‘Spent’ Intrigues Consumers

Nearly a month after publication, Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior by evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller climbed to #196 on Amazon last week, suggesting the book has some staying power thanks to New York Times Science section and Time magazine coverage. Half the libraries we checked had no copies, the rest have at least a couple, and one library has 92 holds, possibly because the author recently made a local appearance on his book tour.

Miller argues that biologists have sharper insights into our buying habits than marketers or consumers, who both miss the point that Ivy League diplomas and smart phones serve the same social functions as a fancy peacock’s tail. The New York Times focuses on how Miller deconstructs the social signals we send by choosing, say, the “conspicuous precision” of a BMW or Lexus  (e.g. extraversion and aggression) over a Toyota and Honda (e.g. high conscientiousness). The Times also notes that Miller bursts the “fundamental consumerist delusion” that everyone cares about what we buy, and concludes that evolution “is good at getting us to avoid death, desperation and celibacy, but it’s not that good at getting us to feel happy.”

Time magazine is more skeptical of Miller’s view that our personal acquisitions “are motivated by the primal desire for procreation, pleasure or both,” and criticizes him for “broad, rambling arguments read at times like a college professor’s lecture notes.” Yet the reviewer’s observation that Miller’s ideas “don’t seem particularly groundbreaking,” and his recommendation the readers skim the book rather than read it all the way through, is somewhat at odds with his lively overview of Miller’s arguments.

Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior
Geoffrey Miller
Retail Price: $26.95
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Viking Adult – (2009-05-14)
ISBN / EAN: 0670020621 / 9780670020621

Also available from Overdrive:

  • Adobe EPUB eBook; $26.96; 9781101050842
  • Adobe PDF eBook;  $26.96; 9781101048405
  • MobiPocket eBook; $26.96; 9781101050231

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