From the most celebrated heir to Darwin comes a groundbreaking book on evolution, the summa work of Edward O. Wilson’s legendary career.
Where did we come from? What are we? Where are we going? In a generational work of clarity and passion, one of our greatest living scientists directly addresses these three fundamental questions of religion, philosophy, and science while “overturning the famous theory that evolution naturally encourages creatures to put family first” (Discover magazine). Refashioning the story of human evolution in a work that is certain to generate headlines, Wilson draws on his remarkable knowledge of biology and social behavior to show that group selection, not kin selection, is the primary driving force of human evolution. He proves that history makes no sense without prehistory, and prehistory makes no sense without biology. Demonstrating that the sources of morality, religion, and the creative arts are fundamentally biological in nature, Wilson presents us with the clearest explanation ever produced as to the origin of the human condition and why it resulted in our domination of the Earth’s biosphere.
About Edward O. Wilson
Edward O. Wilson, one of the world’s preeminent biologists, is the author of more than twenty-five books, including Sociobiology, the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Ants, and the best-selling novel Anthill. A professor emeritus at Harvard University, he lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.
“The Social Conquest of the Earth has set off a scientific furor… The controversy is fueled by a larger debate about the evolution of altruism. Can true altruism even exist? Is generosity a sustainable trait? Or are living things inherently selfish, our kindness nothing but a mask? This is science with existential stakes.” (Jonah Lehrer - New Yorker)
“The Social Conquest of Earth is a huge, deep, thrilling work, presenting a radically new but cautiously hopeful view of human evolution, human nature, and human society. No one but E. O. Wilson could bring together such a brilliant synthesis of biology and the humanities, to shed light on the origins of language, religion, art, and all of human culture.” (Oliver Sacks)
“E. O. Wilson’s passionate curiosity—the hallmark of his remarkable career—has led him to these urgent reflections on the human condition. At the core of The Social Conquest of Earth is the unresolved, unresolvable tension in our species between selfishness and altruism. Wilson brilliantly analyzes the force, at once creative and destructive, of our biological inheritance and daringly advances a grand theory of the origins of human culture. This is a wonderful book for anyone interested in the intersection of science and the humanities.” (Stephen Greenblatt, author of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern)
Lessons From Ants to Grasp Humanity
The New York Times Book Review – April 8, 2012 (Excerpt)
To the biologist Edward O. Wilson, the Metropolitan Museum of Art encapsulates some of the conflicting impulses natural selection has instilled in humans: the innate drive for expression that spurs some of us to make art, the selfishness that motivates others to earn the riches needed to collect it, and the altruism that compels the donation of collections for the public good — as long as the donors’ names are inscribed on the walls too.
But asked to imagine the museum from the perspective of ants, whose intricate social world he has built a towering reputation by studying, Dr. Wilson painted a scene that was less a lesson in evolution than a chaotic free-for-all.
“To them the crowds would just be a flank-to-flank herd of enormous elephants you have to dodge around,” he said with a boyish giggle from the museum’s teeming steps during a recent visit to New York to promote his 27th book, “The Social Conquest of Earth,” which is being published Monday by Liveright. “I don’t think ants would have any aesthetic or intellectual interest in the museum, though they would certainly find a happy home in Central Park.” [Read the full article...]
Book review: ‘The Social Conquest of Earth,’ by Edward O. Wilson
The Washington Post Book Review – April 13, 2012 (Excerpt)
What are we, where did we come from, and where are we going?
For millennia, humans have been pondering these great questions and articulating responses in works of art, philosophical treatises and religious beliefs. We’ve fought wars over whose solution is most correct, persecuted promoters of heresy and celebrated sublime expressions of possible answers by painters, poets and preachers. No wonder; at stake is nothing less than the definition of the human condition.
In his new book, “The Social Conquest of Earth,” renowned scientist Edward O. Wilson sets out to answer these questions once and for all. Scientific advances of the past two decades, he argues, make it possible to solve the first two, providing the basis for a rethinking of the third. The result is an ambitious and thoroughly engaging work that’s certain to generate controversy within the walls of academia and without.
Wilson, 82, is a giant of science: the world’s leading expert on ants, the first researcher to recognize the existence of pheromones, the father of sociobiology, the author and co-author of two Pulitzer Prize-winning books (“On Human Nature” and “The Ants”) and a recipient of the Royal Swedish Academy’s Crafoord Prize, given in fields not covered by the Nobel Prize. [Read the full article...]
The Original Colonists - ‘The Social Conquest of Earth,’ by Edward O. Wilson
The New York Times Book Review – May 11, 2012 (Excerpt)
This is not a humble book. Edward O. Wilson wants to answer the questions Paul Gauguin used as the title of one of his most famous paintings: “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?” At the start, Wilson notes that religion is no help at all — “mythmaking could never discover the origin and meaning of humanity” — and contemporary philosophy is also irrelevant, having “long ago abandoned the foundational questions about human existence.” The proper approach to answering these deep questions is the application of the methods of science, including archaeology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology. Also, we should study insects.
Insects? Wilson, now 82 and an emeritus professor in the department of organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard, has long been a leading scholar on ants, having won one of his two Pulitzer Prizes for the 1990 book on the topic that he wrote with Bert Hölldobler. But he is better known for his work on humans. His “Sociobiology: The New Synthesis,” a landmark attempt to use evolutionary theory to explain human behavior, was published in 1975. Those were strange times, and Wilson was smeared as a racist and fascist, attacked by some of his Harvard colleagues and doused with water at the podium of a major scientific conference. But Wilson’s days as a pariah are long over. An evolutionary approach to psychology is now mainstream, and Wilson is broadly respected for his scientific accomplishments, his environmental activism, and the scope and productivity of his work, which includes an autobiography and a best-selling novel, “Anthill.”
In “The Social Conquest of Earth,” he explores the strange kinship between humans and some insects. Wilson calculates that one can stack up log-style all humans alive today into a cube that’s about a mile on each side, easily hidden in the Grand Canyon. And all the ants on earth would fit into a cube of similar size. More important, humans and certain insects are the planet’s “eusocial” species — the only species that form communities that contain multiple generations and where, as part of a division of labor, community members sometimes perform altruistic acts for the benefit of others. [Read the full article...]
Review: Edward O. Wilson tackles ‘The Social Conquest of Earth’
The Los Angeles Times Book Review – May 27, 2012 (Excerpt)
Edward O. Wilson is one of the great scientists of our time. The world’s leading expert on ants and a consummate naturalist, he brilliantly compiles research data from a broad cross-section of fields to produce pictures of the innate complexity of life.
He is also a renowned author. His more than 20 books have won two Pulitzer Prizes for their explanations of the lives of ants and exploration of human nature. But sadly, his writing is dry, complicated and nearly sleep-inducing. If you are not heavily into deep science, this is not a book for you. If you are a religious fundamentalist or a hard-core conservative (and perhaps even a hard-core liberal), this is also not a book for you because he dissects and destroys some of your most crucial beliefs.
In his latest work, Wilson draws from recent research in paleontology, entomology, geology, neurology and a host of other “-ologies” to try to answer three simple questions that have plagued humans for millenniums: Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? [Read the full article...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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