Mean Genes

Mean Genes

From Sex to Money to Food: Taming Our Primal Instincts

  • Paperback
  • ISBN 9780142000076
  • 272 Pages
  • Penguin Books
  • Adult


Why do we want-and do-so many things that are bad for us? In Mean Genes Terry Burnham and Jay Phelan argue that we need to stop looking to Sigmund Freud for answers and start looking to Charles Darwin. Mean Genes reveals that our struggles for self-improvement are, in fact, battles against our own genes-genes that helped our distant ancestors flourish, but are selfish and out of place in the modern world. Using this evolutionary lens, Mean Genes brilliantly examines the issues that most affect our lives-body image, money, addiction, violence, and relationships, friendship, love, and fidelity-and offers steps to help us lead more satisfying lives.


“The Mean Genes message is optimistic…a self-help book for the merely average human being.” The Washington Post Book World

“An unusual cross between a social Darwinist monograph and a self-help manual.” The New Yorker

Table of Contents

Introduction: Our toughest battles are with ourselves

Thin Wallets and Fat Bodies
Debt: Laughing all the way to the Darwinian bank: bankruptcy; savings; big business
Fat: Please don’t feed the humans: dieting; laziness; liposuction

Constant Cravings
Drugs: Hijacking the pleasure pathway: caffeine; alcohol; Prozac; addiction; hope
Risk: Thrill-seeking genes taking us for a ride: casinos; jalapeno peppers; roller-coasters; rewards
Greed: Running fast on the happiness treadmill: money; happiness; materialism; progress; joy

Romance and Reproduction
Gender: Girls against the boys: Mars & Venus; hormones; homosexuality; culture
Beauty: It’s more than skin deep: attraction; desire; fads
Infidelity: Our cheating hearts: marriage; cheaters; love; lust; promise

Family, Friends, and Foes
Family: The ties that bind: blood; siblings; conflict; motherhood
Friends and Foes: Keep friends close and enemies closer: warfare; race; gossip; road rage; loyalty

Conclusion: Surviving desire