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The peacock's tail, said Charles Darwin, "makes me sick." That's because the theory of evolution as adaptation can't explain why nature is so beautiful. It took the concept of sexual selection for Darwin to explain that, a process that has more to do with aesthetics than the practical. Survival of the Beautiful is a revolutionary new examination of the interplay of beauty, art, and culture in evolution. Taking inspiration from Darwin's observation that animals have a natural aesthetic sense, philosopher and musician David Rothenberg probes why animals, humans included, have innate appreciation for beauty – and why nature is, indeed, beautiful.
Sexual selection may explain why animals desire, but it says very little about what they desire. Why will a bowerbird literally murder another bird to decorate its bower with the victim's blue feathers? Why do butterfly wings boast such brilliantly varied patterns? The beauty of nature is not arbitrary, even if random mutation has played a role in evolution. What can we learn from the amazing range of animal aesthetic behavior – about animals, and about ourselves?
Readers who enjoyed the bestsellers The Art Instinct and The Mind's Eye will find Survival of the Beautiful an equally stimulating and profound exploration of art, science, and the creative impulse.
David Rothenberg is Professor of Philosophy and Music at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and the author of books including Thousand Mile Song and Why Birds Sing. His articles have appeared in Parabola, The Nation, Wired, Dwell, and Sierra.
"Rothenberg's passionate optimism – a belief in the beauty of nature, and vice versa – together with his elegant prose turns Survival of the Beautiful into an exhilarating and thought provoking trip"
– Philip Hoare, Sunday Telegraph
"A compelling, lucidly written investigation into how beauty can evolve, when nobody is, as he puts it, in charge."
"Rothenberg writes passionately and engagingly [...] this is the triumphant lesson of Survival of the Beautiful: nature is not entirely red in tooth and claw, it also allows the beautiful rite of passage"
– Peter Forbes, Guardian
"A cornucopia of cognitive delights, exploring everything that's a treat for the eyes, from the colours of dinosaurs to whether it's a good idea to teach elephants to paint"
– Irish Times