The Naked Man

Issue section: 
(322)

Desmond Morris, Jonathan Cape, £18.99

This book's one real idea has become a right-wing cliché: differences between male and female behaviour are rooted in our evolutionary development.

This accounts for men's deep voices - to scare rival animals when hunting - and broad shoulders - to carry home the kill. Men need the thrill of the hunt, so nowadays they hurt themselves playing dangerous sports. If I fling Morris's book across the room it's probably a throwback to spearing mammoths.

This assumes "masculinity" and "femininity" are the same in all societies. And it distorts evolutionary theory in assuming that every body part satisfies some purpose. However, Morris's secular creation myth about hunting won't fill 200 pages, so he adds vast amounts of trivia.

It's all painfully dull. Morris's facts are banal, obscure or at best potentially useful in pub quizzes.

Morris is at his weakest when it comes to politics and culture. He regards them as a tricky surface effect to be cleared away, revealing a nice simple biological fact. Attitudes to gay men have improved, for example, because people know the world is over-populated and are glad that some humans have chosen not to reproduce.

Altogether, the book is an incoherent jumble of popular wisdom, unnamed scientific studies and unattributed quotes, written for people wanting to be reassured that our current society is the best humanity can achieve.