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The Evolution of Beauty Lecture and Book Signing

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Linda Hall Library

5109 Cherry Street

Kansas City, MO 64110

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About the book and lecture

In the great halls of science, dogma holds that Darwin’s theory of natural selection explains every branch on the tree of life: which species thrive, which wither away to extinction, and what features each evolves. But can adaptation by natural selection really account for everything we see in nature?

Yale University ornithologist Richard Prum—reviving Darwin’s own views—thinks not. Deep in tropical jungles around the world are birds with a dizzying array of appearances and mating displays: Club-winged Manakins who sing with their wings, Great Argus Pheasants who dazzle prospective mates with a four-foot-wide cone of feathers covered in golden 3D spheres, Red-capped Manakins who moonwalk. In thirty years of fieldwork, Prum has seen numerous display traits that seem disconnected from, if not outright contrary to, selection for individual survival. To explain this, he dusts off Darwin’s long-neglected theory of sexual selection in which the act of choosing a mate for purely aesthetic reasons—for the mere pleasure of it—is an independent engine of evolutionary change.

Mate choice can drive ornamental traits from the constraints of adaptive evolution, allowing them to grow ever more elaborate. It also sets the stakes for sexual conflict, in which the sexual autonomy of the female evolves in response to male sexual control. Most crucially, this framework provides important insights into the evolution of human sexuality, particularly the ways in which female preferences have changed male bodies, and even maleness itself, through evolutionary time. The Evolution of Beauty presents a unique scientific vision for how nature’s splendor contributes to a more complete understanding of evolution and of ourselves.

Richard Prum is an ornithologist who draws from a wide spectrum of disciplines, including developmental biology, optical physics, molecular genetics, phylogenetics, paleontology, and behavior ecology, to address central questions about bird development, evolution, and behavior. He is the William Robertson Coe Professor of Ornithology, Ecology, and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University, where he also serves as curator of ornithology and head curator of vertebrate zoology at the Peabody Museum of Natural History.

Copies of The Evolution of Beauty will be available for purchase and signing courtesy of Rainy Day Books.

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Linda Hall Library

5109 Cherry Street

Kansas City, MO 64110

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