It was at an opportune time that I received this book for review, having recently embarked on the task of reading for the third time the seminal works of Charles Darwin, whose ideas transformed all previous notions of the origin of species, and challenged the universal belief in divine creation.
In many ways, Michael J. Ryan's research takes over from Darwin's The Descent of Man, and Evolution in Relation to Sex. It expands on Darwin's original theories and clearly identifies that the brain is the organ specifically adapted to developing a taste for beauty. More specifically, it is the female brain.
By reinforcing a clear preference for a male characteristic that provides prima facie evidence of superior genes, females that preferentially mate with such males ensure that those attributes are perpetuated and enhanced in subsequent generations.
Think only of the bizarre tail of a male Peacock and the disadvantage it must pose to the male, yet it indicates to the female that the possessor of such ornamentation is parasite resistant, and in other ways healthy, to cope with what at first blush seems like an impediment. Since males with the finest tail feathers and the most vigorous display will attract many females, thereby assuring multiple matings, they will succeed in passing on their genes. And the male offspring from such pairings will inherit the splendid tails of their fathers.
A taste for beauty is not limited to non-human animals and has wide ramifications for our own species. Not only is physical beauty a criterion for humans, but the ability of a very wealthy man to acquire what is sometimes referred to as a "trophy wife" is a clear indication of a woman choosing a man old enough to be her father, because he is able to provide financial security and all of the pleasures of life. In virtually all cases it is the female who makes the decision in such arrangements, not the male.
Michael Ryan is a serious scientist with a wide body of work, but he has written this book in a style readily accessible to the layman. Wonderful black-and-white illustrations begin each chapter.
It is a very fine work; you will never think about beauty and attraction in the same way again.
Publication date: 07 February 2018
Price: US$27.95, £22.95