On Human Nature
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On Human Nature

4.02 of 5 stars 4.02  ·  rating details  ·  1,187 ratings  ·  74 reviews
No one who cares about the human future can afford to ignore E.O. Wilson's book. On Human Nature begins a new phase in the most important intellectual controversy of this generation: Is human behavior controlled by the species' biological heritage? Does this heritage limit human destiny?

With characteristic pugency and simplicity of style, the author of Sociobiology challen...more
Paperback, Revised, 260 pages
Published October 18th 2004 by Harvard University Press (first published September 1st 1978)
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A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonA Brief History of Time by Stephen HawkingCosmos by Carl SaganGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared DiamondThe Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
Best General Science Books
20th out of 243 books — 217 voters
Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared DiamondThe Looming Tower by Lawrence WrightThe Guns of August by Barbara W. TuchmanA Problem from Hell by Samantha PowerThe Prize by Daniel Yergin
Pulitzer Winners: General Non-fiction
24th out of 56 books — 152 voters

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Community Reviews

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Riku Sayuj


Many animals, especially mammals, have evolved social mechanisms to aid in survival. But a few exceptional species, such as wasps, bees and ants, have taken this to the extreme and these are the species that dominate the planet today. They can only be termed as "UltraSocial”.

Humans can also be included in this elite list of earth conquerors. After all, we live in the ‘Anthropocene’ now.

Wilson asks us to view humans as not an completely exceptional species, in spite of...more
I have to admit that I have approached this text in a hypercritical mood. This is unfortunate and not in the best interests of a fair review, but rather inevitable I am afraid. This book is the progenitor of a thousand others that go about explaining complex human social and cultural relationships on the basis not so much of Darwinian evolution, as of a remarkably limited notion of human sexual selection. Endless books now ‘explain’ human culture as a kind of Freudian just-get-me-laid-right-now...more
"The first dilemma, in a word, is that we have no particular place to go. The species lacks any goal external to its own biological nature. It could be that in the next hundred of years humankind will thread the needles of technology and politics, solve the energy and material crises, avert nuclear war, and control reproduction. ... But what then? Educated people everywhere like to believe that beyond material needs lie fulfillment and the realization of individual potential. But what is fulfill...more
Disappointing. Wilson uses very dry language throughout, which makes it difficult to stay interested. And while the subject might have been groundbreaking when it came out in the 70s, now it's just kind of boring. There are some interesting observations on sexuality, witchcraft, and the pastoral nature of the Judeo-Christian monodeity, but they are not nearly enough to make up for the various ideological and literary shortcomings.

First, it's difficult to even tell what Wilson is trying to say, w...more
Dec 11, 2007 Renee rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people interested in sociobiology
This was one of the most interesting books I read during my college exploits as an anthropology major. If you're ever confused by my way of experiencing the world, read this and you might get a better idea of why I think the way I do. The moment I remember most vividly to this day is Wilson's writing on the our attempts at discovering the meaning of life. He basically postulates that our brains are not constructed in a way that would facilitate deciphering or understanding the life, universe and...more
2.5 stars for the bad and unorganized writing.

I would recommend Pinker's The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature instead of this one. That book was a true delight.
It is not surprising that On Human Nature receives a lot of criticism in the social sciences field. The solution he suggests is to effectively re-engineer the social sciences more thoroughly within the natural sciences. A process that would completely eradicate some current fields of academics (such as theology). While his delivery is crass in this sense, I do believe the book is worth reading and contains much valuable insight and knowledge. It is interesting to point out that the 1st dilemma...more
Great insight into who we are, why we are, how we are, what we are, and, where we may be headed.

"Pure knowledge is the ultimate emancipator. It equalizes people and sovereign states, erodes the archaic barriers of superstition and promises to lift the trajectory of cultural evolution."

It's a short book--from my perspective--but it packs lots of information; information that can lead one to delve deeper into many and varied disciplines of the study of mankind.

If you want to understand some of the...more
A. Gamble
Jan 13, 2009 A. Gamble rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to A. Gamble by: My father
I have a copy of this book signed to me by E.O. Wilson, with a drawing of an ant as well. It is a first edition, and is NOT for sale.

This is one of the most personally influential books I have ever read. From the age of thirteen, when I first read it, to today, when I am twenty-two, the way I perceive and think about human activities stems more from this book than any other written work. If that doesn't deserve five stars, what does?

On another personal note, this book was given to me by my fathe...more
Dave Garnand
If it wasn't for a couple funny historic anachronisms, you would not know this book was written…last century... While the socio-biology synthesis that Wilson helped bring about is largely in place in the scientific community and more and more so in our society, this book will still read fresh and full of insights for almost all readers. It may seem obvious to us now that you cannot separate our biological selves from our social and cultural context, but not only did Wilson feeling like he was fi...more
Lemuel Gulliver made his famous evaluation of humanity after observing little people, big people, nonsentient people and sentient horses. Little people, big people and nonsentient people still being people, and horses being mammals, his reference points were not very far removed from Homo Sapiens. Edward Wilson is an entomologist specializing in ants, social animals that are as different from humans as any on Earth (coral polyps are even more different, but they are not very behaviorally interes...more
Wilson's classic is showing signs of age. Overall, its still an enjoyable read but it does feel dated.

The book starts off quite well; you can see where Wilson's desire for consilience starts. Here he tackles such topics as heredity, development and the general overview of sociobiology. He not only presents his argument, that the hard sciences and going to become much more entwined into the social, but he points out paths that he suspected the convergence would flow. Additionally, he fully admit...more
Ted Pham
The book is extremely well-written. Reading this makes writing in most bestsellers (i.e. Dan Brown's) look like garbage.

So far, I finished chapter 1 (Dilemma). The theses presented in this chapter argue that only when natural and social sciences successfully combine can we fully understand Human Natures: How does the mind work, and why does it work the way it does. In Wilson's view, to address these two questions, we need to first consider two dilemmas. First, there's no external purposes to hum...more
Panayoti Kelaidis
Gradually gnawing through E.O. Wilson's oeuvre (rather like one of his social insects) I think I am beginning to know how Darwin's contemporaries must have felt as they consumed his texts: Wilson is deceptive because his limpid, lucid prose belies the depths of his insights and accomplishments. He is credited with having more or less having invented a whole new discipline in this book--human sociobiology, or evolutionary sociology: in this book he seems to shine a spotlight on the tangled no-man...more
In this incisive book, E. O. Wilson made the claim that the natural sciences could serve as an ante-discipline for the social sciences and humanities - helping to inform them by more clearly defining the issues that can be discussed with precision. By means of analogy, he compares this relationship to that between physics ("lower" level) and chemistry ("higher" level). After elucidating the basic principles of sociobiology (the study of the genetic roots of behaviour across animal species), he t...more
Feb 05, 2009 Jennifer rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: ethicists
This book is both captivating and refreshingly honest, and I'm pretty embarrassed that it has taken me so long to read it. Wilson is happy to admit that "scientific materialism" is a myth, on a par with religion and Marxism--the three main myths he concerns himself with in the book. In the end, he simply thinks that it is a better myth, one more likely to be vindicated in the ultimate analysis. But he recognizes that it is far from vindicated, nor does he envision such work will be easy or soon...more
Clark Carlton
This extraordinary work is one of the best examples of how books allow us "to have intercourse with superior minds". It is more timely than when it first appeared in 1979 and Dr. Wilson's predictions within it have come true. It reinforces my own belief that the arts and humanities are more relevant and practical when they are informed by science, particularly evolutionary biology.

While reading, I was having to reference Wikipedia and the dictionary in order to complete my understanding of this...more
Fascinating propositions on how the nature of man and his biology are one in the same. An argument for a broader understanding of what "liberal arts study" means, and how it can bridge the gap in that understanding. Ideas that are a bit fuller developed in his most recent book, The Social Conquest of Earth. (Audible version).
I didn't find this to be the most entertaining read, though I found certain parts to be unarguably fascinating! I consider the chapters on aggression, sex, and altruism to be the most gripping overall. I'd give this book only four stars if I felt it fair to rate it on the level of my own absorption, but that's not conducive to a book like this. I can't quite believe it was written in the 70's! And I'd be remiss if I couldn't acknowledge Wilson's brilliance. I'd give it four an a half if it were...more
Aug 09, 2008 Kassin rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Nerds like me
I don't know if this book just wasn't a good one to read at the gym or what. This guy (a sociobiologist among many other things) is easily the smartest, most interesting person I have discovered in the last few years, but his writing is a little matter-of-fact (which means I still have a few more of his books to get through). This particular one examines humans as just another species, like someone would study birds or ants - quite an interesting investigate perspective when your topics are here...more
I should make a book category named "good books for people who are a lot smarter than I am." It would contain this book and a few others that I have trudged through.

I respect and admire Edward O. Wilson. He is one of my all-time scientific heroes. I have read other books by him and have become educated and enlightened as a result. But this book was simply over my head. Every time an interesting subject or question was raised, the pages devolved into an extreme academic analysis that consisted of...more
Jamie Bradway
I read On Human Nature because I've never read E.O. Wilson and wanted to better understand what he's about. I'm not a scientist; far from it.

But this is pretty easily understandable to the layman. I think I'd have been aided by greater knowledge of the field in order to grasp the impact of social biology, but the language and concepts weren't over my head.

What I love about this is that it's a 'big idea' book. I love that experience of the eyes reading along, catching a phrase that sends the brai...more
Brilliant widely-read scientist Edward Wilson offers an overview of scientific insights into human behavior, detailing the scientific efforts to link human behavior to our genetic dispositions. Wilson joins his summaries of work through 1979 with his own insights and conclusions about human behavior. Very interesting.

Nice juxtaposition to recent religious books I read about the same time as this one. (Wilson notes efforts by scientists to explain things logically to the superstitiously inclined...more
Jaume Batlle-i-Perales
Bright, Wilson is just bright!

And this book reflects his thoughts on Human nature. You may like them or not, like everything else in reality.
Marija S.

Klackala sam se između 3 i 4 zvjezdice, uzimajući u obzir da je navedena knjiga ipak napisana daleke 1978. godine. Danas je većina postavki koje se u njoj nalaze prošlo odnosno palo na testu vremena, pa su izgubile ozračje revolucionarne smjelosti i presedana. Bez sumnje zanimljivo štivo podjeljeno je na poglavlja Nasljednost, Razvoj, Emergencija, Agresivnost, Seksualnost, Altruizam, Religija, Nada i, iako se danas mogu čitati izvrsne znanstvene knjige s tematiko...more
John Christmann
I had some problems with this book, but the chapter on religion is what caused me to give it 4 rather than 3 stars. My biggest issue was his random switch from claiming the mind was essentially dispositions for certain behaviors which are adaptive (allow the organism to cope with its environment), to claiming in the last chapter that the mind is merely an epiphenomena of the neuronal machinery of the brain. Either I'm misreading him or there's a bit of inconsistency on Wilson's part. Other than...more
Wilson is an evolutionary biologist and this book includes chapters on the evolutionary basis for altruism, religion and aggression, among others. He attempts to merge biology with the social sciences. Wilson was despised by many on the left when this book came out in the 70s because he argues that we are not in fact a blank slate whose behavior has only cultural and economic influences, but an evolved species with genetic limitations that responds to evolutionary pressures. Far from a conservat...more
This is a book I wish I had read 20 years ago. It has the potential to completely redirect one's life, to make one reconsider so many notions about sex, religion, morality and history. The book is dated only because there is more data nowadays, but the ideas and ways in which Wilson puts them together have an important contemporary tone and value.

A must read. Even for people who have read a lot on science and anthropology, even if you don't find a new hypothesis or theory in here, the essence of...more
Its an incredibly important book, but coming to it at this time seems slightly out of date. While I agree with the screeds against Marxism and its view of a malleable humanity, they also seem a bit out of place, being products of their time at the book's publication. Not negatives, but the reason I am giving 3 rather than 4 stars. Overall though a book more people should read to understand the arbitrary anthropocentrism that clouds our judgement of looking at human behavior. A great scientific c...more
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Edward Osborne Wilson is an American biologist, researcher, theorist, and author. His biological specialty is myrmecology, a branch of entomology. A two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, Wilson is known for his career as a scientist, his advocacy for environmentalism, and his secular-humanist ideas pertaining to religious and ethical matters. He is Pellegrino University Re...more
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“Human beings appear to be sufficiently selfish and calculating to be capable of indefinitely greater harmony and social homeostasis. This statement is not self-contradictory. True selfishness, if obedient to the other constraints of mammalian biology, is the key to a more nearly perfect social contract. - pg. 157” 2 likes
“Like most other mammals, human beings display a behavioral scale, a spectrum of responses that appear or disappear according to particular circumstances.” 0 likes
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