Simon Lailvaux


On his book Feats of Strength: How Evolution Shapes Animal Athletic Abilities

Cover Interview of March 05, 2019

The wide angle

Even more than it is about performance, this book is about evolution. What really draws me to performance is how central it is to a variety of areas in evolutionary biology, from sexual selection to life-history and sexual conflict. It relates directly to several big questions that evolutionary biologists are keenly interested in: for example, what makes males attractive to females? How do traits respond to selection when they are linked to several others in complex ways?

One can study performance from so many different angles and perspectives that it allows the creative researcher to explore and make connections among areas of ecology and evolution that on the face of it might appear to have little to do with each other. This is the approach that I take with my research, and it is the same approach that I’ve applied to writing this book. So, in many ways, this book is really a crash course in evolutionary ecology – at least, those parts of it that most interest me and to which performance is most relevant. It may seem to some that my research program resembles the work of a conspiracy theorist who sees connections everywhere, but that’s just because they’re all out to get me.

I’ve written several academic reviews in the past on various performance related topics, and I’ve always enjoyed that process. Good reviews are tough to write, but very rewarding when you’re able to point to some new way forward. I wanted to write something more substantial that would reflect my personal perspective on the interconnectedness of all performance things, but that makes those links clear and explicit. I also wanted to have something that I can point to the next time someone asks me how making lizards run on racetracks could possibly be a real job…