The Comedy of Error: why evolution made us laugh


 Jonathan Silvertown

Publication Year





Scribe UK

The Comedy of Error: why evolution made us laugh Hardcover – 12 Nov. 2020

What is humour? Why do we laugh? And why is the root of a good joke almost always error?

Good jokes, bad jokes, clever jokes, dad jokes ― the desire to laugh is universal. But why do we find some gags hilarious, whilst others fall flat? Why does explaining a joke make it less amusing rather than more so? Why is laughter contagious, and why did it evolve in the first place?

Using the oldest jokes and the latest science, in The Comedy of Error, Professor Jonathan Silvertown investigates why we laugh: from laughter’s evolutionary origins, to similarities and differences in humour across cultures, and even why being funny makes us sexier.

As this unique book demonstrates, understanding how humour really works can provide endless entertainment.

Product description


‘This book is funny.’

– James McConnachie, The Sunday Times

‘Fascinating … an awesome read.’

– Giles Coren, Times Radio

‘A succinct and fascinating snapshot of a large body of thought into humour, the author maintains a light, playful tone to be easily accessible to the layperson … a perfect, easily-readable primer to the state of the research into the fascinating science of laughter.’

– Chortle

‘Jonathan Silvertown has written a thoroughly entertaining and erudite extended skit on the evolution of humour.’

– Fiona Capp, Sydney Morning Herald

‘In The Comedy of Error, Professor Silvertown deploys many of the world’s oldest jokes, coupled with some of our latest science, to unravel the similarities and differences in humour across cultures … [A] clever piece of work.’

– Ross Fitzgerald, Spectator Australia

Praise for Demons in Eden:

Demons in Eden is a grand scientific narrative, full of vivid description, clear analysis, and personal warmth ― an enthralling read and an important contribution to our understanding of biodiversity.’

– Oliver Sacks

Praise for 99% Ape:

‘Brief, pithy and delightfully illustrated and will be particularly attractive to secondary school students. It concisely presents the evidence for evolution.’

– The Times Literary Supplement

Praise for Dinner with Darwin:

Dinner with Darwin is a wide-ranging natural history of our diet, crafted at a pitch-perfect level for the science buff and the general reader alike. Silvertown is also a wonderful writer: erudite, informative, and thoroughly entertaining.’

– Washington Independent Review of Books

Praise for The Long and the Short of It:

‘An ideal introduction to the science of ageing and mortality. Interwoven with history and poetry, his erudite and eloquent book concisely explains the mechanisms underlying the lifespan of organisms ranging from nematode worms and chickweed to humans and redwoods. Considering their fates in terms of genetics and environment, Silvertown explores the questions that have bedevilled our species for as long as we’ve had the language to ask: why do we get old and why do we die?’

– New Scientist

About the Author

Jonathan Silvertown is professor of evolutionary ecology in the Institute of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Edinburgh. He is the author of seven previous books.

Copyrights 2019 | IHIK