Book Reviews

Evolutionary Psychology : The New Science of the Mind
by David M. Buss

Hardcover - 416 pages (January 1999)
Allyn & Bacon; ISBN: 0205193587 ; Dimensions (in inches): 1.05 x 9.57 x 7.35
Editorial Reviews
Review by William A. Spriggs

Someone once emailed and asked me what strengths do I look for in a book that I place on this recommended reading list? I replied simply:

  1. Did I learn anything new?
  2. How well was it organized?
  3. Was it written in an enthused, lucid, yet orderly manner?
  4. Was it written to help spread the use of the evolutionary perspective?

Well, like life, we don't always get what we seek or desire. In most cases, the books on this list usually make it to #2 and some to #3. But, David Buss' textbook, Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind, is the first to make it to the final four. Professor Buss has written a winner textbook that will endure the test of time and be a valuable asset to the evolutionary movement.

Did I learn anything new? You betcha. Studying this book made me realize how much I don't know, and made me realize how hard these scientists have worked and dedicated themselves to this discipline. It has humbled me into realizing that I have many years of study ahead of me before I am even allowed to reach up and touch the soles of their shoes.

How well was it organized? Straight and unencumbered like a mouse spliced with "intelligent" genes moving in a maze. The professor must have been a proficient note taker when he was a student and not missed a single class. In this textbook, he does a magnificent job in Part One: The Foundations of Evolutionary Psychology taking us from the period prior to Darwin, up to the controversial introduction of Sociobiology in 1975; explaining the common misconceptions about evolutionary theory; and finally touching on the landmarks in the field of psychology.

Was it written in an enthused, lucid, yet orderly manner? When I got to the part about inclusive fitness and William D. Hamilton, I thought I could sense professor Buss jumping out of the pages and shouting: "this is a genius mind, and what he has created is revolutionary! Pay attention, stupid." He calms down from that section in the book until he gets to part six: An Integrated Psychological Science, in which he dwells into cognitive, social, developmental, personality, and clinical psychologies; suggesting in each section how much more exciting work there is yet to learn.

Was it written to help spread the use of the evolutionary perspective? When Professor Buss was a young assistant professor at Harvard in 1981, the evolutionary speculations of human behavior were widespread with no coherent bridge to connect theories with empirical evidence. In just 19 short years, much of that wide gap has been closed, but there still was no text on the discipline. It was because of this void that David Buss stepped forward to provide the emerging science with a working textbook. He understands the frustrations that must be felt by students of all ages seeking a coherent guide. To quote Dr. Buss: 

"I wrote the textbook so that the hundreds of professors at universities throughout the world who have been thinking and writing about evolution and human behavior will be motivated to teach formal courses in evolutionary psychology and get those courses established as part of required psychology curricula. [And] although it is written with undergraduates in mind, it is also designed to appeal to a wider audience of laypersons, graduate students, and professionals who seek an up-to-date overview of evolutionary psychology." p. xix

It is because of this dedication to the field, that I place this textbook at the top of my recommended reading list. If I have any displeasure with this book, it is the price tag: $53.00 plus surcharge and shipping. I realize that this is not a terrible price in terms of some textbooks to be found at institutions of higher learning, but I hope that in future updated editions, professor Buss publishes the book electronically so that it could be shared with more of the people on the planet. After all, if the book was written for revolutionary reasons, then let the revolution really begin.

Following is a brief content listing:

PART ONE: Foundations of Evolutionary Psychology
1. The scientific movements leading to evolutionary psychology.
2. The new science of evolutionary psychology.
PART TWO: Problems of Survival
3. Combating the hostile forces of nature: human survival problems
PART THREE: Challenges of Sex and Mating
4. Women's long-term mating strategies
5. Men's long-term mating strategies
6. Short-term sexual strategies
PART FOUR: Challenges of Parenting and Kinship
7. Problems of parenting
8. Problems of kinship
PART FIVE: Problems of Group Living
9. Cooperative alliances
10. Aggression and warfare
11. Conflict between the sexes
12. Status, prestige, and social dominance
PART SIX: An Integrated Psychological Science
13. Toward a unified evolutionary psychology
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