by Guy Somerset / 12 December, 2009
Arts & Books editor Guy Somerset and Listener reviewers take the pain out of finding a good read this summer, whether it's a Christmas gift or something to take to the beach.

THE ART INSTINCT: Beauty, Pleasure and Human Evolution, by Denis Dutton (Oxford, $59.99). Dutton, philosopher of aesthetics at the University of Canterbury, generated a slew of publicity for his evolutionary account of art. A polemical triumph, it faltered methodologically: his bibliography is notably thin, his reliance on Pleistocene-era adaptations too heavy, and too often he blurs science with his own opinions. But despite that, his arguments are spirited and his writing as rich and moreish as strawberry cheesecake. The Art Instinct is what it aspires to be: a squall of fresh critical air.

THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH: THE EVIDENCE FOR EVOLUTION, by Richard Dawkins (Bantam, $45). After stirring up controversy with The God Delusion, Dawkins returns to his popular science roots, clearly and elegantly laying out the current evidence for evolution, demonstrating "that evolution is an inescapable fact" and celebrating "its astonishing power, simplicity and beauty". As well as outlining Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, first published 150 years ago, Dawkins provides chapters on molecular evidence, fossil evidence, embryology, geographical distribution of species and animal husbandry.

INNOCENTS IN THE DRY VALLEY: AN ACCOUNT OF THE VICTORIA UNIVERSITY OF WELLINGTON ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION, 1958-59, by Colin Bull (VUP, $50). Bull's author description leads off saying he is a "geophysicist, glaciologist and cook" - and that "cook" is no idle mention in a book where eating features frequently, right from the opening of the first chapter: "Oh damn the calorie count! What we're going to need is food." Where so many academics bleed the human out of their writing, Bull has gone to great lengths to ensure the opposite. He can overdo his exclamation marks and quips, but Innocents in the Dry Valley is never a dry read as it combines the scientific aspects of the expedition with a real sense of adventure, Kiwi can-do, camaraderie and comic irreverence.

ON THE ORIGIN OF STORIES: EVOLUTION, COGNITION AND FICTION, by Brian Boyd (Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, $75). Another New Zealand academic, another evolutionary account of art and literature. Yet Boyd lets the science do the talking, demonstrating a commendable grasp of theory and method. The results are dry (see previous entry) but persuasive, presenting art as a potent stimulant for cognitive evolution, a sophisticated form of play to which we are profitably addicted. Although Boyd's "evocriticism" can simply restate the obvious in scientific terms, this is valuable work, refining our understanding of how biology and social forces shape human thought.

MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage


Climate change: New study finds worst case scenario might not be as bad
85994 2018-01-18 08:27:48Z Environment

Climate change: New study finds worst case scenari…

by Charlie Dreaver

Global warming's worst case scenario may not be as bad as previously thought, a new climate change study says.

Read more
The science of sibling rivalries
85949 2018-01-18 00:00:00Z Science

The science of sibling rivalries

by Sally Blundell

Who was the favourite? Who got the most? Sibling relationships set up patterns that last a lifetime.

Read more
The Post – movie review
85900 2018-01-18 00:00:00Z Movies

The Post – movie review

by Peter Calder

Meryl Streep shines in Steven Spielberg’s thrilling Nixon-era newspaper drama.

Read more
Homegrown rosé: The best of New Zealand's pink wine
86039 2018-01-18 00:00:00Z Wine

Homegrown rosé: The best of New Zealand's pink win…

by Michael Cooper

More people are reaching for a home-grown tinted tipple of rosé.

Read more
MetroLOLs for January
85710 2018-01-18 00:00:00Z Humour

MetroLOLs for January

by Metro

This month's LOLs include: Things your office is planning to implement in 2018 to “cater to millennials”.

Read more
Ending solo mum sanction could cost govt $25m a year
85960 2018-01-17 13:14:44Z Social issues

Ending solo mum sanction could cost govt $25m a ye…

by Craig McCulloch

Officials warn the cost could blow out "considerably" if the plan encourages more mothers not to name their baby's father.

Read more
Confessions of a shoplifter
85914 2018-01-17 07:11:11Z Crime

Confessions of a shoplifter

by Anonymous

A sticky-fingered habit finally catches up with a young Kiwi crim, who discovers the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Read more
Tidy Kiwis? We generate 734kg of waste each per year - and it's growing
85908 2018-01-17 06:59:32Z Environment

Tidy Kiwis? We generate 734kg of waste each per ye…

by Nita Blake-Persen

The government is vowing to cut the amount of waste New Zealanders create, which is estimated to be among the highest in the developed world.

Read more