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Mean Genes by Terry Burnham and Jay Phelan

I stumbled upon this book in a rather embarrassing way. Unlike my grandmother (I am a child of the internet, after all) I never browse in the library. I decide what I want, look it up online, write down the call number and am in and out in a matter of moments. However, I also have a horrible sense of direction. So when I marched into the Santa Barbara Public Library, list of call numbers in hand, I marched to the totally wrong section (nonfiction… eek!) I didn’t want to immediately turn back so I pretended to browse for awhile. Low and behold, the bright colors of Mean Genes grabbed my attention and in turn, I grabbed Mean Genes!

I studied psychology in college, and towards the end of my degree, starting focusing pretty heavily on evolutionary psych. It’s fascinating. As such, I’m never sure if the information in Mean Genes is common knowledge to everyone, or just me. It covers information such as why we have so much trouble saving money for a rainy day, why we can never seem to eat just one potato chip, and why despite a cultural push for monogamy, so many individuals cheat. It’s because of evolution! Our ancestors didn’t save for a rainy day, because anything of value was likely food, and it went bad if you didn’t eat it right away. The same goes for our eating habits – when you’re starving, you need fat and you need a lot of it. The problem is, we’re not starving (anymore). And monogamy, while absolutely possible today, wasn’t exactly a high priority for our ancestors.

I already knew all that. Maybe you did too. So why bother reading the book? A) Because it’s really funny and I like reading funny things. B) Because it provides engaging summary and analysis of the really interesting experiments that taught us what we know about evolutionary psychology today. And C) Because the authors will provide strategies, self-help fashion, how to use your genes for good and not for evil!

As you all know, I generally steer clear of nonfiction. This is the exception. It’s engaging, funny, and helpful. It is written in such a way that it is easy to get into, and doesn’t feel like homework. I give this book 4 stars and recommend you give it a try! If you like it… Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by my brain-crush Robert Sapolsky should be your next selection. ★★★★

– Becca


3 responses »

  1. Great review. It was an interesting book. I especially like the part where one of the authors described a solution he uses to avoid over-eating at BBQs: he eats three bagels beforehand. I thought that was funny, but good if it works.


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