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The Social Conquest of Earth Hardcover – 4 May 2012
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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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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! I hurts to see Wilson being credited with a new idea! Wilson is bad crediting earlier workers in general, and non of the key names in sociology, psychology, or ethology appear in the index. No mention of Konrad Lorenz, famous founder of Ethology who wrote many books on human behaviour; or his famous disciples Nicolaas Tinbergen and Eibl Eibesfeldt (mentor of David Attenborough), or the key phenomenon of 'imprinting' studied by these workers (not to be confused with the unfortunate use of the term imprinting in epigenetics which though possibly part of the mechanism is not the phenomenon). Wilson talks of 'prepared learning' but with no mention of the imprinting concept or of the 'critical periods' involved (Lorenz famously realised that geese took the first thing they saw to be their mother, no matter how ridiculous, and later took it as their object of sexual attraction too.) John Bowlby, psychologist and Mary Ainsley identified what is known as 'attachment' in babies which involves a similar critical period.)
Wilson still talks of a 'gene for altruism', but since the reading of the human genome in 2000, everything in the world of genetics has changed. There are only 22,000 'genes' and half of those code for 'structural proteins' - the basic building blocks common to most creatures, and most of the rest are shared with other life forms - there are just non left to code for all the complexity of human life. Geneticists now talk of gene expression, and a whole new science of epigenetics has grown up over the last fifteen years, as has a whole new science of RNA - micro RNA's, long non-coding RNA and so on and on. Experts I have spoken to have said to me "ten years ago I thought I understood how genes work - now I haven't a clue". That's the general view; that it's much much more complicated than we ever dreamt! The idea of a 'gene for a characteristic' however you define 'gene', is dead! Wilson also talks of alternative 'alleles', but most genes only have at most a few alleles, and where they affect development it is generally for simple things determined by a change of protein, like eye colour, not subtle optimisation for survival.
What Wilson is good at is comparing humans to ants - he is of course the acknowledged expert on hymenoptera. I like the way he points out that an extraterrestrial landing on earth three million years ago would have been amazed by leaf-cutter ants, but considered australopith man to have little future (I paraphrase). He has brought us a very good understanding of how ant societies do not function as human ones do because of a big difference - selection does not occur between workers, who therefore do not compete among themselves; they are a function of the queen's genes. His idea that sociality requires a 'nest', which was initially the fire around which people gathered, is interesting, as is the fact that an ant could never start or carry fire - a matter of scale and getting burnt - and could therefore never build a technology.
Reading his mature work just now I feel his activist detractors (Profs Rose, etc.) should be ashamed of their conduct.
Social Conquest is a triumph of dogged research work and enlightening to scientists in other fields, as well as young entrants in gis own field.