“Arresting…Deeply informative and provocative.”—Booklist
GENESIS: The Deep Origins of Societies by E.O. Wilson
At almost 90 years old, Edward O. Wilson is our greatest living biologist. Ever passionate about exploring our origins on earth, he is back with GENESIS, an eloquent, enlightening survey of social behavior that traces humanity’s advanced capacity for language, empathy, and cooperation back to its single-celled bacterial roots.
Asserting that religious creeds and philosophical questions can be reduced to purely genetic and evolutionary components, and that the human body and mind have a physical base obedient to the laws of physics and chemistry, Wilson argues that the only way for us to fully understand human behavior is to appreciate the long, complicated evolutionary histories of nonhuman species. Of these, Wilson demonstrates that at least seventeen—among them the naked African mole rat and sponge-dwelling shrimp—have developed advanced societies based on similar levels of altruism and cooperation found among humans.
A key component of that is Wilson’s own groundbreaking work in the areas of eusociality (where species evolve along hierarchical, role-specific lines) and group selection, that help explain why societies innately survive and thrive not just by means of war-like or aggressive behavior, but also via its nurturers and team builders.
Just as Darwin, in his 1871 Descent of Man, proposed humanity’s origins through the study of apes and human behavior, Wilson here synthesizes the most updated research in evolutionary science to offer a pithy yet pathbreaking work of evolutionary theory. In GENESIS, he eloquently braids twenty-first-century scientific research with the lyrical biological and humanistic observations for which he is known and admired.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Edward O. Wilson is widely recognized as one of the world’s preeminent biologists and naturalists. The author of more than thirty books, including The Social Conquest of Earth, The Meaning of Human Existence, and Letters to a Young Scientist, Wilson is a professor emeritus at Harvard University. The winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, he lives with his wife, Irene Wilson, in Lexington, Massachusetts.
PRAISE FOR GENESIS: THE DEEP ORIGINS OF SOCIETIES
“The acclaimed naturalist delivers a pithy summary of evidence for Darwinian evolution of human behavior…Wilson, a skilled writer who accessibly addresses lay audiences, explains that simple cooperation exists throughout biological systems as far back as bacteria, and plenty of advanced species show a modest degree of division of labor…A magisterial history of social evolution, from clouds of midges or sparrows to the grotesqueries of ant colonies to the perhaps parallel features of human society in which childless elements (grandparents, maiden aunts, young siblings, priests, nuns, etc.) seem to participate in nurturing the next generation…A lucid, concise overview of human evolution that mentions tools and brain power in passing but focuses on the true source of our pre-eminence: the ability to work together.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Wilson (On Human Nature), a Pulitzer Prize winner and Harvard evolutionary biologist, addresses what he calls the six ‘great transitions of evolution’ that led to human society in this ambitious treatise, his 32nd book…He does an impressive job in this short text of making the nature of the transitions clear.”—Publishers Weekly
“In his characteristically clear, succinct and elegant prose, one of our grand masters of synthesis, E. O. Wilson, here explains no less than the origin of human society.”—Richard Rhodes, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb.
“Genesis is a beautifully clear account of a question that has lain unsolved at the core of biology ever since Darwin: how can natural selection produce individuals so altruistic that, rather than breeding themselves, they help others to do so? In elegant, simple language Edward O. Wilson distills a magisterial knowledge of animal diversity into an unambiguous argument that the solution is group selection. Rich in accounts of extraordinary societies, Genesis is the ideal introduction to a problem of enduring fascination.”—Richard Wrangham, author of The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution.
“Endlessly fascinating, Edward O. Wilson—in the tradition of Darwin—plumbs the depths of human evolution in a most readable fashion without sacrificing scholarly rigor.”—Michael Ruse, author of A Meaning of Life
“When I first received a copy of Genesis: The Deep Origin of Societies (Edward O.Wilson, 2019, 153pp), I’m afraid my first thought was ‘Another book, why now?’ This slim volume, two chapters on the evolution of humans from Homo sapiens to modern man and five on the socio-cultural evolution of mammals and insects, turns out to be vintage Wilson: brilliant, eloquent, enlightening. After the first chapter I listened to it on Audible. The narrator was just excellent with appropriate maturity, and it was transformed into a memorable lecture series.
In the chapter on group selection I especially enjoyed the description of termites as cockroaches that have benefited from social evolution, along with the the note that the termite ability to digest cellulose related to the the co-evolution of digestive tract bacteria. I had just been reading, in a Science news report, of behavioral change in autistic mice via the effect of specific gut microbes on dopaminergic transmission of the vagus. It made me think of the many unknowns of eusocial genetics and group selection that await next generation genetics to elucidate the many ways that factors such as environment, bacteria, viruses modify genetic expression and inheritance.
As I listened to the last chapter, in which Dr. Wilson quotes an analysis by Polly Weissner of contemporary but isolated hunter-gatherers, it dawned on me why this book was so needed. Now. As described, as day time talk merges into campfire talk, the village elders and story tellers preside and the listeners were entertained as well as socially educated.
You are right, I said to the narrator, there is Doctor Wilson: Our wise man, our bard, our Homer. He tells us tales of ants, termites, mole rats, starlings and all the other creatures who have achieved altruistic, cooperative, harmonious societies. We listen and learn and know that Homo sapiens, will one day be eusocial. And that is why we need this book.”—Carol Angle, Professor Emeritus, Department of Pediatrics, University of Nebraska College of Medicine
ABOUT THE BOOK
TITLE: GENESIS: The Deep Origins of Societies
AUTHOR: Edward O. Wilson
PUBLICATION DATE: March 19, 2019
PAGES: 160 pages
PRICE: $23.95 hardcover