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Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 17 of 16 Customer Reviews
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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2000

    Sweeping, informative, and entertaining

    Thankfully, an increasing number of authors (Landes, Diamond, et al) have been tackling social evolution - a crucial topic that's been shied away from for too long. Wright's effort is inspired, intelligent, engaging, erudite, not the least bit pretentious, and exceedingly well-written. Wright's basic message is that living organizations - both organisms and the groups they form - have been getting increasingly complex and well-integrated since life began, so it's a good bet that this trend will continue into the future. He presents a general hypothesis, and then provides a mountain of fascinating evidence to back it up. It's not experimental science, it's theory-driven science, but it's definitely not 'bad science' as a few reviewers (usually non-scientists, interestingly) have said. Reading this book will definitely increase your knowledge and understanding of the history of life on earth, and as the goal of science is to increase knowledge and understanding, I'd say the scientific value of this book is high - much higher than most history you will read (historians usually don't even try to make their interpretations consistent with biological knowledge). Though not the last word in social evolution, this book is an excellent leap forward, and anyone interested in history, biology, or social evolution should read it, and have a great time doing it. Highly recommended.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2003

    Well worth reading and re-reading

    The paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould wrote two books demonstrating that evolution has no point¿that it is at best a random walk. It's just a matter of blind luck that humans are smarter and more complex than bacteria. Since the course of evolution is bounded by a wall of zero complexity, it is forced to expand gradually and blindly into the realm of complexity. That it got to us is just a matter of luck. Robert Wright wrote _Non Zero: The Logic of Human Destiny_ to prove Gould wrong. Although Wright doesn't claim that we have a pre-ordained, God-given kind of destiny, he does argue forcefully that it's no accident that both biological and social evolution obviously do produce grander and more complex entities over time¿plants, animals and us in the case of biological evolution; families, tribes, villages, city-states, nations and beyond in the case of social evolution. He argues that intelligent beings and complex institutions inevitably appear because of the interplay between natural selection an--surprise¿game theory. We're all familiar with zero-sum games--a football match for example. One team's gain is the other's loss, and there's always a winner and a loser. But Wright argues that most zero-sum games evolve into or are intimately linked to non-zero-sum games, exchanges in which all the players benefit by playing. We can see this in organized sports. Although the matches are zero-sum, they take place within a web of value-added exchanges and relationships. Fans who buy tickets or watch on TV are rewarded, and so are the teams and leagues that receive ticket and advertising revenues. Players and teams may lose games, but they still make a living by playing. And in the process they support a network of individuals and groups playing non-zero-sum games with them: advertisers, vendors, commentators, groundskeepers, umpires, security guards, cheerleaders, you name it. Wright shows that when this transformation from zero-sum into non-zero-sum exchanges is coupled with competition between the entities involved, with natural selection picking those who play more cooperatively, the inevitable result is increased complexity and information processing capability (that is, intelligence). And once complex entities appear, their presence sparks even more complex games, which create yet more complex systems, in an evolutionary upward spiral. It's a grand and fascinating idea, and Wright develops it thoroughly and clearly. I was particularly impressed with his willingness to state opposing ideas and arguments clearly, and with the care he takes not to slip into mysticism, grandiosity, or the kind of fish-eat-fish social Darwinism that this kind of thinking has been associated with in the past. He is realistic enough to recognize that neither biological evolution nor the evolution of civilization has been a smooth upward spiral. But he argues convincingly that even horrendous zero-sum exchanges, such as plagues or war, sooner or later sow the seeds of new growth. That's not to say I agreed with everything Wright had to say. I found myself arguing with many of his points, only to be convinced, at least enough to read on. At times he seemed overly glib, for example when he said that even if the dark ages had managed to destroy all ancient learning completely--'Well, them's the breaks.' Yet, more often than not, I found myself being surprised by his incisive, paradox-breaking analysis. He pokes holes in many fuzzy yet widely held ideas, such as religious determinism (e.g. that the West has surged ahead of the East because of the Protestant work ethic), or because of the Western exploitation of nature vs. Eastern merging with it, or the idea that societies evolve deliberately and as a whole rather than because of the striving and inventiveness of their individual members. Some of Wright's more interesting statements: 'As the centuries fly by, civilizations may come and go, but civilization flourishes.' 'Adam Smith'

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2003

    Evolution Meets Game Theory

    Far too many authors these days shy away from 'big theory' books, probably because they (rightly) fear they don't have the chops to pull it off. Thankfully, Robert Wright does - and with style and humor. One might think at first that the application of game theory principles, originating in social sciences, would not assist in understanding the logic of human and biological evolution, but Wright quickly puts that concern to rest. The book is fascinating, intriguing, convincing and, in the end, quite optimistic. Beat that.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 7, 2010

    Brilliant

    Wright has written a masterpiece. If this isn't the most interesting book I've ever read, it's right up there. Even if you don't agree with it all, it's very thought provoking. His Moral Animal is also excellent.

    MG, fan of The www.BargainBookMole.org: The Fastest, Easiest (& Free) Way to Dig for the Lowest Prices Online

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