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Sociobiology: The New Synthesis Paperback – 1 Jul 1980

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Product details

  • Paperback: 376 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1st edition (1 July 1980)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674816242
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674816244
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 2.4 x 27.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 568,999 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


When Sociobiology was published in 1975, our reviewer, John Pfeiffer, hailed it as 'an evolutionary event.' Since then, it has become the framework for a controversial new science--the study of the biological basis for social behavior in every species, from the lowliest amoeba colony to modern human behavior. This shortened version, retaining all of Sarah Landry's illuminating drawings, makes it more accessible to general readers. New York Times Book Review A towering theoretical achievement of exceptional elegance...Like most great books, Sociobiology is unpedantic, lucid, and eminently accessible. -- Pierre L. van den Berghe Contemporary Sociology The book enthralls and enchants...If you have this book...you can begin getting your mind ready for the illuminations about human society. -- Lewis Thomas Harper's Rarely has the world been provided with such a splendid stepping stone for an exciting future of a new science. -- John Tyler Bonner Scientific American Its contents do indeed provide a new synthesis, of wide perspective and great authority...Wilson's plain uncluttered prose is a treat to read, his logic is rigorous, his arguments are lucid. -- V. C. Wymne-Edwards Nature This book will stand as a landmark in the comparative study of social behavior. Quarterly Review of Biology Sociobiology is an excellent book, full of extraordinary insights, and replete with the beauty and poetry of the animal kingdom. Times Literary Supplement It is impossible to leave Wilson's book without having one's sense of life permanently and dramatically widened. -- Fred Hapgood The Atlantic Sociobiology, a new concept, is one with extraordinary potential value for understanding and explaining human behavior. Practical Psychology

About the Author

Edward O. Wilson is Pellegrino University Professor, Emeritus, at Harvard University. In addition to two Pulitzer Prizes (one of which he shares with Bert Holldobler), Wilson has won many scientific awards, including the National Medal of Science and the Crafoord Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 9 Jun 2001
Format: Paperback
In 'Sociobiology' Wilson stakes out territory for a new science, amalgamating evolutionary biology and social sciences. Highly controversial at the time of its writing (1975) and still smouldering, the book incorporates a theory purporting to explain all social behaviour in animals and humans in terms of adaptive behaviour on a phenotype- (species-) level.
Wilson claims that altruism, aggression, sex and religion can be explained as the survival techniques of sociable species. In 'The Fontana History of the Human Sciences' Roger Smith rates sociobiology along with neuropsychology and cognitive psychology as one of the defining areas of theory of the late twentieth century. Later discredited for an apparent failure to account for much of the diversity of human culture, the theory nevertheless remains fascinating, thought-provoking, inherently credible, and, if accepted, the basis for calling into question much of what we value and redefining many of the principles our philosophies are based on.
The book itself is thorough and well-illustrated with studies and examples, primarily from Wilson's research specialisation of insects. Several chapters are dedicated to the application of the theory to human society, although in my view more attention should be paid to the ramifications of the theory for psychology and philosophy.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 7 reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Impressive 27 May 2002
By Brian Swartz - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Wilson really is one of the "twentieth centuries greatest thinkers." This is a dense and demanding publication requiring a scientifically literate audience. It covers basic concepts from altruism, selfishness, and spite; including communication, aggression, social roles, sex, and parenting from "invertebrates" to vertebrates.

Now, in 2007, this is really more of a 'classic'. For intro students, I'd first recommend getting your footing with "Animal Behavior" by Alcock, and *then progressing into more technically written publications like this one.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By Steven H Propp - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Edward Osborne Wilson (born 1929) is an American biologist, researcher, theorist, naturalist and author [he is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction]. He wrote in the Preface to this [1980] Abridged Edition, "Modern sociobiology is being created by gifted investigators who work primarily in population biology, [and] zoology... Because my training and research experience were fortuitously in the first two subjects... I decided to learn enough about vertebrates to attempt a new general summary. The result was Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, published in 1975. The book met with substantial critical success... However, its large size... and necessarily high cost prevented it from reaching much of the large audience of lay readers and students who have become interested in sociobiology ... In the present version... I have trimmed the text down... This shortened version is intended to serve both as a textbook and a semi-popular general account of sociobiology. Because of the unusual amount of interest and commentary it has generated, I have left the final chapter on human social behavior... virtually intact." (Pg. v)

He says, "Sociobiology is defined as the systematic study of the biological basis of all social behavior." (Pg. 10) He states, "These prime movers of social evolution can be divided into two broad categories of very diverse phenomena: phylogenetic inertia and ecological pressure." (Pg. 20)

He states in the first chapter, "This brings us to the central theoretical problem of sociobiology: how can altruism, which by definition reduces personal fitness, possibly evolve by natural selection? The answer is kinship: if the genes causing the altruism are shared by two organisms because of common descent, and if the altruistic act by one organism increases the joint contribution of these genes to the next generation, the propensity to altruism will spread through the gene pool. This occurs even though the altruist makes less of a solitary contribution to the gene pool as the price of its own solitary act." (Pg. 3)

He suggests, "social evolution is constrained and shaped by the necessities of sexual reproduction and not promoted by it. Courtship and sexual bonding are devices for overriding the antagonism that arises automatically from genetic differences induced by sexual reproduction." (Pg. 156) He argues, "There also exist several general conditions that promote polygamy still further. They include (1) local or seasonal superabundances of food, which permits the female to raise the young on her own and the male to go off in search of additional females; (2) the risk of heavy predation, which makes it advantageous for the family to divide; (3) and the existence of precocial young, which requires less parental care." (Pg. 165)

He suggests, "If there is any truth to this theory of innate moral pluralism, the requirement for an evolutionary approach to ethics is self-evident. It should also be clear that no single set of moral standards can be applied to all human populations, let alone all sex-age classes within each population. To impose a uniform code is therefore to create complex, intractable moral dilemmas---these, of course, are the current condition of mankind." (Pg. 288)

This is an excellent abridgement of Wilson's larger book, and will be very helpful to those wanting to get an idea of the field, without spending so much time reading the fuller book.
Had a greater influence than any other book 15 Jun 2014
By Larry Benjamin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I was first exposed to "Sociobiology" in college, and the effect it had on me was enormous. The idea that all human behavior is attributable to natural selection was the most radical and devastating thought that I had ever heard. This book is probably responsible for the philosophy of life that I now have. It shattered the last illusions I had that I still retained some vestige of autonomy. Wilson conclusively proved that nationalism, religion, and civilization exist for the sole reason to facilitate cooperation between individuals, thereby making it more likely that a society will survive. We are all termites, albeit more interesting and complex ones.
Good deal! 9 April 2014
By Tony Jacobsen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Not a problem getting this at all. It was a quick arrival and everything that I needed.

One more thing... Go Huskers!
7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
must read if intrested in zoology or evolution 12 May 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
an excellent book. although alot of parts may be hard to understand it is relatively easier than the unabridged version.
get this if your intrested in biology
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