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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: 334,504 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Lindosland TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 11 Feb. 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a good book, with many interesting facts presented. What I dislike about it is that Wilson is not contrite enough about his change of mind regarding group selection - I feel I want an apology for the the fact that he, a figure of authority in the field, got it wrong, and is as responsible as anyone for holding back correct ideas for half a century (that goes for Dawkins too, who still denies group selection)! He would argue that he and his team now have the mathematical proof that group selection can work, but I doubt that proof; just as I doubt Ronald Fisher's proof regarding gene pools which has been trotted out as the basis for the 'Modern Synthesis', even though the modern synthesis was an idea propagated by a book of that title by Julian Huxley, and most of the major figures behind the modern synthesis have said either that they never read Fisher's book or that they never understood it! In both cases, my argument is not with the maths, but with the assumptions that it is based on - there are just too many cultural factors involved in sustaining groups and societies, like laws, and policing, and shaming - it isn't about just 'genes for altruism'.

Wilson should not only apologise, but he should also give full credit to those who gave us the idea of group selection long ago, in particular the Scotsman Sir Arthur Keith, who very expertly laid out the theory of group selection in his book 'A New Theory of Evolution' in 1948! Keith went on to justify war, and describe man as having a dual code which he called the 'Amity Enmity complex'. Keith saw war between tribes and cultures as essential . Wilson has stolen these ideas wholesale, and even uses the terms in-group and out-group, which Keith invented - without even a mention of Keith!
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26 of 29 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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45 of 51 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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