A major reimagining of how evolutionary forces work, revealing how mating preferences-what Darwin termed "the taste for the beautiful"-create the extraordinary range of ornament in the animal world.
RICHARD O. PRUM is William Robertson Coe Professor of Ornithology at Yale University, and Head Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. He has conducted field work throughout the world, and has studied fossil theropod dinosaurs in China. He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2010.
"Prum's argument is exhilarating . . . The Evolution of
Beauty should be widely read, as it will provoke readers,
shaking them (as reading Hume did to Kant) from their dogmatic
slumbers . . . I don't see how any biologist could read this book
and not walk away at least questioning the idea that adaptation
must explain every last trait. Survival of the fittest might not be
enough to explain nature. We might need survival of the prettiest,
--Sam Kean, Wall Street Journal
"Prum draws on decades of study, hundreds of papers, and a
lively, literate, and mischievous mind . . . a delicious read, both
seductive and mutinous . . . Prum's attention never strays far from
nature, and his writing [about birds] is minutely detailed,
exquisitely observant, deeply informed, and often tenderly
--David Dobbs, New York Times Book Review "The single most provocative book I read this year, one of those books that changes the way you look at everything . . . Everything about this book is unexpected, including the prose-fine and often funny."
--Michael Pollan "The Evolution of Beauty is at once fascinating, provocative, and totally compelling. Anyone interested in science or art or sex--which is to say everyone--will want to read it."
--Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction "A fascinating account of beauty and mate choice in birds and other animals. You'll be amazed by the weird things that birds do to win mates. You'll also discover why both men and women have armpit hair, why men lack the penis bone widespread in other mammals, and what really happened in the Garden of Eden."
--Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel "A major intellectual achievement that should hasten the adoption of a more expansive style of evolutionary explanation that Darwin himself would have appreciated."
--Nick Romeo, Washington Post "A smorgasbord of evolutionary biology, philosophy, and sociology, filtered through Prum's experiences as a birdwatcher and his diverse research on everything from dinosaur colors to duck sex. Through compelling arguments and colorful examples, Prum launches a counterstrike against the adaptationist regime, in an attempt to 'put the subjective experience of animals back in the center of biology' and to 'bring beauty back to the sciences.'"
--Ed Yong, The Atlantic "Prum's career has been diverse and full, so that reading this fascinating book, we learn about the patterning of dinosaur feathers, consider the evolutionary basis of the human female orgasm, the tyranny of academic patriarchy, and the corkscrewed enormity of a duck's penis. Combining this with in-depth study of how science selects the ideas it approves of and fine writing about fieldwork results in a rich, absorbing text . . . The dance Prum performs to convince you to take him on as an intellectual partner is beautiful and deserves to be appreciated on its own terms."
--Adrian Barnett, New Scientist "Reads like a memoir, argues like a manifesto, and shines with Prum's passion for all things ornithological."
--Erika Lorraine Milam, Science "Life isn't just a dreary slog of survival. It brims with exuberance--from extravagant plumage to strange courtship rituals. In The Evolution of Beauty, Richard Prum takes us into this universe of delights to discover a fascinating idea: that beauty is central to the history of life."
--Carl Zimmer, author of Parasite Rex and Evolution: Making Sense of Life