The Evolution of Beauty

A MacArthur Fellow and Yale ornithology professor, Dr. Richard O. Prum presents readers in The Evolution of Beauty with the contentious theory that aesthetics drives evolution in as much as or more than natural selection. Aesthetic evolution or “Beauty Happening” not only occurs throughout the animal kingdom but gives us a new, pragmatic tool for understanding our own species that may ruffle some feathers challenging scientific orthodoxy, “If you were educated to think that evolution is synonymous with adaptation by natural selection and the persistent improvement of the species, then the evolution of aesthetic decadence may seem troubling.”

“Throughout the living world whenever the opportunity has arisen, the subjective experiences and cognitive choices of animals have aesthetically shaped the evolution of biodiversity. The history of beauty in nature is a vast and never-ending story.”

Prum isn’t challenging evolution but rather attempting to re-orientate the neo-Darwinian landscape. Through a combination of recounting his personal experience as an obsessive birder and exemplary examples (the bromances of birds in South America and “sexually antagonistic coevolution” of ducks), Prum patiently lays out a compelling case for the necessary presence of beauty in animal evolution. His “science of beauty” impels us to revise our received dogma.

Rigorous yet intimate, The Evolution of Beauty is accessible for both general audience and experts. Throughout, Plum has given us easy to follow diagrams and gorgeous color photographs making the work that much more engaging.