cover image Genesis: The Deep Origin of Societies

Genesis: The Deep Origin of Societies

Edward O. Wilson. Liveright, $23.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-63149-554-0

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 argues that these transitions (the beginnings of, respectively, life, complex cells, sexual reproduction, multicellular organisms, societies, and language) have one important factor in common: “In each..., altruism at a lower level of biological organization is needed to reach the one above.” While he does an impressive job in this short text of making the nature of the transitions clear, his explanation of group selection, in which evolution acts on a whole group rather than on individuals, and in particular the concept of eusociality (“the organization of a group into reproductive and non-reproductive castes”), is far too cursory to be fully understandable to the general reader. Wilson is at his most controversial when arguing that human societies are eusocial by nature, by citing, among other points, the high “frequency of homosexuality-propensity genes in human populations.” He concludes that humans have been shaped largely through altruism and cooperation, leaving readers with a message that is optimistic and worthy of discussion even as it remains debatable. (Mar.)