seem the likely reason for the development of human levels of intelligence is sexual selection by females.

Those males dislaying the greatest signs of intelligence in its unique human forms were favoured by females. That those males passed on 'brainy' genes to their male and female offspring, and these genes ALSO had other benefits were secondary.

Mr stupid muscleman did not get the opportunities of reproduction that Mr smart not-so-suscleman had, and this allowed runaway sexual selection to drive the development of the human race forward with speed.

And gentlemen, it isn't only the content of our brains we need to be greatful to women for. The content of our trousers (far longer and thicker than ape penises, and without a bone in it) is equally a product of female sexual selection... even the vainest of us would say a large penis is a beneficial trait for natural selection, what ya gonna do, beat lions off with it?).
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HALL OF FAMEon 29 September 2005
When Darwin published The Descent of Man in 1872, he raised the issue of why so many species' males invest costly physical resources in sexual displays. His answer was the mating game. Peacock's tails are difficult to lug around, use material that might be better applied elsewhere in the body, and make the bird susceptible to predation. Darwin's answer was the cost was a mating investment - peahens clearly preferred males with the most outstanding displays. Monkeys in the forests and swamp frogs expend similar energy in calling over great distances seeking mates. The females of these species listen, weighing some unknown factor in deciding which male to select to bear their offspring. Can such a strategy be applied to human mating practices?
Geoffrey Miller's answer is a resounding "Yes!" Humans, however, are far more complex than peacocks. In this book, Miller contends that instead of garish tails or mating calls, it is the human brain that provides the mechanisms for mate selection. Like the peacock's tail, the human brain is a costly organ - using 20% of our resources even when resting. Why is the brain so demanding? It has many jobs to do, memory, vision, controlling motion and speech and directing other activities. The human mind's most impressive abilities, Miller states, are "courtship tools, evolved to attract and entertain sexual partners." These "tools" include such seemingly disparate practices as sports, poetry, art and literature. Many of these factors in our lives are the result of language development. Why did these talents evolve, and how do they affect our mate selection? Where some animals offer food as a mating incentive, men offer diamonds, songs or prose. Why not offer something to eat, like a potatoe, instead of a diamond, which lacks practical value?
Miller's argument focusses on "fitness factors" in mating strategies. In humans these are far more complex than in the rest of animal kingdom. In his view, the factors must be mainly expressed by the male, and by adults more than the young. They must be elements that can be judged by females before mating, and the more vivid the presentation, the more likely the mating will be. In human societies, the presentation may not even be displayed by the male, but may be "purchased" - hence, movies, concerts, art objects may be bought in the pursuit of females instead of actually created by the suitor.
And what of the suitor's object of his quest? Are human females simply gawking airheads waiting to see which male displays or buys the best offering in the mating game? Far from it, contends Miller. He makes the claim that will be hotly contested by feminazis, that historically, males predominate in literature, the arts and business. Recognizing that female cognitive skills match those of human males, he argues that the female mind had to evolve in parallel with that of males'. However, their skills reside in assessing the worth of what males are offering. They must make the judgement of which "fitness factors" are the most attractive. Hence, if men developed language ability to "show off" their creativity, women evolved the ability to evaluate how skillfully the men performed. Miller's analysis is not empty rhetoric. He reviews a broad range of behaviour patterns, attributing to each the evolutionary roots likely involved in developing them.
Miller's prose skills are outstanding in this valuable survey. His use of metaphor keeps you smiling as he presents his case. He transforms a Satin Bowerbird into an effete artist at one point. This comical account has the bird, expressing himself just as a Letterman guest might, explaining why the bower nest is under constant niggling attention by the male until its arrangement successfully attracts a mate. It's indicative of Miller's high quality imagination. Make no mistake, however, this book isn't just a frolic promoting Miller's abilities as a raconteur. His message is serious, and what he's proposed requires serious reflection. His thesis explains many facets of the human condition and must be considered earnestly. You may even find something of yourself in this book, which is as good a reason to buy it as any. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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on 21 October 2000
This book is quite thick, but it is worth to read it through.
The main point of the book is that the origin of several human traits (language, for example) is due, not to natural selection, but to sexual selection. This means that the most powerful force to shape human behaviour has been mate choice (this applies to both males and females). Miller also suggest that we have our huge brain due to sexual selection, because this is the only one that makes possible to keep traits with no immediate evolutive benefit (other that increasing your sex-appeal).
There is a brief comparison between sexual selection and marketing-drive corporations, which is both interesting and enlightening.
The book is very well written and the topic is very interesting. A truly great book.
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on 26 August 2009
I am not a student/academic of psychology, biology, human nature or evolutionary psychology so I found this book a little boring at times and perhaps hard to read. But since I am fascinated by this topic, I found a lot of sections to be very intriguing and eye opening. I have read Selfish Gene and The Red Queen (both of which are referred to in this book) so I am a little familiar with this topic and find it quiet interesting. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in human nature and how it relates to sex and evolution of human mind. It is a little too deep for my liking so I wouldn't recommend it if you're just interested in topic of dating, seduction, sex or relationships. It goes way past this and into primal and hard wired aspects of human nature (that we are not conciously aware of) and explains why we do things we do in order to attract opposite sex, mate and reproduce.
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