Simon Lailvaux


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

Cover Interview of March 05, 2019

A close-up

I would hope that readers encounter the last chapter, preferably because they got there through first reading the preceding nine chapters, but I’m not picky. That last chapter is mostly about humans, and specifically it is about how we can apply what we’ve learned about animal performance to understand our own evolutionary history. That emerging body of research is as good an argument as I’ve seen for why we should conduct basic research, and it is startling how relevant basic performance work is to humans once you adopt the perspective that humans are just another peculiar species of animal (which, of course, we are). Failing that, page 127 is a terrific page that explains why you either should or shouldn’t watch the Sylvester Stallone movie Over the Top, depending on how much you like terrible movies. If referencing a ridiculous action movie from more than 30 years ago doesn’t bring in the young people, then I don’t know what will!

I’d also like to briefly answer a question that you didn’t pose to me, and that is “Is there anything that you really wanted to include in the book but weren’t able to?” Yes, there is, and I’m glad I asked myself that. I describe at one point an experiment performed in 1958 by a researcher named Raymond Cowles that involved dressing lizards in tiny bespoke mink coats. The idea was to test some hypotheses about why modern reptiles aren’t covered with insulating furs or feathers. Cowles actually took a picture of these fashionably dressed lizards, and it is glorious. The great performance researcher Ray Huey told me that Cowles had given that picture to him, and Ray in turn later passed it on to yet another scientist, Warren Porter. But although Warren was extremely gracious and helpful, he doesn’t know what happened to the picture. He did direct me to the only known reproduction and gave me permission to use it but unfortunately it wasn’t of high enough quality to be included in the book. Still, somewhere out there is a picture from 1958 of a lizard in a little fur coat (for science!), and that makes me happy.