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Nonzero: History, Evolution & Human Cooperation: The Logic of Human Destiny [Paperback]

Robert Wright
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
RRP: 12.99
Price: 10.39 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

6 Sep 2001
In a book sure to stir argument for years to come, Robert Wright challen+ges the conventional view that biological evolution and human history are aimless. Ingeniously employing game theory - the logic of 'zero-sum' and 'non-zero-sum' games - Wright isolates the impetus behind life's basic direction: the impetus that, via biological evolution, created complex, intelligent animals, and then via cultural evolution, pushed the human species towards deeper and vaster social complexity. In this view, the coming of today's independent global society was 'in the cards' - not quite inevitable, but, as Wright puts it, 'so probable as to inspire wonder'. In a narrative of breathtaking scope and erudition, yet pungent wit, Wright takes on some of the past century's most prominent thinkers, including Isaiah Berlin, Karl Popper, Stephen Jay Gould, and Richard Dawkins. Wright argues that a coolly specific appraisal of humanity's three-billion-year past can give new spiritual meaning to the present and even offer political guidance for the future. This book will change the way people think about the human prospect.

Frequently Bought Together

Nonzero: History, Evolution & Human Cooperation: The Logic of Human Destiny + The Moral Animal: Why We Are The Way We Are + The Evolution Of God: The origins of our beliefs
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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus; New Ed edition (6 Sep 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349113343
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349113340
  • Product Dimensions: 12.4 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 372,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

One of the main layman's objections to the supposedly random process of evolution is that for all its inherent pointlessness, evolution seems to have a goal, a narrative, a conscious direction. And that direction is towards complexity. Germs become animals. Apes become humans. Blood-caked Aztec savages become liberal-minded East Coast essayists. Now Robert Wright, author of the much-praised The Moral Animal, has come along with a contentious new book to tell us that the layman has been on to something all along. Evolution does have a goal.

The title of Wright's book comes from games theory, which divides human interactions into "zero sum games", where for every winner there's a loser, and "non-zero sum games", where everyone gains. Wright's aim is to knit together this theory with anthropology, zoology, biology, and history, plus a dash of chaos theory, and thus attest that "non-zero sum altruism" is the natural inclination of humankind. To prove this he cites such disparate phenomena as the sago-swapping natives of the US Northwest, the global government-in-waiting that is the European Union, and the anarchically generous ethos that rules the Net--all of which apparently go to show that we are, deep down, caring, sharing nice guys. Wright's second aim is to show this niceness is no accident: evolution helps to make us that way.

The author's learning is lightly worn. Sometimes too lightly. After a while his chatty, hey-let's-have-a-beer style starts to grate: "When was the last time you invented a boomerang?"; "Ah, Tahiti!". There are also some minor errors, like his claiming that Britain fought the Hundred Years War (it was England), or his perception that milkmen are a thing of the past, that make you wonder whether he has finessed some of the more intractable scientific arguments. Certainly his book has already attracted some brickbats from the atheistic hardnuts of evolutionary psychology. But the case that he advocates remains as exciting as it is unsettling. Because, if evolution does have a point, if human history has a deliberate, conscious, "narrative drive", who had the idea? Who's the scriptwriter of Man, the Movie? --Sean Thomas --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Wright has constructed an interesting thesis... bold and thought-provoking. (SUNDAY TIMES)

Not only a fascinating read but an important one. (INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY)

One of the main layman's objections to the supposedly random process of evolution is that for all its inherent pointlessness, evolution seems to have a goal, a narrative, a conscious direction. And that direction is towards complexity. Germs become animals. Apes become humans. Blood-caked Aztec savages become liberal-minded East Coast essayists. Now Robert Wright, author of the much-praised The Moral Animal, has come along with a contentious new book to tell us that the layman has been on to something all along. Evolution does have a goal. (The title of Wright's book comes from games theory, which divides human interactions into "zero sum games", where for every winner there's a loser, and "non-zero sum games", where everyone gains. Wright's aim is to knit together this theory with anthropol)

The author's learning is lightly worn. Sometimes too lightly. After a while his chatty, hey-let's-have-a-beer style starts to grate: "When was the last time you invented a boomerang?"; "Ah, Tahiti!". There are also some minor errors, like his claiming tha (Sean Thomas, AMAZON.CO.UK REVIEW)

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
The Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg once ended a book on this note: "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless." Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An optimist's sociological musings 8 Oct 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
A few years ago, with "Moral Animal" Robert Wright caused a complete turnaround in my recreational reading habits from mostly fiction to mostly nonfiction. His style was easy and stimulating and generated a new interest in evolutionary science in general and evolutionary psychology in particular, and, perhaps with most consequence, introduced me to the current rennaisance in popular science writing. It was therefore with a keen sense of anticipation that I picked up a copy of his latest, "Nonzero".
The book is written in two parts, the first sociological in orientation and the second biological, and finishes up with a few guesses as to the future of mankind. The basic topic is a game-theoretical take on the positive consequences of mutually self-interested cooperation, which the author enshrines in the unfortunately ugly phrase "nonzero-summness". In a defensively apologetic appendix, Wright confesses he wanted to use this as the title. I'm glad he didn't.
The phrase "zero sum" is in fairly common use in the US, although I have not heard it much in Europe; it means an interaction where there is no overall, net gain for the parties concerned. A boxing match is a zero sum game, one man wins, another loses. In contrast, Wright's interest is in interactions whose results are positive for all parties, generating "progress". Examples are easy - consider the organisation between different people with different expertise it takes to, say, build a house.
In a necessarily thin history of the human race, Wright finds this nonzero-summness wherever he looks, elevating it, more or less, to the level of an over-arching principle of the development of life and, inevitably, the development of human society.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth reading 12 July 2007
Format:Paperback
I see this book hasn't been reviewed on Amazon for more than 5 years, so the comments need an update. I recommend anyone browsing here to give the book a try. I don't agree with previous reviewers that the ideas in this book are superficial: Rather they are so fundamental to the way the world works that the examples appear self evident when the author raises them. Why not decide for yourself? It's very readable, whether or not you finde it also thought provoking.
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1.0 out of 5 stars This should be a short paper not a book 31 Aug 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I bought this book after seeing a positive review elsewhere (I am a mathematician with a long-term interest in game theory and operations research) and was extremely disappointed with it. The premise is fine but could easily be stated and supported in a 2-3 page paper. As a full-length book, however, it does not work. It is endlessly repetitive with very little variation and the author's somewhat vague style exacerbates this. After the first chapter I took it down the charity shop.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent and thought-provoking 19 Oct 2009
Format:Paperback
I'd lent my first copy out a few years ago, and am glad to have reordered it - really broad-ranging, thought-provoking and interesting. Covers a lot of ground without being superficial, and a really valuable angle to take.

This book may not appeal to the cynical, but I thought it was unusual and enriching.
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