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The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge

The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge

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by Matt Ridley

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The New York Times bestselling author of The Rational Optimist and Genome returns with a fascinating, brilliant argument for evolution that definitively dispels a dangerous, widespread myth: that we can command and control our world.

The Evolution of Everything is about bottom-up order and its enemy, the top-down


The New York Times bestselling author of The Rational Optimist and Genome returns with a fascinating, brilliant argument for evolution that definitively dispels a dangerous, widespread myth: that we can command and control our world.

The Evolution of Everything is about bottom-up order and its enemy, the top-down twitch—the endless fascination human beings have for design rather than evolution, for direction rather than emergence. Drawing on anecdotes from science, economics, history, politics and philosophy, Matt Ridley’s wide-ranging, highly opinionated opus demolishes conventional assumptions that major scientific and social imperatives are dictated by those on high, whether in government, business, academia, or morality. On the contrary, our most important achievements develop from the bottom up. Patterns emerge, trends evolve. Just as skeins of geese form Vs in the sky without meaning to, and termites build mud cathedrals without architects, so brains take shape without brain-makers, learning can happen without teaching and morality changes without a plan.

Although we neglect, defy and ignore them, bottom-up trends shape the world. The growth of technology, the sanitation-driven health revolution, the quadrupling of farm yields so that more land can be released for nature—these were largely emergent phenomena, as were the Internet, the mobile phone revolution, and the rise of Asia. Ridley demolishes the arguments for design and effectively makes the case for evolution in the universe, morality, genes, the economy, culture, technology, the mind, personality, population, education, history, government, God, money, and the future.

As compelling as it is controversial, authoritative as it is ambitious, Ridley’s stunning perspective will revolutionize the way we think about our world and how it works.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Frank Rose
…[Ridley] offers a highly intelligent and bracingly iconoclastic view of the world. It forces us to see life through new eyes.
Publishers Weekly
Working from the idea that evolution is “happening all around us” and is “the best way of understanding how the human world changes, as well as the natural world,” Ridley (The Rational Optimist) looks at how numerous facets of society and nature develop and change over time. “Evolution is far more common, and far more influential, than most people recognize,” he says. The book’s primary argument is that, more often than not, there is no rational mind or organized decision-making behind the development of common concepts or widespread phenomena, but an unconscious reaction to an immense variety of factors. “The genome has no master gene, the brain has no command center, the English language has no director, the economy has no chief executive,” he states. Ridley observes this principle in culture, government, and technology. There’s a lot of information to work through, but the reasoning is sound and arguments are well-supported with historical precedent and general observation. While the premise may not sit well with everyone, Ridley provides enough evidence to support his claims and generate no shortage of debate. Agent: Peter Ginsberg, Curtis Brown. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Does the world operate according to a master blueprint, or is it far more influenced by unfolding events that cause gradual change? Science columnist Ridley (The Rational Optimist) posits the latter, explaining that all facets of human culture are driven by evolutionary change in a bottom-up ordering rather than a top-down design. The author champions the ideology of ancient Roman poet, Titus Lecretius Carus, using stanzas of his poem De Rerum Natura to segue to essays on subjects ranging from religion and government to population and technology. These revolutionary manifestos borrow narratives from science, economics, politics, and philosophy. Ridley's use of source material is vast, ranging from quoting author Sam Harris on free will in order to demonstrate the "evolutionary consequence of how the brain changed," to arguing how climate change has become a religious argument, with quotes from Nigel Lawson and French philosopher Pascal Bruckner. Despite impressive research, however, the author fails to hide his bias on certain subjects or his Libertarian beliefs, leaving the thoughtful reader wanting a bit more counterargument. VERDICT Readers of evolutionary theory, sociology, history, anthropology and philosophy shall be highly entertained by this thought-provoking read but may not evolve to Ridley's level of thinking.—Angela Forret, Clive P.L., IA
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2015-06-08
Evolution, a phenomenon without an underlying plan that explains life's development, has convinced scientists, if not the general public, but authorities still debate whether Darwin's theory applies to human society. Veteran science writer Ridley (The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, 2010) investigates. According to conventional wisdom, progress in law, morals, economics, and even science itself doesn't just happen. It requires creative input through religion, legislation, political or philosophical movements, individual geniuses, or the work of deep thinkers. Not so, writes the author in this ingenious study: "Intelligent design is just as bad at explaining society as it is at explaining evolution." Over centuries, languages change in a planless process similar to natural selection, and authorities proclaim rules to little effect. Economic systems that appeared spontaneously (commerce, free markets) operate far more efficiently than top-down systems that require guidance (mercantilism, Marxism). Laws demand lawgivers—except when they don't. The admirable Anglo-American common law simply evolved. How did torture, racism, slavery, and pedophilia—all once acceptable—become immoral today despite the decline of religion in recent decades? Ridley argues that we have evolved to prefer nicer relationships. "Morality," he writes, "is an accidental by-product of the way human beings adjust their behavior towards each other as they grow up…goodness does not need to be taught, let alone associated with the superstitious belief that it would not exist but for the divine origin of an ancient Palestinian carpenter." These are fascinating essays backed by a mixture of good evidence and personal philosophy. Few readers will object to the author's contempt for intelligent design until his concluding chapters on government, when his fervent libertarianism nearly gets the better of him. Like Malcolm Gladwell, Ridley's taste for counterintuitive arguments often oversimplifies and ignores contradictory evidence, but he provides a wild ride, almost too thought-provoking to read for long stretches but difficult to put down.
Stewart Brand
“Building on the timeless insights of Lucretius, Ridley examines how civilization inexorably organizes itself. Wrong-headed social theories, he and Lucretius agree, just get in the way.”
The Times (Saturday Review)
“A compelling argument...a fascinating work...The way the book frames the argument is delightfully novel...Ridley has amassed such a weight of fascinating evidence and anecdote that the pages fly by.”
London Sunday Times
“Ridley is a provocative, occasionally pugnacious writer and his book is intriguing and artfully argued.”
Booklist (starred review)
“Ridley shows how hard it has been for even the most definite evolutionists to fully abandon the notion of a guiding intelligence…Yet that is what the hard evidence…that Ridley adduces in every chapter compels us all to do.”
Wall Street Journal
“This penetrating book is Mr. Ridley’s best and most important work to date…there is something profoundly democratic and egalitarian-even anti-elitist-in this bottom-up approach: Everyone can have a role in bringing about change.”
New Scientist
“Highly readable, invariably interesting…Ridley’s laudable aim is to disenthrall us of our intuitive creationism and make us see evolution at work everywhere…Ridley succeeds in spades…He possesses the rare power to see the world in a different light - one made not by great men or women but by undirected, incremental change.”
New York Times Book Review
“A highly intelligent and bracingly iconoclastic view of the world. It forces us to see life through new eyes.”
Washington Times
“An exceptional book: exceptionally easy to read, easy to understand, easy to appreciate…Of the many good general texts on the subject, THE EVOLUTION OF EVERYTHING emerges as the fittest to champion the case for the ubiquity of evolution.”

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HarperCollins Publishers
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6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Matt Ridley is the award-winning, bestselling author of several books, including The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves; Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters; and The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature. His books have sold more than one million copies in thirty languages worldwide. He writes regularly for The Times (London) and The Wall Street Journal, and is a member of the House of Lords. He lives in England.

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The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book outlines an entirely new way to look at everyday life. The first part was a little monotonous, at least for me, but as I moved deeper into the book I realized it was important for establishing the basis for what followed. A great read and I look forward to reading it again.