T Nation

Evolution Books


In the past year i've become very fascinated by evolution, especially evolutionary psychology. I've read 4 books since then on the subject, (selfish gene, red queen, blind watchmaker, and the third chimpanzee) and was curious if you guys had any suggestions if you've read anything. I prefer the psychology side of it (Why we think based on evolution, if you know what I mean) but i'll take a look at anything!

Thanks a lot.


Have you read the Meme Machine?


I hear Sperm Wars is good.


Nope, havent read that, but i'll have to take a look.. thanks : )


Well it depends on just how deep you want to get. If this is just a casual interest, then Matt Ridley (who wrote the Red Queen), actually has quite a few more books with a human evolutionary theme.

All of Jared Diamonds books are worth reading.

Robert Wright's book on the evolution of morality is a good one.

Then of course there is Gould. He's pretentious as hell of course. But you made it through Dawkins, so you can suffer Gould. Wonderful Life, though not really on human evolution directly, is a classic.

Then you've got the real classics--old stuff by guys like Dobzhansky (his later speculative stuff--he has one book on human evolution, I forgot what it is called though) and Ernst Mayr can be good.

It might be worthwhile at some point to pick up a used evolution textbook, either Futuyma's or Ridley's. I also think it would be worthwhile, if you're really serious with this interest, to go back to the source, so to speak. A lot of evolutionary biologists cast something of a skeptical eye on evolutionary psychologists (only a fraction of whom I think are actually trained in evolutionary biology) because, a) they can't test a lot of their claims, or don't present them in a hypothesis driven manner, and b) they don't necessarily always use evolutionary theory appropriately.

That's a generalization no doubt, but I don't ever recall seeing an evolutionary psychology symposium at the annual Society for the Study of Evolution conference (which is the professional society to which nearly all evolutionary biologists belong). I mean I would love to see such talks if they had them (it beats the hell out of listening to talks on gene flow in plants or phylogenetics of north atlantic cod or somesuch). Which is to say there isn't a lot of communication between the two groups. Which is why I suggest doing some background reading in evolutionary biology before you dive back into the uncharted waters of evolutionary psychology.


I just got through reading Robert Wright's book and it was a lot of fun. Although I have to agree with the poster above in that the "science" of evolutionary psychology is at best pretty light on facts and frequently the authors don't really understand evolution at all (although Wright is pretty good).
Most of it is pseudo-science and is a hoot to read but is lousy science.
I just finished my thesis on Evolutionary genetics and yeah the evolutionary psych guys are treated as a joke by all the Evolution profs.
It is a hell of a lot more fun then reading origins of the species though (Darwin was not a fan of the full stop apparently!!).
I can't remeber the title but there has been some interesting works on "Memes" recently that you may enjoy (I did). Most of the guys writing on memes are real scientists so there is less bullshit.


I think you are interested in Evolutionary Psychology and that means Buss is your man:

The handbook of Evolutionary Psychology

The murderer next door

The evolution of desire

maybe Pascal Boyers

Religion explained

If you start with those you can continue to work your way through the bibliographies depending on your interests.


Thanks guys, i'll be taking a look at all of this.

Maybe you guys saying the evolutionary psych guys aren't understanding what I mean.. or maybe im just saying ti wrong- i'm talking about stuff like, for example, how men prefer larger hips on women because it shows that she can birth babies more effectively. I find that kind of information and learning about that stuff very interesting.

Hell, even Dawkins, who is pretty cold-hard-facts and a little dry and sciency some of the time reccomends books my Matt Ridley, who is the one who wrote The Red Queen. But i'll definately be looking more at Buss, I just went over to amazon and looked at his stuff, seems pretty cool. Now im just worried that it'd mostly be bullshit according to you other posters =P

Anyways, thanks again.


I like that BS argument...

Those that call an evolutionary view on the human psyche and behaviours BS usually have a very hard time dealing with the fact that it does not care about religious or feminist or cultural biases...

Naturalistic fallacy, oh yes...

I find it amusing that people call something BS just because they like their own BS better which most of the time is not based on studies or peer-revieved, or even remotely scientific...

EP is as "scientific" as meta-psychological theories can be, i.e. not at all, but at least they try without knowing the answers first and than paddeling backwards...


Yeah, true. I really enjoy reading about human nature.. I find it very interesting and a lot of fun to read. I can see how since no one was there to watch it happen, you could have doubts about what happened with the mind as mankind progressed, but any ideas i've read about it seem to make a lot of sense, and like I said, even Dawkins reccomended Matt Ridley's The Red Queen.

I definately want to take a look at Sperm Wars and Those books by Buss though.. they seem really cool and interesting.


Did you ever read the book, Naked Ape, by Desmond Morris?


Here are a few from my shelf:

The Dark Side of Man- Michael Ghiglieri

Demonic Males- Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson

The Triumph of Sociobiology- John Alcock

Defenders of the Truth- Ullica Segerstrale

Chimpanzee Politics- Frans de Waal

The Hunting Apes- Craig Stanford

Man the Hunted- Donna Hart and Robert Sussman

Psychology an evolutionary approach-Steven Gaulin

The Origin of War and many other articles by Johann van der Dennan at: http://rint.rechten.rug.nl/rth/dennen/dennen3.htm


I've read a number of evolutionary psychology books. My favourite so far has been "The Mating Mind : How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature" by Geoffrey Miller. Sexual selection is some cool shit.

I think the reason most people don't like evolutionary psychology is because it's not politically correct. The term "Survival of the fittest" is enough to piss most people off. Although people generally misunderstand "fitness" to be "in the best shape" or something to that effect, when what it really means is "best fit to the environment" from a longevity and reproductive viewpoint.

I think 99% of people don't understand what evolution truly is which makes it difficult. It's like compound interest over a billion or so years. Most people can't fathom 100 years of financial interest. Extrapolate that over a billion years with genetics and I can see how most people would be lost.

The nice thing about evolutionary psychology is it accounts for things like emotions and art, which other sciences haven't been able to do.


Thanks for the suggestion, and yes, you make a good point. Evolutionary psychology kind of puts genders in their places, and some people, IE., the people who ignorantly believe both sexes are exactly the same, don't really like that.


Thanks for the suggestion, and yes, you make a good point. Evolutionary psychology kind of puts genders in their places, and some people, IE., the people who ignorantly believe both sexes are exactly the same, don't really like that. And, i'll definately agree that most people dont understand evolution.. It often gets written off as just some theory about "monkeys or something".


Anything by Robert Sapolsky. Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, Biology and Human Behaviour, A Primate's Memoir, a bunch of others. He's a Stanford professor and an incredibly engaging writer.


I believe everyone's equal. Just some people are more equal than others. :stuck_out_tongue:


An example about people not understanding evolution: The reason giraffes have long necks isn't because they've stretched their necks over successive generations reaching for food high up in the trees. It's from their progeny with naturally longer necks, having a better chance at getting more food, and thus being more likely to survive and reproduce themselves, and so on and so on.

Another fallacy, people thinking we'll adapt to the Standard American Diet over time. In order for this to happen, a greater portion of people that can tolerate the SAD would have to have more kids and survive to reproductive age, than people that don't tolerate the SAD. With the amount of unhealthy, obese people having kids these days I don't think this is about to happen. :slight_smile: