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The Social Conquest of Earth Hardcover – 4 May 2012

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Liveright; 1 edition (4 May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871404133
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871404138
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 0.3 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 260,733 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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

"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. --Financial Times

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

The Social Conquest of Earth is one of the supreme examples of evolutionist writing --Literary Review

About the Author

Edward O. Wilson, a professor emeritus at Harvard University, is the author of more than twenty-five books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Ants and the bestselling novel Anthill (ISBN 978 0 393 33970 3). Also available: The Superorganism (ISBN 978 0 393 06704 0) and From So Simple a Beginning (ISBN 978 0 393 06134 5).

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By The Outsider on 16 Mar. 2013
Format: Hardcover
Those who challenge EO Wilson's slow conversion to group selection over kin selection, obviously hate this erudite ode to eusociality, and rightly so. It demonstrates the wisdom of his careful and detailed demolition of kin selection as a limited and mostly irrelevant determinant of evolutionary behaviour. I would imagine it was Wilson's unchallengable mastery of the insect world - and his 40 year obsession to link the behaviour of man to insect - that finally swayed him to this new understanding.

Edward O. Wilson is a professor emeritus at Harvard University in entymology and a founder of evolutionary biology and psychology. He is one of the world's great intellectuals. He is as influential in his sphere as the Beatles were to mid-sities pop music. He writes with clarity and ease, and cares deeply about science. His long dissection of the group vs. kin selection rests on eusociality, the societies of insects and people, who rule the earth through group co-operation. One memorable idea is that, while a selfish individual might triumph over a co-operative one, a selfish group loses out to a co-operative group - all the time. Some of the detailed anecdotes about insect behaviour still astonish the non-scientists among us (me!)

I particularly loved the final chapters of this book, especially the one in which he evicerates religion. In this he makes Dawkins look hysteric without much effort. To Wilson, the natural world, with all its wonders, knocks the spots off the imaginary world of 'faith.' Be prepared to take another look at The Selfish Gene and other works based in kin selection. There is a better idea, and Wilson shows it to us.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Hugh Small on 14 April 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
E. O. Wilson has ignited a valuable debate about how altruism evolved in humans. As an insect specialist he more or less put 'inclusive fitness' or 'Hamilton's rule' on the map as natural selection's preferred mechanism for the evolution of altruism. Then in a famous 2010 article in Nature, and now in The Social Conquest of Earth he says that he was completely wrong and that 'group selection' is how altruism evolved in both eusocial insects and humanity. By group selection Wilson means war to the death between groups - 'total war'. This idea has been around a long time; Darwin believed it, talking off the top of his head without any archaeological evidence about what happened during the two million years of humanity's evolution, and misled by an idea ('Pangenesis') that learned experience was passed down from generation to generation. Recently Samuel Bowles published a paper in Science showing mathematically that warfare could preserve a fragile form of altruism if a mutation for it occurred. Wilson now makes the startling claim that because Bowles's archaeological data shows warfare 'from the beginning of Neolithic times', therefore 'tribal aggressiveness thus goes back well beyond Neolithic times, but no one as yet can say exactly how far'. He then goes on to speculate that because the common chimpanzee is warlike 'there is a good chance' that tribal aggressiveness goes back six million years. The reality is that once you look beyond inclusive fitness (which is one way that altruism can evolve in some creatures) there are many ways that altruism can evolve in humans. People love the idea that warfare delivers benefits, possibly because it reassuringly exorcises war's horrors and apparent inevitability in the modern world.Read more ›
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44 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Ashtar Command on 10 May 2012
Format: Hardcover
"The Social Conquest of Earth" is Edward O. Wilson's latest book, published this year. Wilson is a leading myrmecologist who went on to become the grand old man of sociobiology.

In my opinion, Wilson's book is over-hyped by the publisher. It's interesting, to be sure - you can take it from me, I'm a critic of sociobiology, while being somewhat fond of ants! However, the book is to a large extent simply a summary of Wilson's earlier books and scientific papers (which he often references). I consider it to be an introduction to Wilson, rather than some kind of dramatic, super-genial work on par with Darwin's "The Origin of Species".


The main point of the book is to rehabilitate the concept of group selection, 36 years after "The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins made the public aware of its burial by the Neo-Darwinists. Wilson no longer claims that W. D. Hamilton's ideas about kin selection can explain the evolution of eusociality among insects. Instead, he believes that complex insect societies (e.g. among hymenopterans) are a product of individual selection of queens, with the worker-castes being a kind of robotic extension of the queen's phenotype. There's also group selection targeting the entire colony. The chapters on insects are rather technical, but if Wilson is right, I wonder why inclusive-fitness selection was upheld for so long. Apparently, the concept never worked for termites, which evolved eusociality independently of the hymenopterans. According to Wilson, the concept didn't work very well for hymenopterans either, to the point where "kin" was defined in a completely arbitrary manner.
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