"The Red Queen" by Matt Ridley (2003)

“Parasites and their hosts are locked in a close evolutionary embrace. The more successful the parasite’s attack, the more the host’s chances of survival will depend on whether it can invent a defense. The better the host defends, the more natural selections will promote the parasites that can overcome the defense. So the advantage will always be swinging from one to the other: The more dire the emergency for one, the better it will fight. This is truly the world of the Red Queen, where you never win, you only gain a temporary respite.”

“The Red Queen” from the famous novel “Through the Looking-Glass” inhabits a country that is perpetually moving, just to keep in the same place she has to run as fast as she can and as a result; never moves at all.

This is also an evolutionary law. The faster you run, the more the world moves with you. Progress, therefore, becomes extremely relative. Ridley paints a picture of survival as a zero-sum game in which the struggle for existence never gets easier.

The Red Queen is presented at all evolutionary events but is at the most visible when it comes to sexual selection. Ridley has incredibly convincing arguments about the sexual history of Sapiens and answers dozens of riddles of human nature. 

Just as parasites and their hosts are locked in a close evolutionary embrace, so are males and females. A man hits the evolutionary jackpot each time they rear offspring, yet most men are monogamous. Why is this the case? Ridley rationalizes that if pre-historic females had two options: to seek a faithful mate or a polygamist, those who seek a faithful mate leave behind more young. In each generation, the rewards of a polygamist therefore fall, and the species is "taken over" by monogamy. A man looking for a wife is likely descended from men who were selected for by females who wanted good husbands.

Evolution is also something we selected for in each other. Men and woman have been continually selecting for what secured them evolutionary success, which explains a lot of female and male characteristics today.

A truly thought-provoking and interesting piece, with a lot of wits to boot.