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I am glad I did not pay to read this book. I found it to be a rather amateurish coverage of evolutionary psychology with a cheesy title (I was bait), and repetitious perhaps because of it’s question and answer structure. Allow me to elaborate.

Evolutionary psychology(EP) attempts to explain how our psychological behavior have evolved, much in the same vein as evolutionary biology explaining physical evolution and adaptations. In crude and simple terms, EP contends that more than 10,000 years ago, our human ancestors were mainly concerned about survival and reproduction, and use that as a basis for explaining human behavior and actions. EP does come up with interesting and believable explanations for some of our behaviors. For e.g. consider our craving for fats and sugar even though they are unhealthy and limit our chances of survival . EP contends that back then food and fruits were rare and essential for survival, and so those that craved for sugar and fats took on more risks, and did far better (at passing on their genes) than those that did not have such a craving. While in modern society, we find sources of fats and sugars aplenty without having to raise a bow, our mind-set is still stuck in the hunter-gatherer past, and so we continue to crave for these not-so-rare-anymore items. That was survival. On to the second interesting motivation: reproduction.

Men and women have a common motive when in comes to reproduction – to pass on their genes, and have those passed on in turn. According to EP, men in those ages relied more on physical appearance of their mates that are indicative of youth (given the relatively lower reproductive time frames for women relative to men), while women were more concerned about men being able to support them and their kids, and were prone to look for cues of wealth in choosing mates. This meant that both men and women had to live up to each other’s expectations.

That was EP as I understand it in 2 paragraphs. My grunt with the book is that it poses a question (e.g. Why are almost all criminals always men?), that has a simple one-line explanation (to eliminate competition, among others). Now imagine having to read through a couple of pages for this essence. Next, imagine having to do so question after question for almost every question in the book. And that’s not all.

Near the end of the book, I encounter the following question: “Why are most suicide bombers Muslim”. For one the question really stood out because it targeted one religion. Moreover, the answer was rather lame and did little more than playing to stereotypes. The authors cite references that contends that a) the wealthy in muslim societies are polygynous, and b) suicide bombers are typically single men of low wealth that do so for the promise of the many virgins that await them in heaven. Interestingly, towards the end of the book, the the authors response to the question: “Why do soldiers die for their countries?” is:

To the best of our knowledge, there is no satisfactory explanation for this phenomenon from an evolutionary psychological perspective.

One would think that suicide bombers and soldiers both die for their respective causes, and therein lies a common element that may perhaps have little to do with religion. This question and more egregiously it’s response is, in my opinion, the book’s single biggest undoing.

Those that are new to EP may find interesting takeaways from this book. I’d alternately recommend Introducing Evolutionary Psychology by Dylan Evans, which does not have a catchy title, but is high on content.

Related Post: Dispensable Men.

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