cover image The Social Conquest of Earth

The Social Conquest of Earth

Edward O. Wilson. Norton/Liveright, $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-87140-413-8

In this wide-ranging book, Wilson, the Pulitzer Prize–winning Harvard scientist (The Ants), addresses the large question of “why advanced social life exists at all, and has occurred so rarely in the history of life.” Wilson, the world’s leading expert on ants, compares the evolutionary similarities between the social insects—“2 percent of the one million known species of insects”—and humans. Much of this material has been recycled from Wilson’s previous work. He triggers more interest when he argues that biologists have been seriously mistaken about the way evolution operates. Instead of the current paradigm stressing the importance of individual and kin selection (as kin carry many of the individual’s genes), Wilson believes that human evolution is driven by individual and non–kinship-based group selection (prehumans living in groups cared for their young and divided labor; groups competed against each other on one level of selection, and within a group, individuals competed to reproduce). Wilson believes that complex patterns of social behavior are the result of selection at both group and individual levels, but he doesn’t go into enough depth (which would include mathematical analysis) to be completely persuasive. He does, however, explore the factors leading to the development of morality, religion, and the creative arts in human society. 90 illus. Agent: John Williams, Kneerim & Williams Agency. (Apr.)