"The Red Queen" by Matt Ridley

Book Summary:

“The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature” by Matt Ridley answers dozens of riddles about human nature and culture–including why men propose marriage, the method behind our notions of beauty, why humans reproduce sexually instead of asexually and many more human mysterious.

Author Matt Ridley also argues that men are polygamous for the obvious reason that whichever gender has to spend the most time and energy creating and rearing offspring tends to avoid extra mating, while women are far less interested in multiple partners and will commit adultery if stuck with a mediocre mate.  

Read on to learn why women conceal their fertility, why women like men who are tall, wealthy and have status, and why romance novels equal porn for women.

Book Lessons:

1) Why Women Conceal Their Fertility

Women’s genes seem to have gone to inordinate lengths to conceal the moment of ovulation.
— Page 230

A lot of animals, such as chimps, mice and dogs, can tell when the other sex is ‘in heat’ and fertile for mating.

Some animals make it extremely clear, “chimpanzees become pink; cows smell irresistible to bulls...female mice solicit male mice” but when it comes to female humans, women have evolved to hide their ovulation, so much so that even they don’t always know exactly when the moment will happen.

So why do women not advertise to mates that they are fertile like other species?

One argument is that since the man doesn’t know when the woman is pregnant, he must stay around and have intercourse with her often to be sure he is the father of the children. “This keeps him from mischief and ensures he is still around to help rear the babies.”

The second argument, is that if females wish to select their choice of partner, it makes little sense for them to advertise their ovulation. She wants to first choose a mate, then advertise to him that she is fertile afterwards while keeping the other males guessing.

Both arguments are logical and make a strong case. Ideally, a woman would want to select the best mate and then keep him around for form a long-term relationship with him instead of advertising that she is fertile and hooking up with the first guy that comes by,

2) Women Want Men With Status, Wealth & Height

Men consistently place physical features above personality and status when considering women; women do not when considering men.
— Page 297

Good news guys, women don’t care about a guy’s physical appearance as men do!

This isn’t because men are shallow, but rather men look for cues to learn about the health of a woman–a symmetrical face, large breasts and hips are all features that indicate a healthy body (read more from "A Billion Wicked Thoughts” by Ogas & Gaddam).

However, everyone already knew what men desire, the million dollar question is what do women desire?

The answer: Status, wealth and height.

  • Status: Ideally a woman would want to be with someone who is ‘on the top of the food chain’ such as a doctor or CEO, but since most women choose a mate long before a man has had the chance to become high status, women look for clues for future potential.

    • This includes clues such as past achievements, intelligence, ambition, optimism, poise–”these are the things that cause men to rise to the top of their professions. And not coincidentally, these are the things women find attractive.”

  • Wealth: The stereotype is true, women want wealthy men. “Women pay attention to cues of wealth and power, men pay attention to cues of health and youth.”

    • This is because a wealthy husband helps the wife by increasing “the number of and health of her children.” More money equals more food, medicine, shelter and many more things that will improve the odds of her children surviving and thriving.

  • Height: “Tall men are universally considered more attractive by women than short men...the principle that a man must be taller than his date is so universal that it has been called ‘the cardinal principle of date selection.”

    • This doesn’t mean you have to be 6’8” to date women, it means if you’re interested in a women who is 5’4”, she would likely prefer someone 5’5” or taller.

3) Why romance novels Equal porn for women

Porn is designed for, marketed to, and sought out by men, not women. The romance novel, by contrast, is aimed entirely at the female market.
— Page 271

While men are attracted to visual images and having fantasize multiple partners, women are not. They prefer touch and fantasize about a familiar partner.

This is one of the main reasons women prefer romance novels over pornography.

While men are interested in intercourse with as many mates as possible (common theme in porn), to have as many offspring as they can, women have a different strategy.

Since a women can only have one child at a time and usually has to raise that child for a decade or two, women go for the best mate (common theme in books).

There is no evolutionary advantage for a woman to have sex with multiple men since she will only produce one offspring. Women have nothing to gain and in fact have a great deal to lose from this, especially if the women is looking for a long-term partner.

This explains why “male sexual fantasies tend to be more ubiquitous, frequent, visual...promiscuous and active” while “female sexual fantasies tend to be more contextual, emotive, intimate, and passive.”

The men in those novels are discussed in great detail, but with a focus on the man’s character and not his body.

Not surprisingly, sex plays a very small part in romance novels, instead, the majority of the book is about “love, commitment, domesticity, nurturing and the formation of relationships.”


“The Red Queen” by Matt Ridley is a well-written and insightful journey that takes readers through genetics, neurobiology, psychology and many more areas of science to explore the evolution of human nature.

The book explains the benefits of sexual reproduction versus asexual, the different ways animals and humans evolved over thousands of years and how men and women seek different traits in a mate.

Although there were several nuggets of valuable information in this book, it is a bit outdated since it was written in 1993. I’d recommend first reading "A Billion Wicked Thoughts” by Ogas & Gaddam since it was written 2012 and has much more info on sex and human nature.

Rating: 3/5

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