[UCP Books]: Snakes, Sunrises, and Shakespeare: How Evolution Shapes Our Loves and Fears

“No scholar better understands the intimate linkage between evolutionary biology and the human condition, and none has expressed it in a more interesting and well-illustrated manner than Orians.”
Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University


Snakes, Sunrises, and Shakespeare

How Evolution Shapes Our Loves and Fears

Gordon H. Orians


US Publication Date: May 1, 2014 UK Publication Date: June 9, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-0-226-00323-8 Cloth $30.00/£21.00



From our fear of snakes to our cravings for sweets, many of our human responses to nature are steeped in our deep evolutionary past. In this ambitious and unusual work, evolutionary biologist Gordon H. Orians reveals that many of our aesthetic preferences—from the kinds of gardens we build to the foods we enjoy and the entertainment we seek—are the lingering result of natural selection.


Orians begins with why we have emotions and ends with evolutionary approaches to aesthetics. Explaining our emotional response to nature and the sublime has long been the domain of artists and writers, but here Orians makes a compelling case for the ability of science to offer new ways of understanding. In doing so, he reveals how our emotional lives today are shaped by decisions our ancestors made centuries ago. His rich analysis explains why we mimic the tropical savannas of our ancestors in our parks and gardens, why we are simultaneously attracted to danger and approach it cautiously, and how paying close attention to nature’s sounds has resulted in us being an unusually musical species. We also learn why we have developed discriminating palates for wine, and why we have strong reactions to some odors, and why we enjoy classifying almost everything.


Gordon H. Orians lives in Seattle, where he is professor emeritus of biology at the University of Washington. He is the author or editor of several books, including, most recently, Red-Winged Blackbirds: Decision-making and Reproductive Success and Life: The Science of Biology. He is available for interviews. Please contact Carrie Olivia Adams at (773) 702-4216 or cadams@press.uchicago.edu




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