The Red Queen

The Red Queen

Ridley starts out with pure science, the premise: Why do humans and most animals and bacteria have sex as a form of reproduction as opposed to other forms of reproduction? He argues that sex is an evolutionary tool employed by genes to keep up with the ever changing and ever mutating predators like parasites. He explains that evolution is not something that gets done for the whole purpose of just getting better, but as sort of a Red Queen Race to keep up with the rest of the environment. “This concept that all progress is relative, has come to be known in biology by the name of the Red Queen, after a chess piece that Alice meets in Through the Looking-Glass, who perpetually runs without getting very far because the landscape moves with her” (18).

The author then goes on to give some exciting and very compelling arguments as why we behave as we do, and yes people, apparently it all comes down to sex. From the size of our brains, development of language all the way to some very novel ideas about fashion and our concepts of beauty, it is all done in order for us to attract a mate and improve our chances of furthering our genes. The idea is that we are nothing but vessels that serve to carry genes to the next generation and that evolution is not a tool for the improvement of the species as a whole, but something done for the benefit of the individual. Furthermore, he tells us that contrary to what we believe, primates and humans are not the most successful products of nature in an a purely evolutionary concept. Quite the contrary, apparently we started out really defective and our genes had to mutate in order to keep with the environment. In contrast species like sharks and some forms of birds that have not evolved at all for hundreds of millions of years are the most successful products of evolution. The original product was so good that they did not have to change much in order to survive in the environment where they live. It all comes down to this novel Red Queen idea, “Life is a chess tournament in which if you win a game, you start the next game with the handicap of a missing pawn” (18).

This book is a must read for those interested in non fiction, science, anthropology and sociology. Ridley makes really dry topics like asexual reproduction, amoebae and protozoa wildly interesting and funny. He also boldly challenges certain views like those that state that the minds of women and men work alike and that culture is the only thing responsible of the shaping of human nature. The book is also filled with funny, eyebrow raising, interesting facts like the results of a study that show how unfaithful women are more likely to have offspring by their lovers than by their husband — and he explains the reasons behind them.

This books comes with my warmest recommendations. You don’t need to be a science geek or a biology major to understand it and you’ll come up with some witty, interesting topics for your next dinner party as a result of reading it. Give it a try!

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Economics Student by day, classical singer by night. My hobbies are: painting, drawing, gardening, embroidery, photography, and learning how to play the piano.