cover image A Taste for the Beautiful: The Evolution of Attraction

A Taste for the Beautiful: The Evolution of Attraction

Michael J. Ryan. Princeton Univ., $29.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-691-16726-8

In this appealing book, Ryan, professor of zoology at the University of Texas, investigates the potential for a scientific understanding of what makes some biological traits sexually attractive. He argues that, contrary to what other researchers have postulated, “instead of the brain having to evolve to detect beauty, the brain determines what is beautiful, and all of its constraints and contingencies give rise to a breathtaking diversity of sexual aesthetics throughout the animal kingdom.” In other words, “to understand beauty, we need to understand the brain.” Ryan leads a thoughtful and enlightening tour of brain function across an array of animals, focusing on three senses: sight, sound, and smell. In each case he presents current research, some of which is his own, detailing the nature of experimental design and the excitement of gaining new insights while discussing what remains unknown. Ryan argues that the main driver leading males to develop characteristics that females find beautiful (such as peacock tails, specific frog calls, or surfperch scale patterns) is sensory exploitation, which first evolved to aid in food finding and predator avoidance. By stressing the links between humans and other animals, Ryan also provides glimpses into mate choice in humans. Ryan offers much to enjoy in his provocative book. Illus. [em](Feb.) [/em]