As someone interested in people, I read a lot about evolutionary psychology. Unfortunately, most of the discussions of Evolutionary Psychology that I've run into are less than well founded. However, up until now, I haven't really had much chance to read anyone who was intimately familiar with the data. Chris Boehm fixed that.
What do you get if you cross an Anthropologist, familiar with latest research on the !Kung, the Yanomamo, and all the other modern hunter-gatherer types we know of, with a primatologist, a passing-good archaeologist, and a very careful thinker? Christopher Boehm, author of this book.
The question is:
What is the human being's natural relationship to authority and egalitarianism.
The answer that the author proposes is:
As with most social pack animals, Homo Sapiens' ancestors appear to have been quite hierarchical multiple millions of years ago. In a wrestling/boxing match, the strongest guy almost always wins. When humans developed weaponry (Simple clubs, spears, arrows), Egalitarianism quickly became the norm, and was the stable norm for hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million years. This is probably due to the game theory of combat with weapons (the stronger guy only wins 60% of the time). About 10K years ago, agriculture developed, followed almost immediately by food storage. Food storage again changed the game theory, and hierarchy was again established.
Human beings thus have an evolutionary history of hierarchy, followed by a rabid egalitarianism, and an evolutionarily recent re-creation of hierarchy.
More impressive though than the hypothesis is how the author writes the book. Careful, measured, and both cognizant and respectful of alternate opinions. I can't say enough nice things about the book...if you like reading academic, careful work.