cover image The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive, and Fall

The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive, and Fall

Mark W. Moffett. Basic, $32 (480p) ISBN 978-0-465-05568-5

Moffett (Adventures Among Ants), a visiting scholar in Harvard’s Human Evolutionary Biology department, intrigues by setting human societies in the context of those of the animal kingdom. He returns to humanity’s near kin, the chimpanzees and bonobos, again and again, but includes other surprising comparisons as well. Ants, perhaps, provide the most astonishing analogue, with one colony of Argentine ants spreading from the Mexican border north past San Francisco and with outliers in Hawaii and along nearly 2,000 miles of Europe’s coast. What sets ants and humans apart from other species is the ability to live in anonymous societies, which Moffett illustrates with his café example—a person can walk into a café full of strangers, recognize them as members of his or her own society, and feel perfectly safe. Much of this work is devoted to the need for an “other” to define societies, including some rather disheartening studies on how deeply ingrained prejudices can be. Moffett, in his final thoughts, suggests that though humanity will never be free from all divisions, “humans have some capacity to counter our inherited propensities for conflict through deliberate self-correction.” This fine work should have broad appeal to anyone curious about human societies, which is basically everyone. (Apr.)