I don't usually write book reviews. I buy books to read for pleasure or information, get what I can out of them, and leave the reviewing to people who want to do that kind of work. But this book absolutely stinks.
First of all, the title is misleading. This is a rambling, shuffling collection of stories about David Sloan Wilson's life and the people with whom he works and lives -- almost never in the context of using evolution to improve his city "one block at a time", except that he may be describing the life of a person who is helping him with this Project. Don't get me wrong, I like that kind of story; I really enjoy seeing the connections between where people came from (genetically and/or culturally), where they are, and where they're headed. But, for example, you will not read a single word about the actual Project from page 162 allllll the way to page 300. I didn't buy this book because I wanted to get a better picture of David Sloan Wilson's life. I bought it because the housing market holds me prisoner in an absolutely terrible place to live, and since I can't get out of here, I must try to make it better.
In the 305 out of 390 pages I've so far read, I've found four things that might help me: decorate the outside of my house for holidays, bring peer pressure to bear (already do it), set my primarily European-descended neighbors up for success so that they'll work harder at community, and maintain/improve my property so that people feel constrained to act respectfully in its vicinity (already do it). Two of these I've been doing instinctively for seven years, but now I know there is a scientifically-proven correlation between my intuitive action and the result I'm trying to achieve! Gee.
I was so astonished at the disconnect between what the title promised and what the book actually delivered that I went to the front of the book to find the publisher, so that I can avoid books from Little, Brown and Company in the future. I've seen badly proofread books, but the lack of coherence in this work as a whole is something I've never before encountered: the "tangled bank" might make a great starting point for scientific observation and inspiration, but it makes an awful basis for book structure! The writing itself is confused as well; the author makes use of self-deprecating humor, referring to himself repeatedly as an "egghead professor", yet also uses words like "inflorescences" (p. 104). These two tactics clearly appeal to two vastly different types of audiences, without achieving any sort of universal appeal. As any musician, speaker or writer would happily tell you, with or without your "new set of questions informed by evolutionary theory (p. 81)": Know Thine Audience, Mr. Wilson!
The quality of the thinking demonstrated in this book is terrible. It's *terrible*. The logical leaps and errors made by this man are simply mind-boggling, especially in his crusade to disprove God. Why this scientist, this "what-and-how" man, felt the debunking of "why" was necessary in order to establish the validity of evolution as a basis for deliberate community change, I simply do not understand. I've just reached the section (page 306) where he's about to describe how much time he's put into studying religion, and I don't know if I can keep going. Frankly, it's clear he's never studied God: the arguments he's made to this point are like saying you can know the essence of a person whose profession is teaching by the shape of the building he teaches in. They are rife with logical errors, through which he continually demonstrates the falsity of his own statements about valuing truth and fact. As he himself wrote, "Talk is cheap (p. 298)"!
After reading 3/4 of this book, I know a lot I'll never need to know about water-striders, wasps, crows, and a passel of people I'll never meet or otherwise encounter. Yet I know basically nothing new about improving my community, and nothing about Binghamton and its "improvement" except some history and the apparent fact that this guy has done several studies done on its population in order to produce a few maps. Interesting maps though they may be, overall this book has been a waste of money and a colossal waste of time, which last I resent far more. If you decide to buy it, approach it carefully and with your critical-thinking cap turned to the Hi setting: *this book does not say what it purports to say.* And do not pay full price.
UPDATE: I did finish this book, and toward the end learned what it was actually about. If it had been titled, "David Sloan Wilson: The Manifesto of an Atheistic Humanist Evolutionist", the whole book would have made a lot more sense. I would even go so far as to call the actual title of this book false advertising. In the process of slogging through those last few chapters, all I could think of were those internet ads that run for 30-45 minutes: you know, those ads that start out with a few basic pieces of information that most people will agree with, then slowly start to wind down into something totally ridiculous? I am bitterly disappointed. I was looking for real information about improving my *community*, and instead got hundreds of pages of SELF-absorbed preening. YUCK. If it had been titled appropriately, I wouldn't have been misled and wouldn't have picked it up; or if I had, I would have laughed my way through it and never thought about it again. As it is, I feel cheated.