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Survival of the Prettiest


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About the Author

Nancy Etcoff has an M.Ed. from Harvard, a Ph.D. in psychology from Boston University, and has held a post-doctoral fellowship in brain and cognitive sciences at MIT. She is currently a faculty member at Harvard Medical School and a practicing psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


In riveting style, Etcoff, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School, demolishes the belief that beauty is a cultural construct, arguing instead "that beauty is a universal part of human experience, and that it provokes pleasure, rivets attention, and impels actions that help ensure the survival of our genes." By drawing widely from anthropological, psychological, biological and archeological literature, Etcoff discerns surprising similarities in the ways humans have perceived and responded to beauty across diverse cultures throughout the millennia. For example, cross-cultural research comparing two isolated Indian tribes in Venezuela and Paraguay to people in three Western cultures demonstrated a remarkable similarity in what is considered beautiful. And evidence that red pigments were used as lipstick as long ago as 5000 B.C. suggests that media images are not the sole reason that "in the United States more money is spent on beauty than on education or social services." The most important message in this book is that we cannot ignore our evolutionary past when attempting to understand our current behavior, even as we should recognize that we need not be slaves to our genes. Topics as wide-ranging as penis- or breast-enlargement surgery and the basics of haute couture are treated with wit and insight. Etcoff's arguments are certain to initiate a great deal of discussion. Photos and illustrations. Author tour. (Feb.)

"Authoritative and surprisingly entertaining." --Chicago Tribune

"Survival of the Prettiest is the first book to pull all of the science on beauty into one lively yet thoughtful package, showing again that it's not just ax-grinding males who believe that biology continues to play an important role in our lives." --The New York Times Book Review "Through a series of global scientific studies, Etcoff . . . presents a compelling argument for why so many cultures are influenced by beauty." --The Boston Globe "Nancy Etcoff . . . writes confidently that today's culture of beauty is not a backlash against feminism. She delves into why we devour fashion magazines, agonize about waist sizes, and gaze longingly at objects of desire." --Houston Chronicle "[A] sprightly, spunky, well-written treatise on the Darwinian science of looking good." --Entertainment Weekly

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