Evolutionary theory is one of the most wide-ranging and inspiring of scientific ideas. It offers a battery of methods that can be used to help us understand human behaviour. Nevertheless, the legitimacy of this exercise is at the centre of a heated controversy that has raged for over a century. Many evolutionary biologists, anthropologists and psychologists have taken these evolutionary principles and tried using them to explain a wide range of human characteristics, such as homicide, religion and sex differences in behaviour. Others, however, are sceptical of these interpretations. Moreover, researchers disagree as to the best ways to use evolution to explore humanity, and a number of schools have emerged. 'Sense and Nonsense' provides an introduction to the ideas, methods, and findings of five such schools, namely, sociobiology, human behavioural ecology, evolutionary psychology, memetics, and gene-culture co-evolution. Carefully guiding the reader through the mire of confusing terminology, claim and counter-claim, and polemical statements, Laland and Brown provide a balanced, rigorous analysis that scrutinizes both the evolutionary arguments and the allegations of the critics. This is a book that will be make fascinating reading for popular science readers, undergraduate and postgraduate students (for example, in psychology, anthropology and zoology), and to experts on one approach who would like to know more about the other perspectives. Having completed this book the reader will feel better placed to assess the legitimacy of claims made about human behaviour under the name of evolution, and to make judgements as to what is sense and what is nonsense.
Laland and Brown succeed in parsing sense from nonsense. And they show that while each approach discussed has its strength and weaknesses, taken together they form a well-developed science of evolutionary explanations of human behaviour. (Heredity)
. the book is immensely accessible and well organised. (Heredity)
A useful read for students embarking on the study of evolution and human behaviour. (Primate Eye)
A methodical, fair and thoughtful treatment of the big sociobiological questions. Laland and Brown write clearly and calmly. Their analysis should dispel the nonsense surrounding this subject. On these grounds alone, I recommend everyone with some influence or interest in popular culture read this book. (New Scientist)
A welcome and incisive corrective to the disarray within evolutionary social theory. (Human Nature Review)
This is a very lucid, clearly written summary of the hard research that surrounds the controversial field of evolutionary psychology - the study of how and why genes influence human behaviour, and if and how culture influences genes. (Focus)
This is a superb book that I can recommend to anyone interested in these issues. It is a vehicle for a set of memes that I hope will invade the brains of many students of behaviour, ecology and evolution, and of their teachers too, for that matter. (Trends in Ecology and Evolution)
Sense and Nonsense gives those interested in the use of evolutionary reasoning to explain human behaviour and culture a cogent, evenhanded and lucid survey of five disparate fields utilizing that apprach. More importantly, it provides substantive critical analysis of each. Throughout the authors deserve applause for their consistent clarity and fair-mindedness. a valuable book for many audiences. It should be useful even to those at the cutting edge of research. At the same time, it is not so technical that it couldn't be of value to students and educated laypersons. (Biology and Philosophy)
This is a remarkable book: succinct, informative and very sensible. It strips away the polemic to map a way forward, and it is worth reading by anybody interested in how best to analyse human behaviour. (Times Higher Education Supplement)
Can evolutionary theory really help us to understand human behaviour? 'Sense and nonsense' provides an exciting, readable introduction to the science behind the works of Dawkins, Dennett, Wilson and Pinker. Including profiles of the major protagonists, the book provides a truly balanced account of evolutionary theories of human behaviour, and all their faults.