“One of the most enlightening books I have ever read.”

Timothy McGee, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus,
Department of Music, University of Toronto
Pretty Ugly: Why we like some songs, faces, foods, plays, pictures, poems, etc., and dislike others

Pretty Ugly is the child of a specialist and a generalist. Individually each has won awards; as a couple they won the Book Award of the American Psychological Association for their last book, The World of the Newborn.

Daphne Maurer is an experimental psychologist who studies the development of vision. She is Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour at McMaster University in Canada, and Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. In 2024 she was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada, the Canadian equivalent of a knighthood.

Charles Maurer is a free-lance writer who specializes in science and technology. He reads academic literature in many areas, and he has professional skills in graphic design and commercial photography.

Charles Maurer        Daphne Maurer

Download the table of contents and two chapters (1.4 MB).

Book talk on YouTube

Newspaper and academic reviews in English and French

327 pages, A5 • 143 illustrations, 66 with colour
Paperback: £36.99 • Hardcover: £72.99

Published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing and available from their web site as well as on-line retailers like Amazon (but note that these retailers often charge more than the publisher, not less). If you have problems with the publisher's site, contact orders@cambridgescholars.com.

     ISBN-13: 978-1-5275-4829-9
     ISBN-10: 1-5275-4829-5

     ISBN-13: 978-1-5275-3860-3
     ISBN-10: 1-5275-3860-5


Warning: although safe and effective, Pretty Ugly has not been approved by Health Canada for sale as a sedative.
People are chemical machines yet we (and some other animals) develop a sense of beauty. Why and how did this evolve? How is beauty formed?

The Maurers answer these questions as scientists with deep knowledge of the arts. They interweave experimental sciences with the histories of art, architecture, music, dance, speech, literature, and food.

Although we perceive each of our senses to be dramatically different, the Maurers show them all to be similar under the hood—similar in how they function and in how they shape our aesthetic experience.

Pretty Ugly is unique and iconoclastic, but it is solid. The Maurers spent 30 years researching and writing it.

This book covers so many fields that everyone will be a lay reader in some chapters. For this reason, the Maurers do not assume readers have any special knowledge or expertise. They avoid jargon, equations and formulae, and begin every discussion at an introductory level.

However, introductory does not mean elementary. This is a broad knife that slices deep. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society—the scientific journal that published Newton—published a 7000-word précis of the book.

An excellent summary of the book in one paragraph is an introduction to the article above by the editors of the issue.

“Why do we find some things attractive and others not? In this fascinating book, the authors take the reader on a vast intellectual journey to offer a comprehensive approach to answering this age-old question.”
Janet F. Werker, Ph.D., F.R.S.C.
Canada Research Chair
Department of Psychology
University of British Columbia

Pretty Ugly starts with some basics of physics and biology, then combines those with data from experimental psychology and from the histories of the all the arts. The result elaborates a framework that shapes all of human behaviour (and much of animal behaviour too).

Although this is a scholarly book, it does not read like an academic book—it reads like popular science—so students enjoy it as a textbook. To flesh out any particular subject, extra readings may be useful and references to those are in the endnotes. With appropriate supplementary readings it can suit diverse subjects like:
  • Aesthetics
  • Psychology of Art
  • Psychology of Music
  • Perception and Cognition
  • Cross-Modal Perception
  • Arts for Engineers
Supplementary readings can do more than just add detail: they can also test the book's iconoclastic arguments and thereby teach critical thinking. This approach would be appropriate for any level of course from undergraduate to graduate.

For a free examination copy, teachers can contact orders@cambridgescholars.com.

Download the table of contents and two chapters (1.4 MB).

“A gripping story of two pedants’ search for the truth...no, their search for the apparent truth...no, for the possibility of truth... no, for ....”
Alfred E. Neuman