I read a lot, but I rarely suggest books to people I am acquainted with (you know, people get sick of that sort of thing); however, since I finished reading this book, I can honestly say that this is the one volume I have actually recommended to my friends and family. This book covers a crucial aspect of our modern life and is far-and-away one of the most indispensable pieces of scientific writing I have read to date. For example, take this quote from the Preface: "Many problems that challenge us today can be traced back to a profound tension between what is good and desirable for society as a whole and what is good and desirable for an individual. That conflict can be found in global problems such as climate change, pollution, resource depletion, poverty, hunger, and overpopulation. The biggest issues of all - saving the planet and maximizing the collective lifetime of the species Homo sapiens - cannot be solved by technology alone. They require novel ways for us to work in harmony. If we are to continue to thrive, we have but one option. We now have to manage the planet as a whole. If we are to win the struggle for existence, and avoid a precipitous fall, there's no choice but to harness this extraordinary creative force. We now have to refine and to extend our ability to cooperate. We must become familiar with the science of cooperation. Now, more than ever, the world needs SuperCooperators."
One reviewer called Martin Nowak a virtuoso, this is most certainly true, and it may even be an understatement. It would seem that Dr. Nowak has his hands in nearly every discipline and knows nearly everyone who is anyone in the scientific community. Furthermore, whether he's discussing Game Theory, Evolutionary Biology, Mathematics, Multi-Level Selection, Language, the Tragedy of the Commons, Networks, or Evolutionary Graph Theory, the writing is always vigorous, entertaining, and accessible. In essence, you could probably spend countless days reading works like: Darwin's Conjecture: The Search for General Principles of Social and Economic Evolution, Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save it, Living within Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed: Revised Edition, Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality, The Extended Mind: The Emergence of Language, the Human Mind, and Culture (Toronto Studies in Semiotics and Communication), or Making the Social World: The Structure of Human Civilization, (like I have done) or, you could save yourself some time and read this one book. Martin Nowak and Roger Highfield have written an absolutely incredible book. I really can't recommend this book enough. Here is just one quote, of many, which I found to be sublime: "The story of humanity is one that rests on the never-ending creative tension between the dark pursuit of selfish short-term interests and the shining example of striving toward collective long-term goals. I believe we now understand how defection in the Prisoner's Dilemma can be trumped by cooperation. And, just as [Gustav] Mahler ends on an upbeat note, so I believe the emphasis on cooperation puts a more optimistic sheen on life than the traditional take on Darwin, which condemns all life to a protracted and bloody struggle for survival and reproduction. Mutation and natural selection are not enough in themselves to understand life. You need cooperation too. Cooperation was the principle architect of 4 billion years of evolution. Cooperation built the first bacterial cells, then higher cells, then complex multicellular life and insect superorganisms. Finally cooperation constructed humanity."
The chapters are: 0) The Prisoner's Dilemma, 1) Direct Reciprocity - Tit for Tat, 2) Indirect Reciprocity - Power of Reputation, 3) Spatial Games - Chessboard of Life, 4) Group Selection - Tribal Wars, 5) Kin Selection - Nepotism, 6) Prelife, 7) Society of Cells, 8) The Lord of the Ants, 9) The Gift of Gab, 10) Public Goods, 11) Punish and Perish, 12) How Many Friends Are Too Many?, 13) Game, Set, and Match, and 14) Crescendo of Cooperation. There are a couple of books I would also encourage the interested reader to pursue after reading this book, Peter Corning's: The Fair Society: The Science of Human Nature and the Pursuit of Social Justice and Chris Martenson's: The Crash Course: The Unsustainable Future Of Our Economy, Energy, And Environment)