Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society

Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society

by Nicholas A. Christakis MD, PhD
Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society

Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society

by Nicholas A. Christakis MD, PhD


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"A dazzlingly erudite synthesis of history, philosophy, anthropology, genetics, sociology, economics, epidemiology, statistics, and more" (Frank Bruni, The New York Times), Blueprint shows why evolution has placed us on a humane path — and how we are united by our common humanity.

For too long, scientists have focused on the dark side of our biological heritage: our capacity for aggression, cruelty, prejudice, and self-interest. But natural selection has given us a suite of beneficial social features, including our capacity for love, friendship, cooperation, and learning. Beneath all of our inventions — our tools, farms, machines, cities, nations — we carry with us innate proclivities to make a good society.

In Blueprint, Nicholas A. Christakis introduces the compelling idea that our genes affect not only our bodies and behaviors, but also the ways in which we make societies, ones that are surprisingly similar worldwide.

With many vivid examples — including diverse historical and contemporary cultures, communities formed in the wake of shipwrecks, commune dwellers seeking utopia, online groups thrown together by design or involving artificially intelligent bots, and even the tender and complex social arrangements of elephants and dolphins that so resemble our own — Christakis shows that, despite a human history replete with violence, we cannot escape our social blueprint for goodness.

In a world of increasing political and economic polarization, it's tempting to ignore the positive role of our evolutionary past. But by exploring the ancient roots of goodness in civilization, Blueprint shows that our genes have shaped societies for our welfare and that, in a feedback loop stretching back many thousands of years, societies are still shaping our genes today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316230049
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 03/10/2020
Pages: 544
Sales rank: 271,298
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Nicholas A. Christakis is a physician and sociologist who explores the ancient origins and modern implications of human nature. He directs the Human Nature Lab at Yale University, where he is the Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science, in the Departments of Sociology, Medicine, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Statistics and Data Science, and Biomedical Engineering. He is the Co-Director of the Yale Institute for Network Science and the co-author of Connected.

Table of Contents

Preface Our Common Humanity xv

Chapter 1 The Society Within Us 1

Chapter 2 Unintentional Communities 19

Chapter 3 Intentional Communities 59

Chapter 4 Artificial Communities 100

Chapter 5 First Comes Love 128

Chapter 6 Animal Attraction 169

Chapter 7 Animal Friends 200

Chapter 8 Friends and Networks 240

Chapter 9 One Way to Be Social 281

Chapter 10 Remote Control 332

Chapter 11 Genes and Culture 360

Chapter 12 Natural and Social Laws 389

Acknowledgments 421

Illustration Credits 423

Notes 425

Index 507

What People are Saying About This

"Blueprint is highly original and engrossing. Christakis is a fluent and lucid writer with an arresting personal voice. At the heart of the book is what he describes as ‘the social suite'—a set of cultural universals that constitute the core and the ‘blueprint' of all societies. Integral to the universality of the social suite is his contention that these key features of all human societies are shaped by natural selection and encoded in our genes. Christakis calls into question a false dichotomy between cultural and genetic evolution. Rather, he regards the two as co-existing in ways that recurrently intersect and influence one another. He shows that the similarities that exist between the social attributes of human and animal societies bind humans together in a way that heightens our common humanity. Blueprint is a richly interdisciplinary, deeply documented, brilliant opus on how our long evolutionary history bends toward a good society."—Renée C. Fox, Annenberg Professor Emerita of the Social Sciences, University of Pennsylvania

Weatherhead University Professor and Director of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science, Harvard University - Gary King

"One of the world's leading social scientists is on the hunt for the biological bounds of human culture, for what we are capable of as a species, and for society's generic tendencies. In this eloquent, wide-ranging book Nicholas A. Christakis finds what turns out to be the good news about what it means to be human."

Evolutionary biologist and author of Your Inner Fish - Neil Shubin

"In the media and online, we live with a daily barrage of the things that divide us—the differences among individuals, groups, and whole societies seem to define the ways we interact with one another. With a broad sweep of history and a deep knowledge of genetics and social science, Nicholas Christakis takes us along a different path, one that is as important as it is timely. Whether in hunter-gatherer societies, small bands of people brought together by chance, or Silicon Valley corporations, our societies are linked by the common bonds of humanity. In Blueprint, Christakis shows how we are much more than divisiveness and division; we are programmed to build and thrive in societies based on cooperation, learning, and love."

Alison Richard Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University - Gunter Wagner

“Blueprint is an extraordinarily readable and entertaining book that is also one of the most profound among recently published books on evolution. It brings to bear a long history of research to show that cooperation and pro-social traits of humans are genetically based and are the result of evolution by natural selection. By doing this, Christakis corrects one the most frequent misperceptions about biological evolution, namely that inter-individual competition is a law of nature. I only wish this book would have been published decades earlier.”

Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics, Harvard University, author of Blindspot - Mahzarin R. Banaji

“A blueprint for constructing a good society arrives when we most need it. Christakis has outrageous optimism, rooted firmly in biological and social science, that we will prevail. With a voice that is joyous and uplifting, he teaches us about the core of our nature—this obligatory patterning of ourselves into units called society, with the building blocks being love, friendship, cooperation, and learning. What an enlightened house this blueprint will build if we, the occupants, heed his message about the possibilities that lie within us.”

author of The Cultural Matrix Orlando Patterson

"Blueprint is a timely, powerful, and riveting demonstration of the inherent suite of sensibilities that drive our social life and cultural evolution. An authoritative integration of the social and evolutionary sciences, this engrossing work's great achievement is to definitively shift the focus of social inquiry from what differentiates us to our common humanity, and to show that, while we may be primed for conflict, we are also hard wired for love, friendship and cooperation, inviting us, should we choose, toward a humane society."

Author of the Pulitzer prize-winning Gulag: A History, and Washington Post columnist - Anne Applebaum

"In a book of great wisdom and unusual breadth, Nicholas A. Christakis pulls together philosophy, history, anthropology, sociology, genetics, and evolutionary biology to make an extraordinarily optimistic argument: evolution has pre-wired us for goodness. At a moment when the dark history of the early twentieth century suddenly seems relevant again, it's a relief to be reminded of why so many efforts to re-engineer human society have failed—and of why the better side of human nature often triumphs in the end."

University of Zurich - Ernst Fehr

"Blueprint is an exciting volume that constitutes a major scientific contribution of broad interest. It is a fascinating account of how genes and culture interact and how this knowledge provides the foundations for establishing a Good Society."

Author of Originals and Give and Take - Adam Grant

“It’s rare for a physician to become a prominent social scientist. It’s even rarer for him to write a book that opens your eyes to a fresh way of understanding the world. Nicholas Christakis zooms out, Yuval Noah Harari style, to look at how evolution shapes civilizations. Blueprint is a remarkably broad, deep, and provocative exploration of how good societies may be shaped less by historical forces and more by natural selection.”

Author of Grit - Angela Duckworth

"A remarkable achievement! Christakis explains, in the most lucid and accessible way imaginable, how our genetic and cultural heritages are deeply intertwined. The story of human nature is no fairy tale, but it nevertheless reveals our potential, and our proclivity, for good."

University of Pennsylvania - Coren Apicella

“At a time when it seems that nothing can unite us, Christakis cuts through our divisions to reveal a rich and poignant look at our shared human nature. Christakis’ trademark passion and broad scholarship are full-throttle as he lays out the ancient recipe for our shared humanity. Compelling, absorbing and chock-full of delightful examples of what humans can do when they band together, Blueprint is a must read.”

Showrunner The Wire and The Deuce - David Simon

"With Blueprint, a thoughtful discourse on our genetic disposition toward community, Nicholas Christakis offers a compelling argument, replete with engaging stories, against the reductive notions of so many late-stage capitalists and libertarians. We are wired for society, for cooperation, for engagement, for collective action. Darwin still applies: the survival of the fittest may mean the survival of those among us who can see beyond themselves and work with others doing the same. And therein lies some real cause for optimism.”

Former chairman of Google - Eric Schmidt

"Tribalism is all around us, but it does not have to be. After all, we are all human. Christakis shows what is possible, and what we must do.”

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