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This is an important book that seeks modestly to radically revise the conventional approach to evolutionary theory, by replacing the assumption that most evolutionary change comes from natural selection. Prum argues instead that our null hypothesis--the starting point for making evolutionary hypotheses--should be the notion that "beauty happens," which means that basic evolutionary changes are random variations of ornaments and sexual organs (in sexually reproducing creatures) that are in many cases developed further due to aesthetic preferences by the opposite sex or due to adaptive advantage occurring serendipitously in some cases. So Prum seeks to turn sexual selection into the focus of evolutionary explanations rather than the red headed stepchild of evolutionary theory that it currently is. I strongly agree with this thesis and urge people to give these ideas a shot.
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If you are a person who has been fascinated by Darwin’s Theory of Evolution then this is a must read.
In fact, Darwin had two major theories, one of which has been subsumed because it does not fit the “modern” construct of dominant males and passive females that undergirds so much of our cultural experience in America and worldwide. Professor Prum’s radical approach to include both of Darwin’s major theories as an explanation for evolution including the sexual autonomy of both sexes in sexual selection as influenced by an expansive definition of beauty is compelling. The set up is in the whole first section of the book as explained through adaptation by one of the most ancient species on earth - birds. I’m not a birder, but I was riveted all through the section. The second portion of the book applies scientist’s (ornithologist ‘s) research to the contemporary human experience as regards sexual choice of women, men and the full spectrum of the LGBT communities and the relationship of beauty and art in this process - a central postulate of Darwin’s original work. Fascinating and profound.