Latest Cover Design and Advance Praise

Here’s the latest cover design for the book.

We have already received wonderful endorsements for the book from Geoffrey Miller, Baba Brinkman and David Barash, excerpts of which will appear on the cover. Here they are in full:

Nature and nurture interact to produce behavior – but how, exactly? In this engaging and witty book, biologist Rob Brooks shows how human nature interacts with social and economic conditions to explain some of the most troubling aspects of modern human life – obesity, environmental degradation, over-population, sexual conflict, polygyny, female-biased abortion, and heavy metal music. His science is good, his writing is clear, and his policy suggestions would make the world a better place. A must-read for the evo-curious.

Geoffrey Miller, author of The Mating Mind and Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior

Finally, a book about evolution that’s as readable as a Rolling Stone article without any loss of depth or rigor.  On the contrary, even as he stage-dives into the most controversial subjects, Brooks’ rock and roll writing style still comes fast and feverish with the facts, a dazzling tour of the hidden evolutionary logic behind modern life.  Crank up your stereo, read it, savor it, and then give it to your zoned-out friend with the headphones on.  This  book will blow her mind more than the music.

Baba Brinkman, Creator of the Rap Guide to Evolution

Evolution is much more than a history lesson; properly employed, it is an illuminating guide to the present and a powerful prophet of the future. And Rob Brooks uses evoutionary thinking not just properly, but superbly. Whether illuminating the obesity crisis, world population, the ever-fascinating panorama of sex and love, or the adaptive value of music (especially rock and roll), “Sex, Genes and Rock ‘n’ Roll” offers up a humane, accessible and scientifically informed vision of how evolution is always with us.

David P. Barash, Professor of Psychology, University of Washington and co-author of Payback: why we retaliate, redirect aggression and seek revenge

HOT or NOT, There’s somebody for each of us.

Some folks were just born hot, others were made that way, often with silicone and an airbrush. So what should mortals who don’t score a perfect ten be doing on Valentines Day? Rob Brooks and Alex Jordan derive three big insights from evolutionary biology that suggest that for those of you on the lookout for somebody, things needn’t be as dire as they sometimes look.

Male long-tailed widowbird in his black brreding plumage showing off his eponymous appendage.

As Valentine’s day approaches, expect the usual retreaded media stories about the sex lives of celebutantes, how to look your best, and the science of attractiveness. Online dating sites are also preparing for the biggest day of their year, as folks look for that special someone/friend/friend with benefits. A short visit to a site like hotornot.com can give the impression that each of us fits somewhere on a single attractiveness scale from HOT to NOT. It is an impression moulded by the magazines and movies we devour, where the fatuously fabulous score a 10 and the rest of us make up the numbers.

Evolutionary research can do a similar thing too. I call this the widowbird paradigm. If you’ve ever visited southern Africa in the summer you will have seen at least one male long-tailed widowbird flapping just above the veld, like a swimmer trying butterfly for the first time. The curious birdwatcher cannot help but wonder how such a burdensome tail might have evolved. In one of the coolest and cleverest early studies on mate choice, Malte Andersson enquired whether long tails might confer an advantage by attracting mates. He cut the tails of male widowbirds, then glued the tails back at either their original length, shorter than they originally were, or longer than they originally were. He also kept another group completely intact.

Andersson found that birds with lengthened tails attracted two to four times as many females to mate with them and nest in their territories, compared with control birds and those with shortened tails. In so doing, Andersson provided clear experimental evidence that the most ornate yet apparently useless features, like widowbird tails, can evolve because they confer an irresistable sexiness on the bearer – a form of natural selection that Darwin called sexual selection. Widowbirds and other long-tailed birds spent the last three decades at the top of the sexual selection charts, because their sexy ornaments are simple to work with (just bring superglue and a pair of scissors) and vary in only one major dimension (length).  

We have learned much about attraction, mate choice and sexual selection from the elegant simplicity of long-tailed birds, but studies in other animals – especially humans – don’t always embrace the remarkable complexity of attraction. A lot of human mate choice work has focused only on one dimension at a time. Studies of how waist and hip width influence women’s attractiveness provide possibly the most Continue reading HOT or NOT, There’s somebody for each of us.

The stress of making a bad match

Stressful choice: A black-headed female Gouldian finch eyeing out a black- and a red-headed male. Image courtesy and copright of Sarah Pryke.

Victorian naturalists, products of their stultifying and prudish age, held birds to be paragons of fidelity and wholesome family values. But the advent of modern DNA analysis showed that when bird-watchers pack up their binoculars and head home for dinner, television and maybe a little intercourse, hens of many – perhaps most – bird species are getting plenty on the side. The varied and subtle extra-pair mating strategies that my biologist colleagues have uncovered in birds over the last twenty years parallel a wealth of disturbing and titillating insights from DNA paternity analysis in humans. Now a new study on the delightful Australian Gouldian finch by Simon Griffith, Sarah Pryke and Bill Buttemer opens a can of wriggly questions about mate choice and monogamy.

Pair-bonded relationships, like those between male and female birds or between men and women only evolve when raising offspring is difficult. In most species, parents lay their eggs and abandon them to their fates. In many fish, and birds like the emu, the female abandons the male to care for the eggs, and goes off in search of other prospects.  In most mammals, the dad courts, ejaculates and leaves, playing no further role in his children’s upbringing. But sometimes, bringing up a brood or a family is so tough that it takes the hard work of both a mum and a dad.

That’s only where it begins to get interesting. Evolutionary biologists have recently realised that even when a mummy and a daddy love each other very much, they still have different evolutionary interest. Each parent wants the other to do most of the hard work, and wants to do as little as possible themselves. This idea of sexual conflict neatly parallels the idea of cooperative conflicts recently developed within economics by folks like Nobel-winner Amartya Sen. Continue reading The stress of making a bad match