General Summary

“The Red Queen” is about how human nature evolved as a result of sex. The name was coined after Lewis Carrol’s character in “From the Looking Glass”, the Red Queen.

As the Red Queen must keep running to stay in the same place, humans must keep constantly evolving to defeat all of their pressures. According to the author, human beings were “designed” to reproduce and that without understanding competitive reproduction, we will not be able to comprehend the human psyche and nature.

Well known journalist, scientist and educator; Matt Ridley, brings us a well-rounded science book that deals with many fascinating topics involving sexual evolution. This 416-page book is composed of the following ten chapters: 1. Human Nature, 2. The Enigma, 3. The Power of Parasites, 4. Genetic Mutiny and Gender, 5. The Peacock’s Tale, 6. Polygamy and the Nature of Men, 7. Monogamy and the Nature of Women, 8. Sexing the Mind, 9. The Uses of Beauty, and 10. The Intellectual Chess Game.

Readers of The Red Queen may find that some of Ridley’s notions work well as explanations for their own sexual behavior. Sex as a way to defeat disease provides a pleasurable justification for engaging in the practice. It helps us perceive sexual obsession as a positive thing that is necessary to the health of the species. Of course, people who value intelligence may find Ridley’s explanation of human intellect less than satisfying, as it reduces brain power to a reproductive drive. Some particularly engaging features of the book relate to the role of dance, music, and humor as being unique to humans. Since sex is the foundation of human nature, dance, music, and humor are therefore important to the sexual relationship.

Ridley explains gender as a product of the evolution of human nature, with subsequent implications of gender on sexual decisions. Some of his ideas about gender roles and gender differences are not new, but they are presented in “Through the Looking Glass” fashion, making the reader consider them from another viewpoint. Ridley comments that “Almost no subject is as steeped in myth and lore than the business of choosing the gender of children.” What would happen if we were gender neutral? How does gender selection work among animals, and why is it problematic for humans? How does gender fit with theories of sexual selection?

Ridley’s arguments may seem convincing to readers partly because he freely cites concepts from great thinkers and philosophers such as Jung, Freud, Darwin, and Richard Dawkins to back up his ideas. He also comes from a scientific perspective free of moral influences, including religion and social mores. His ideas about the nature of sex and the reasons humans use free will to reproduce sexually are logical and help provide an acceptable explanation for sexual behavior. Although Ridley presents his arguments in a very decisive and authoritative manner, he also modestly admits that he may well be proven wrong. 

I recommend this work to the curious reader. If they are willing to persevere through the dense, detail laden segments, the book provides a wealth of information. This information, however, should only serve as an introductory source and the reader, if curious enough, should look up more detailed and accurate information.