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The Social Conquest of Earth Hardcover – Mar 27 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Liveright; 1 edition (March 27 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871404133
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871404138
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 3 x 24.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 662 g
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #123,417 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Religion. Sports. War. Biologist E.O. Wilson says our drive to join a group—and to fight for it—is what makes us human. — Newsweek

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 (The Humanist)

... a sweeping account of the human rise to domination of the biosphere, rounded out with broad reflections on art, ethics, language and religion. — Jennifer Schuessler (New York Times)

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 (New York Times Book Review)

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

...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 (Wall Street Journal)

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. — Jared Diamond, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs and Steel

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 (The Atlantic)

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

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

Starred review. Never shy about tackling big questions, veteran evolutionary biologist Wilson (The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth) delivers his thoughtful if contentious explanation of why humans rule the Earth... Wilson succeeds in explaining his complex ideas, so attentive readers will receive a deeply satisfying exposure to a major scientific controversy. — Kirkus Reviews

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)

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. — Booklist

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 (Miami Herald)

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 Harvard Crimson)

The Harvard University naturalist and Pulitzer Prize winner angered many colleagues two years ago, when he repudiated a concept within evolutionary theory that he had brought to prominence. Known as kin selection or inclusive fitness, the half-century-old idea helped to explain the puzzling existence of altruism among animals. Why, for instance, do some birds help their parents raise chicks instead of having chicks of their own? Why are worker ants sterile? The answer, according to kin selection theory, has been that aiding your relatives can sometimes spread your common genes faster than bearing offspring of your own.

In The Social Conquest of Earth, Wilson offers a full explanation of his latest thinking on evolution. Group dynamics, not selfish genes, drive altruism, he argues: “Colonies of cheaters lose to colonies of cooperators.” As the cooperative colonies dominate and multiply, so do their alleged ”altruism” genes. Wilson uses what he calls “multilevel selection”—group and individual selection combined—to discuss the emergence of the creative arts and humanities, morality, religion, language and the very nature of humans. Along the way, he pauses to reject religion, decry the way humans have despoiled the environment and, in something of a non sequitur, dismiss the need for manned space exploration. The book is bound to stir controversy on these and other subjects for years to come. — Sandra Upson and Anna Kuchment (Scientific American)

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 (The Daily)

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. — Henry L. Carrigan, Jr. (

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 (Nature Magazine)

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 (Washington Post)

"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 (Financial Times)

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 (Chemical & Engineering News)

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 (Washington Independent Review of Books)

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 (New York Times Sunday Review)

I just finished The Social Conquest of Earth, a fabulous book. — President Bill Clinton (New York Times)

About the Author

Edward O. Wilson is widely recognized as one of the world's preeminent biologists and naturalists. The author of more than twenty books, including The Creation, The Social Conquest of Earth, The Meaning of Human Existence, and Letters to a Young Scientist, Wilson is a professor emeritus at Harvard University. The winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, he lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By ronbc TOP 100 REVIEWER on Nov. 22 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Wilson has long been recognized as the expert on ants and other “eusocial” insects, which live together in altruistic groups of specialized workers. Some of his critics think that he has applied his insights into ants rather too directly to human social groups, but I didn’t get that impression from the book.

Indeed, Wilson is careful to distinguish between humans and other social species, including our closest primate relatives. He makes this distinction early, and he keeps returning to it.

There are major differences between humans and the insects even aside from our unique possession of culture, language, and high intelligence. Prehuman ancestors had to achieve eusociality in a radically different way from the instinct-driven insects. The pathway to eusociality was charted by a contest between selection based on the relative success of individuals within groups versus relative success among groups.

The insects could evolve to eusociality by individual selection in the queen line, generation to generation; the prehumans evolved to eusociality by the interplay of selection at the level of individual selection and at the level of the group.

One of the most engaging ideas in The Social Conquest of Earth is Wilson’s claim that multi-level selection is the engine that drives the duality of human nature. In its simplest form, Wilson’s idea is that the tension we all feel between selfish and generous, aggressive and accepting, “me” and “us,” is the eternal clash between the contrary impulses of the biological products of individual and group selection.

The human condition is an endemic turmoil rooted in the evolution processes that created us. The worst in our nature coexists with the best, and so it will ever be.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Santos on Aug. 21 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was sorely disappointed with the Social Conquest of the Earth. I had read the essay Edward Wilson co-wrote with David Sloan Wilson on group selection and its place in sociobiology a few years ago in the Quarterly Review of Biology, and had been looking forward to a book by E.O. Wilson on the subject for some time. I had previously read Consilience and found it immensely rewarding. For someone with a growing interest in evolution (but no formal education in the hard sciences) it was a real joy to read and I took much from it. Not least of which was a great respect for Wilson's vast knowledge, not only of science, but also of the humanities. I had also read On Human Nature, and although it was quite dated by the time it fell into my hands, it was still very insightful. Wilson has made a tremendous contribution to the sciences, particularly evolutionary biology. His work on sociobiology and its offshoot, evolutionary psychology, has been revolutionary. Not just in the 1970s when he began writing about it, but even now. Over the last (roughly) decade, a small library of work has been produced on the importance of cooperation in evolution and the role evolution has played in the development of moral systems. Much of this has its modern roots in Wilson's contribution to evolution.

Unfortunately, this book fell far short of what I had hoped Wilson would contribute to this area of evolutionary studies. The book, overall, did not build toward a coherent argument in favour of group selection's importance to evolution. The chapters read more like individual, second-rate essays on a disconnected issues that only loosely link back to group selection. At certain points, he seems to barely make an effort to tie in individual chapters with the overall stated objective of the book.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Brian Griffith TOP 500 REVIEWER on Sept. 9 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
At first, Wilson seems very hard-headed and technical with his intricate analysis of how social life evolved. He's perhaps the world's greatest expert on social insects, so his comparison of sociality among the bugs and the humans gives a great combination of fine detail with broad perspective. Because Wilson looks at clanishness and meat eating as utterly necessary steps in the evolution of human communities, I thought he was going to defend tribalism as a necessary reality of life. But as he reviews human history and modern social trends, he sees a critical path toward inclusivity, creativity, and mutual care as the requirements for success, which will replace tribal-style culture and religion as known in the past.
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