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Super Cooperators: Evolution, Altruism and Human Behaviour or, Why We Need Each Other to Succeed Paperback – 17 Mar 2011

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd; Export & Airside ed edition (17 Mar. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847673376
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847673374
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.5 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,646,228 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'Supercooperators looks beyond The Selfish Gene and invites us to think afresh about evolution. Contrary to the simplistic idea that selfishness is the only strategy for survival, the brilliant Martin Nowak proves that cooperation is also vitally important. This rich and rewarding book teems with new ideas and insights, which co-author Roger Highfield makes wonderfully lucid and entertaining.' --Graham Farmelo, author of THE STRANGEST MAN

'A fantastic journey into the science of cooperation, with important implications for both individuals and society alike.'
--Richard Wiseman, author of 59 SECONDS, QUIRKOLOGY and THE LUCK FACTOR

'Martin Nowak is one of the most creative scientists of our time, and Roger Highfield is a superb science writer. Their insights into the mystery of cooperation will change the way you think about everything. If you're looking for the next Big Idea book, you've just found it.' --Steven Strogatz, Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics, Cornell University, and New York Times contributor

'Martin Nowak is regarded as the foremost mathematical theorist working in evolutionary biology. His contributions on cooperation and altruism, here augmented by the expertise of Roger Highfield, fall in one of the most important domains of present-day biology.' --Edward O. Wilson, author of CONSILIENCE and Pellegrino University Research Professor, Harvard University

'Roger Highfield deftly weaves together a personal and informative account of the research of Harvard's Martin Nowak to reveal five mechanisms that rule human behaviour. On the way, they explore the origins of life, language, cancer and much more, and highlight how evolution can lead to cooperation as well as competition.' --Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal and recent President of the Royal Society

'A panoramic view of the role of cooperation in the evolution... [A] sweeping survey... Nowak is a mathematical biologist, and his enthusiasm for numbers is extremely useful in his discussions of evolutionary theory. However, thankfully for the mathematically disinclined, there is little hard math here... A fleshed-out, persuasive chronicle of the bright side-collective enterprise-of the evolutionary road.'
--Kirkus Review

`SuperCooperators is part autobiography, part textbook, and reads like a best-selling novel.'
--Manfred Milinski, Nature.

An absorbing, accessible book about the power of mathematics... Nowak is one of the most exciting modelers working in the field of mathematical biology today.
--New York Times Book Review --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Martin Nowak is Professor of Biology and Mathematics at Harvard University. Dr Nowak is the recipient of Oxford's Weldon Memorial Prize; the Albert Wander Prizeof the University of Bern; the Akira Okubo Prize of the Society for Mathematical Biology; the Roger E. Murray Prize, awarded by the Institute for Quantitative Research in Finance; The David Starr Jordan Prize, given jointly by Stanford, Cornell and Indiana Universities; and the Henry Dale Prize of the Royal Institution, London. He has held major research posts at the Oxford University, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and now Harvard University. He has published over 300 papers and has been widely praised for revolutionising the mathematical approach to biology. Roger Highfield, DPhil, is the editor of New Scientist magazine and was the Science Editor of the Daily Telegraph for two decades. He has written or coauthored six popular science books, two of which have been bestsellers. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 27 Mar. 2011
Format: Hardcover
From Darwin's "The Origin of Species" to Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene" we learn about the ruthless nature of evolutionary pressure by natural selection. Yet observation of both the human and wider natural world demonstrates clearly that altruism is not just practised by well-meaning creatures but the very stuff which oils the machinery. Martin Nowak is a leading proponent of the importance of altruism - "being nice" - in naturual selection and has written a fine book explaining the game theory on which his research is based, the five strategies which emerge from it - direct reciprocity ("I'll help you if you help me"), indirect reciprocity ("if I help you, maybe someone that you know will help me"), spatial selection (where a group of cooperators - neighbours, say - help each other), group selection (where natural selection favours one group over another because it is acting as a group) and kin selection ("I help my relatives") and applications in nature and human society. Nowak's breakthrough in the field lies in modelling these strateigies mathematically - he first came to prominence through describing the infection pattern of HIV, providing an understanding of why it moved rapidly to full-blown AIDS in some people, yet lay apparently dormant for many years in others.

This would have led to a worthy (but difficult) book without Roger Highfield as co-author. Highfield, editor of New Scientist, is surely the finest exponent of the art of taking highly complex scientific subjects and rendering them both understandable and easy to read for the layman (compare his "Frontiers of Complexity" with Roger Penrose's "The Emperor's New Mind" and you will see).
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By thedoctorisin on 22 May 2011
Format: Hardcover
I've read the book and believe this is a major contribution not just to evolutionary theory, your own social and work life, but also modern day politics. Novak and Highfield make a sobering and essential point towards the end; our ability to avoid species extinction - eg by global warming - relies on our ability to engender cooperation across the whole planet.

It's this essential challenge which the historical darwinian notion of 'survival of the fittest' is ill-equipped to solve. No one struggling to assist with political change can afford not to be aware of the book's central contentions. No one struggling with a difficult boss at work or exasperating relationship, will succeed unless they are using (even inadvertently) a strategy borrowed from some part of Novak's research.

There are very few novel concepts in biology that reach across to the social sciences, without falling into the trap of easy determinism. This account of game theory and strategy succeeds. Even if you don't agree with the conclusions, there are few better rigorous introductions to the notion of strategising across species, as well as human affairs.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Nowak is a respected Harvard professor of mathematical biology with numerous well regarded publications. Sadly, he has chosen to stray off the path into an arrogant attack on science motivated by religious fervor. His recent actions show the evil consequences when universities accept money from religious groups, science journals are so awed by big names that they avoid proper peer review, and egos are permitted to get out of control. Most of this book is good, but it repeats the utterly misconceived attacks on inclusive fitness in favor of group selection which he and his much more famous Harvard colleague E.O.Wilson have been making the last 5 years, so it is on that chapter of the book that I will concentrate. This takes us into the nature of evolution, the basics of scientific methodology, how math relates to science, what constitutes a theory, and what attitudes to religion and generosity are appropriate as we inexorably approach the collapse of industrial civilization.
Their attack on evolution came into general awareness in 2010 with the publication of a now infamous paper in nature which was almost universally rejected by over 140 biologists who responded with letters and many papers since have shown in detail why it is mistaken. Wilson and Nowak have not responded in any meaningful way in 5 years of articles, lectures and several books. There is no choice but to agree with Dawkin's trenchant comment "For Wilson not to acknowledge that he speaks for himself against the great majority of his professional colleagues is--it pains me to say this of a lifelong hero --an act of wanton arrogance." In view of Nowak’s subsequent behavior one must include him as well.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As others have pointed out, the book doesn't go into the mathematics of cooperation, but that is not what it is about.
It is about showing how cooperation is a part of our lives, it is about showing why we should cooperate and why we shouldn't fear other people taking advantage of that (a fear which I think people generally have).

The book starts from the simple idea of the "Prisoner's Dilemma". Using computer simulations Nowack find which evolutionary strategies are the winning ones. Unsurprisingly, it's those that cooperate and even more, those that forgive!

The book further explains how cooperation within populations evolves and recedes and gives clues on how we should structure our own society to help cooperation flourish. It talks about which is better: to punish someone or to reward them?

It is true that the fundamental conclusions are not very surprising, but what I find interesting is that those conclusions can be based on experiments and mathematics. They coincide with general religious teachings, but because they are also backed up by mathematical models, I think, gives them much more power.

I would definitely recommend this book to anybody who has ever wondered if (or "WHY?") they should do a leap of faith or to anybody who asks what is our purpose in this world, because, instead of quoting scripture, Nowack presents data backed by experiment. He also presents different views and argues for or against them. Overall, most of the books conclusions follow in a logical manner.
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