The Social Conquest of Earth

The Social Conquest of Earth

3.5 11
by Edward O. Wilson
     
 

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From the most celebrated heir to Darwin comes a groundbreaking book on evolution, the summa work of Edward O. Wilson's legendary career.See more details below

Overview

From the most celebrated heir to Darwin comes a groundbreaking book on evolution, the summa work of Edward O. Wilson's legendary career.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this wide-ranging book, Wilson, the Pulitzer Prize–winning Harvard scientist (The Ants), addresses the large question of “why advanced social life exists at all, and has occurred so rarely in the history of life.” Wilson, the world’s leading expert on ants, compares the evolutionary similarities between the social insects—“2 percent of the one million known species of insects”—and humans. Much of this material has been recycled from Wilson’s previous work. He triggers more interest when he argues that biologists have been seriously mistaken about the way evolution operates. Instead of the current paradigm stressing the importance of individual and kin selection (as kin carry many of the individual’s genes), Wilson believes that human evolution is driven by individual and non–kinship-based group selection (prehumans living in groups cared for their young and divided labor; groups competed against each other on one level of selection, and within a group, individuals competed to reproduce). Wilson believes that complex patterns of social behavior are the result of selection at both group and individual levels, but he doesn’t go into enough depth (which would include mathematical analysis) to be completely persuasive. He does, however, explore the factors leading to the development of morality, religion, and the creative arts in human society. 90 illus. Agent: John Williams, Kneerim & Williams Agency. (Apr.)
Robert Knight - Washington Independent Review of Books
“What Wilson ends up doing is so profound that the last eight chapters… could stand alone as a separate book, because what he ends up doing is no less than defining human nature itself.”
Michael Shermer - The Daily
“Pretty much anything Wilson writes is well worth reading, and his latest, The Social Conquest of Earth, is no exception… Read the master biologist himself in this marvelous book...”
James H. Fowler - Nature Magazine
“Biologist E. O. Wilson’s brilliant new volume, The Social Conquest of Earth, could more aptly be entitled ‘Biology’s Conquest of Science’. Drawing on his deep understanding of entomology and his extraordinarily broad knowledge of the natural and social sciences, Wilson makes a strong case for the synthesis of knowledge across disciplines. Understanding the biological origin of what makes us human can help us to build better theories of social and psychological interaction; in turn, understanding how other social species have evolved may help us to better understand the origin of our own. But the main reason that Wilson’s book is successful is that he also brings into biology the best of what social science has to offer.”
Alyssa A. Botelho - The Harvard Crimson
“Wilson frames The Social Conquest of Earth as a dialogue with painter Paul Gauguin, who penned on the canvas of his 1897 Tahitian masterpiece: “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?” ...Wilson attempts to answer Gauguin... by embracing the existential questioning of the humanities without sacrificing the “unrelenting application of reason” at the core of empirical science.”
The Harvard Crimson
Wilson frames The Social Conquest of Earth as a dialogue with painter Paul Gauguin, who penned on the canvas of his 1897 Tahitian masterpiece: "Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?" ...Wilson attempts to answer Gauguin... by embracing the existential questioning of the humanities without sacrificing the "unrelenting application of reason" at the core of empirical science.— Alyssa A. Botelho
The Daily
Pretty much anything Wilson writes is well worth reading, and his latest, The Social Conquest of Earth, is no exception… Read the master biologist himself in this marvelous book...— Michael Shermer
Nature Magazine
Biologist E. O. Wilson’s brilliant new volume, The Social Conquest of Earth, could more aptly be entitled ‘Biology’s Conquest of Science’. Drawing on his deep understanding of entomology and his extraordinarily broad knowledge of the natural and social sciences, Wilson makes a strong case for the synthesis of knowledge across disciplines. Understanding the biological origin of what makes us human can help us to build better theories of social and psychological interaction; in turn, understanding how other social species have evolved may help us to better understand the origin of our own. But the main reason that Wilson’s book is successful is that he also brings into biology the best of what social science has to offer.— James H. Fowler
Washington Independent Review of Books
What Wilson ends up doing is so profound that the last eight chapters… could stand alone as a separate book, because what he ends up doing is no less than defining human nature itself.— Robert Knight
Kate Murphy - New York Times Sunday Review
“Reading E. O. Wilson’s Social Conquest of Earth is a revolutionary look at who we are, where we’ve come from and where we’re going. It’s very hopeful in that he suggests that we have the capacity to learn to live within the planet’s means. I personally call this the sweet spot in history. Never before have we had the knowledge and opportunity as good as we have now to make change. The great message Wilson conveys is that there’s still time.”
New York Times Sunday Review
Reading E. O. Wilson’s Social Conquest of Earth is a revolutionary look at who we are, where we’ve come from and where we’re going. It’s very hopeful in that he suggests that we have the capacity to learn to live within the planet’s means. I personally call this the sweet spot in history. Never before have we had the knowledge and opportunity as good as we have now to make change. The great message Wilson conveys is that there’s still time.— Kate Murphy
Library Journal
According to two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Wilson (The Ants), recent advances in evolutionary science provide practical answers to two of humanity's enduring existential questions: Who are we? Where did we come from? Succinctly, Wilson explains that we are members of a "eusocial" species with behaviors, aptitudes, and perceptions that evolved via interplay among multilevel evolutionary forces. Our innate, interdependent social organization evolved in response to pressures not fundamentally different from those that led to stratified insect "superorganism" colonies. The difference is intelligence, and Wilson shows how culture, religion, altruism, conflict, and even art can be explained by an evolutionary tug-of-war between the pressures of individual versus group selection. A positive answer to humanity's last big question—Where are we going?—depends on our ability to use our species' self-knowledge to create the world we want. VERDICT Wilson is a prolific and popular biological theorist, and this significant addition to his legacy of thought will be controversial, provocative, and influential.—Gregg Sapp, Olympia WA
Kirkus Reviews
Never shy about tackling big questions, veteran evolutionary biologist Wilson (The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, 2006, etc.) delivers his thoughtful if contentious explanation of why humans rule the Earth. After a respectful nod to the old favorites (big brains, tools, language, fire), the author maintains that these merely provide the background to our overpowering "eusociality"; we are the world's most intensely social creatures, living in complex societies of mutually dependent individuals. Wilson adds that another eusocial organism, the ant, dominated terrestrial life for 50 million years before humans appeared; it remains a close second. The author provides a provocative comparison of how this powerful but rare evolutionary strategy vaulted two wildly different species to the top of the heap. Both originated with individuals cooperating and behaving altruistically, often sacrificing themselves, to protect a defensible nest. For humans this crucial step began when extended families of our Homo erectus ancestors gathered around campfires over one million years ago. Gradually members of multiple generations divided labor and specialized. Natural selection worked to expand this eusociality, and Wilson emphasizes that it was the group that evolved. Whether they were genetically related or not mattered little. Group selection—as opposed to kin selection, i.e., the "selfish gene" à la Richard Dawkins—is the author's big idea. Few lay readers will disagree, but Wilson's fellow biologists are not so sure; kin versus group selection remains a subject of fierce debate. Wilson succeeds in explaining his complex ideas, so attentive readers will receive a deeply satisfying exposure to a major scientific controversy.
Colin Woodard
…an ambitious and thoroughly engaging work that's certain to generate controversy within the walls of academia and without…Provocative, eloquent and unflinchingly forthright, Wilson remains true to form, producing a book that's anything but dull and bound to receive plenty of attention from supporters and critics alike.
—The Washington Post
Jennifer Schuessler - New York Times
“A sweeping account of the human rise to domination of the biosphere, rounded out with broad reflections on art, ethics, language and religion.”
Newsweek
“Religion. Sports. War. Biologist E.O. Wilson says our drive to join a group—and to fight for it—is what makes us human.”
Paul Bloom - New York Times Book Review
“Wilson’s examples of insect eusociality are dazzling… There are obvious parallels with human practices like war and agriculture, but Wilson is also sensitive to the differences… This book offers a detailed reconstruction of what we know about the evolutionary histories of these two very different conquerors. Wilson’s careful and clear analysis reminds us that scientific accounts of our origins aren’t just more accurate than religious stories; they are also a lot more interesting.”
Carl Coon - The Humanist
“Wilson has done an impressive job of pulling all this evidence together and analyzing it. His interdisciplinary approach, his established scholarship, and his willingness to engage hot-button issues are all much in evidence in The Social Conquest of Earth…. His reflections on this subject are varied, original, and thought provoking—as is the rest of his book.”
Michael Gazzaniga - Wall Street Journal
“A sweeping argument about the biological origins of complex human culture. It is full of both virtuosity and raw, abrupt assertions that are nonetheless well-crafted and captivating... it is fascinating to see such a distinguished scientist optimistic about the future.”
Howard W. French - The Atlantic
“Wilson’s newest theory...could transform our understanding of human nature—and provide hope for our stewardship of the planet.... [His] new book is not limited to the discussion of evolutionary biology, but ranges provocatively through the humanities.... Its impact on the social sciences could be as great as its importance for biology, advancing human self-understanding in ways typically associated with the great philosophers.”
James D. Watson
“A monumental exploration of the biological origins of the Human Condition!”
Oliver Sacks
“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.”
Jonah Lehrer - New Yorker
“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.”
Booklist
“Starred review. With bracing insights into instinct, language, organized religion, the humanities, science, and social intelligence, this is a deeply felt, powerfully written, and resounding inquiry into the human condition.”
Larry Lebowitz - Miami Herald
“That Wilson provides nimble, lucid responses to the three core questions, speaks volumes about his intellectual rigor. That he covers all of this heady terrain in less than 300 pages of text speaks volumes about his literary skill.”
Scientific American
“Wilson offers a full explanation of his latest thinking on evolution. . . . The book is bound to stir controversy on these and other subjects for years to come.”— Sandra Upson and Anna Kuchment
Sandra Upson and Anna Kuchment - Scientific American
“Wilson offers a full explanation of his latest thinking on evolution. . . . The book is bound to stir controversy on these and other subjects for years to come.”
Colin Woodard - Washington Post
“An ambitious and thoroughly engaging work that’s certain to generate controversy within the walls of academia and without… Provocative, eloquent and unflinchingly forthright, Wilson remains true to form, producing a book that’s anything but dull and bound to receive plenty of attention from supporters and critics alike.”
Clive Cookson - Financial Times
“"Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?” Those famous questions, inscribed by Paul Gauguin in his giant Tahitian painting of 1897, introduce The Social Conquest of Earth. Their choice proclaims Edward O Wilson’s ambitions for his splendid book, in which he sums up 60 distinguished years of research into the evolution of human beings and social insects.”
Rudy M. Baum - Chemical & Engineering News
“Wilson is a brilliant stylist, and his account of the rise of Homo sapiens and our species’ conquest of Earth is informative, thrilling, and utterly captivating.”
New York Times
“I just finished The Social Conquest of Earth, a fabulous book.”— President Bill Clinton
New York Times Book Review
“Wilson’s examples of insect eusociality are dazzling… There are obvious parallels with human practices like war and agriculture, but Wilson is also sensitive to the differences… This book offers a detailed reconstruction of what we know about the evolutionary histories of these two very different conquerors. Wilson’s careful and clear analysis reminds us that scientific accounts of our origins aren’t just more accurate than religious stories; they are also a lot more interesting.”— Paul Bloom
The Humanist
“Wilson has done an impressive job of pulling all this evidence together and analyzing it. His interdisciplinary approach, his established scholarship, and his willingness to engage hot-button issues are all much in evidence in The Social Conquest of Earth…. His reflections on this subject are varied, original, and thought provoking—as is the rest of his book.”— Carl Coon
Wall Street Journal
“A sweeping argument about the biological origins of complex human culture. It is full of both virtuosity and raw, abrupt assertions that are nonetheless well-crafted and captivating... it is fascinating to see such a distinguished scientist optimistic about the future.”— Michael Gazzaniga
The Atlantic
“Wilson’s newest theory...could transform our understanding of human nature—and provide hope for our stewardship of the planet.... [His] new book is not limited to the discussion of evolutionary biology, but ranges provocatively through the humanities.... Its impact on the social sciences could be as great as its importance for biology, advancing human self-understanding in ways typically associated with the great philosophers.”— Howard W. French
New Yorker
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
Miami Herald
“That Wilson provides nimble, lucid responses to the three core questions, speaks volumes about his intellectual rigor. That he covers all of this heady terrain in less than 300 pages of text speaks volumes about his literary skill.”— Larry Lebowitz
James H. Fowler - Nature
“Biologist E. O. Wilson’s brilliant new volume, The Social Conquest of Earth, could more aptly be entitled ‘Biology’s Conquest of Science’. Drawing on his deep understanding of entomology and his extraordinarily broad knowledge of the natural and social sciences, Wilson makes a strong case for the synthesis of knowledge across disciplines. Understanding the biological origin of what makes us human can help us to build better theories of social and psychological interaction; in turn, understanding how other social species have evolved may help us to better understand the origin of our own. But the main reason that Wilson’s book is successful is that he also brings into biology the best of what social science has to offer.”
President Bill Clinton - New York Times
“I just finished The Social Conquest of Earth, a fabulous book.”
Jared Diamond
“Once again, Ed Wilson has written a book combining the qualities that have brought his previous books Pulitzer Prizes and millions of readers: a big but simple question, powerful explanations, magisterial knowledge of the sciences and humanities, and beautiful writing understandable to a wide public.”
Henry L. Carrigan
“With his probing curiosity, his dazzling research, his elegant prose and his deep commitment to bio-diversity, Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist (The Ants) and novelist (The Anthill) Edward O. Wilson has spent his life searching for the evolutionary paths by which humans developed and passed along the social behaviors that best promote the survival of our species. His eloquent, magisterial and compelling new book offers a kind of summing-up of his magnificent career.... While not everyone will agree with Wilson’s provocative and challenging conclusions, everyone who engages with his ideas will discover sparkling gems of wisdom uncovered by the man who is our Darwin and our Thoreau.”
Stephen Greenblatt
“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.”
New York Times Book Review - Paul Bloom
“Wilson’s examples of insect eusociality are dazzling… There are obvious parallels with human practices like war and agriculture, but Wilson is also sensitive to the differences… This book offers a detailed reconstruction of what we know about the evolutionary histories of these two very different conquerors. Wilson’s careful and clear analysis reminds us that scientific accounts of our origins aren’t just more accurate than religious stories; they are also a lot more interesting.”
New York Times - Jennifer Schuessler
“A sweeping account of the human rise to domination of the biosphere, rounded out with broad reflections on art, ethics, language and religion.”
Nature - James H. Fowler
“Biologist E. O. Wilson’s brilliant new volume, The Social Conquest of Earth, could more aptly be entitled ‘Biology’s Conquest of Science’. Drawing on his deep understanding of entomology and his extraordinarily broad knowledge of the natural and social sciences, Wilson makes a strong case for the synthesis of knowledge across disciplines. Understanding the biological origin of what makes us human can help us to build better theories of social and psychological interaction; in turn, understanding how other social species have evolved may help us to better understand the origin of our own. But the main reason that Wilson’s book is successful is that he also brings into biology the best of what social science has to offer.”
The Atlantic - Howard W. French
“Wilson’s newest theory...could transform our understanding of human nature—and provide hope for our stewardship of the planet.... [His] new book is not limited to the discussion of evolutionary biology, but ranges provocatively through the humanities.... Its impact on the social sciences could be as great as its importance for biology, advancing human self-understanding in ways typically associated with the great philosophers.”
Wall Street Journal - Michael Gazzaniga
“A sweeping argument about the biological origins of complex human culture. It is full of both virtuosity and raw, abrupt assertions that are nonetheless well-crafted and captivating... it is fascinating to see such a distinguished scientist optimistic about the future.”
New Yorker - Jonah Lehrer
“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.”
Miami Herald - Larry Lebowitz
“That Wilson provides nimble, lucid responses to the three core questions, speaks volumes about his intellectual rigor. That he covers all of this heady terrain in less than 300 pages of text speaks volumes about his literary skill.”
Washington Post - Colin Woodard
“An ambitious and thoroughly engaging work that’s certain to generate controversy within the walls of academia and without… Provocative, eloquent and unflinchingly forthright, Wilson remains true to form, producing a book that’s anything but dull and bound to receive plenty of attention from supporters and critics alike.”
Financial Times - Clive Cookson
“"Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?" Those famous questions, inscribed by Paul Gauguin in his giant Tahitian painting of 1897, introduce The Social Conquest of Earth. Their choice proclaims Edward O Wilson’s ambitions for his splendid book, in which he sums up 60 distinguished years of research into the evolution of human beings and social insects.”
The Humanist - Carl Coon
“Wilson has done an impressive job of pulling all this evidence together and analyzing it. His interdisciplinary approach, his established scholarship, and his willingness to engage hot-button issues are all much in evidence in The Social Conquest of Earth…. His reflections on this subject are varied, original, and thought provoking—as is the rest of his book.”
New York Times - Bill Clinton
“I just finished The Social Conquest of Earth, a fabulous book.”
Scientific American - Sandra Upson and Anna Kuchment
“Wilson offers a full explanation of his latest thinking on evolution. . . . The book is bound to stir controversy on these and other subjects for years to come.”
Chemical & Engineering News - Rudy M. Baum
“Wilson is a brilliant stylist, and his account of the rise of Homo sapiens and our species’ conquest of Earth is informative, thrilling, and utterly captivating.”
Chemical & Engineering News
“Wilson is a brilliant stylist, and his account of the rise of Homo sapiens and our species’ conquest of Earth is informative, thrilling, and utterly captivating.”— Rudy M. Baum
Washington Post
“An ambitious and thoroughly engaging work that’s certain to generate controversy within the walls of academia and without… Provocative, eloquent and unflinchingly forthright, Wilson remains true to form, producing a book that’s anything but dull and bound to receive plenty of attention from supporters and critics alike.”— Colin Woodard
Financial Times
“"Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?” Those famous questions, inscribed by Paul Gauguin in his giant Tahitian painting of 1897, introduce The Social Conquest of Earth. Their choice proclaims Edward O Wilson’s ambitions for his splendid book, in which he sums up 60 distinguished years of research into the evolution of human beings and social insects.”— Clive Cookson
Nature
“Biologist E. O. Wilson’s brilliant new volume, The Social Conquest of Earth, could more aptly be entitled ‘Biology’s Conquest of Science’. Drawing on his deep understanding of entomology and his extraordinarily broad knowledge of the natural and social sciences, Wilson makes a strong case for the synthesis of knowledge across disciplines. Understanding the biological origin of what makes us human can help us to build better theories of social and psychological interaction; in turn, understanding how other social species have evolved may help us to better understand the origin of our own. But the main reason that Wilson’s book is successful is that he also brings into biology the best of what social science has to offer.”— James H. Fowler

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780871404138
Publisher:
Liveright Publishing Corporation
Publication date:
04/09/2012
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
381,554
Product dimensions:
6.46(w) x 9.34(h) x 1.17(d)

What People are saying about this

Oliver Sacks
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.
James D. Watson
A monumental exploration of the biological origins of the Human Condition!

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