The human race spends a disproportionate amount of attention, money, and expertise in solving, trying, and reporting homicides, as compared to other social problems. The public avidly consumes accounts of real-life homicide cases, and murder fiction is more popular still. Nevertheless, we have only the most rudimentary scientific understanding of who is likely to kill whom and why. Martin Daly and Margo Wilson apply contemporary evolutionary theory to analysis of human motives and perceptions of self-interest, considering where and why individual interests conflict, using well-documented murder cases.
This book attempts to understand normal social motives in murder as products of the process of evolution by natural selection. They note that the implications for psychology are many and profound, touching on such matters as parental affection and rejection, sibling rivalry, sex differences in interests and inclinations, social comparison and achievement motives, our sense of justice, lifespan developmental changes in attitudes, and the phenomenology of the self.
This is the first volume of its kind to analyze homicides in the light of a theory of interpersonal conflict. Before this study, no one had compared an observed distribution of victim-killer relationships to "expected" distribution, nor asked about the patterns of killer-victim age disparities in familial killings. This evolutionary psychological approach affords a deeper view and understanding of homicidal violence.
"The fascination of the subject and the felicity of the writing make this an irresistible book. Without sacrificing scholarship, Daly and Wilson maintain an outspoken, at times quietly humorous, often suspenseful, always lucid prose. Their book is a model of absorbing analysis for the educated layman. . . . many anthropologists might also find it a vehicle by which to explore the Darwinian approach to human behavior."
—American Journal of Physical Anthropology
“The authors bring order and clarity to the welter of information about homicide by means of a bold and imaginative application of “selection thinking,” an approach they characterize as “evolutionary psychology” . . . . A brief review cannot do justice to the range and depth of Daly and Wilson’s accomplishment. This meticulously researched and elegantly written book is a stunning example of the unique power of selection thinking to illuminate human affairs.”
—Donald Symons, The Quarterly Review of Biology
“Daly and Wilson’s latest book is an attempt to understand the many aspects and varieties of homicide in terms of an “evolutionary psychological” approach founded on Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. . . . Daly and Wilson’s attempt to explain homicide in these terms has led them to undertake a wide-ranging and original review of the literature, combined with many statistical tests of various hypotheses along the way. Their study is a valuable contribution to the literature, providing many insights on homicide as well as interesting asides on sociobiology, sexual jealousy, the Oedipus complex, criminal responsibility, Geronimo and revenge murders, the decline of kin right in English law, Middle Easter harems, “May-December” relationships, “biophobia,” and many other topics.”
—Anthony R. Mawson, Contemporary Sociology
“Homicide is must reading for any anthropologist interested in conflict. . . . Homicide has convinced me that from a fitness perspective killing is rational, from infanticide to capital punishment.”
—Keith F. Otterbein, American Anthropologist