13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating book, could do with editing,
This review is from: Wired for Culture: The Natural History of Human Cooperation (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
In this book, Mark Pagel takes the reader on a journey in which he coherently (ish - see below) explains how evolution can account for all that is unique about human behaviour - from our incredible acts of altruism through to the destructive and petty acts of revenge we sometimes carry out. The key to this is that co-operation and learning (unique to human society) has allowed us to carry out far more complex tasks than we could ever do in small kinship groups; the resulting increased reproductive success means that genes which support co-operation will flourish. However, because we need to be reasonably certain that those we help will also help us in return, the same behaviour can be turned on its head if we encounter people whom we suspect do not share our co-operative values and the rituals we develop around them.
I am glad that I read this book from cover-to-cover, but that was very nearly not the case: it is (as others have stated) over-long, and Pagel often tries to prove his point by heaping anecdote upon anecdote and hoping that the resulting pile of words will be enough to convince the reader. This seems especially the case towards the beginning of the book, and it is a shame: if the author could make his points more gracefully and succinctly then this book would have far wider appeal. I was also nonplussed that Pagel frequently makes strong assertions without giving any indication of what evidence he is using to back these up (for a science book, there is a noticeable lack of science here); he also repeatedly speaks of small societies and tribal groups as "unrelated", without ever explaining what he means by this (surely as homo sapiens, all members of a group will be related, and one suspects that any small tribe living tens-of-thousands of years ago would show a fair amount of shared genes between its members).