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This is a look at why our toughest battles are often with ourselves. This book examines the issues that most affect our lives: body image, money, addiction, violence, and the search for love and happiness.
It shows that our struggles are against our own genes and offers steps for beating them. Hardly the standard self-help fare, to be sure. Mean Genes argues that Darwin has a lot more to tell us about ourselves than Freud, and it is high on evolution and low on inner child. Burnham and Phelan divide life issues into 10 categories debt, fat, drugs, risk, greed, gender, beauty, infidelity, family, and friends and foes , and then offer up a two-step guide to better living: "Step 1 is to understand our animal nature, particularly those desires that get us into trouble and can lead to unhappiness.
Step 2 is to harness this knowledge so that we can tame our primal instincts. Needless to say, Nancy Reaganesque bromides don't fit into the Mean Genes scheme of things:. Instead of slogans, the Mean Genes approach to overcoming drug addiction is to first recognise that "every person has strong, instinctual cravings for destructive substances".
This, coupled with a thorough scientific understanding of a given drug's pleasurable effects on the brain, offers a more realistic course of action, such as finding a less harmful substitute for achieving a similar buzz. Be it talk of weight loss, saving for retirement, or resisting the neighbour's wife, such practical, tough-love suggestions for subduing the beast within are provided throughout the book. Phelan describes how he instantly smears mayonnaise all over tempting sweets served with airline meals to keep from eating them during long flights, and Burnham writes of giving away his Internet access cable in order to free himself of a serious day-trading fixation.
The authors also rely heavily on findings from the animal world in stating their case, which makes for fascinating reading, if not always for the most readily transferable lessons to daily life. Consider, for example, certain frog species that "continue individual bouts of mating for several months.