Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Super Cooperators” as Want to Read:
Super Cooperators
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Super Cooperators

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  265 Ratings  ·  46 Reviews
EVOLUTION IS OFTEN PRESENTED AS A STRICTLY COMPETITIVE ENDEAVOR. This point of view has had serious implications for the way we see the mechanics of both science and culture. But scientists have long wondered how societies could have evolved without some measure of cooperation. And if there was cooperation involved, how could it have arisen from nature "red in tooth and cl ...more
Published March 1st 2011 by Canongate Books
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Super Cooperators, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Super Cooperators

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Rating details
Sort: Default
Dec 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book tops among my readings in 2016, not only it gives an overview of a very successful research career but also provides insights into ideas which connect many of our intuitions.

The text is very well written with internal consistency and pointers to research papers which actually helped me implement some of the simulations author discusses in detail.

Finally, Nowak broadens the scope of his research by connecting it to significant questions of our time, namely climate change and significa
Lukáš Zorád
Sep 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Not a new book (2011), but fascinating reading that provides lots of insights into the world of worlds leading scientists (mathematicians, biologists, physicists and many more) whose cooperation moves the horizons of human understanding.

I was afraid that I will skip the first hundred pages as they were all dedicated to the famous “prisoners dilemma” that I had thought I am well acquainted with, but Nowaks experiments (and that of his collaborators) have taken me away and kept me not only enterta
My fourth book on evolution - I really had planned to stop at three and then move on to other topics but evolution is much more interesting than I expected. The author is a mathematician and a biologist. Having been a physics major myself, I appreciated the more exacting point-of-view of a mathematician, on a subject that could have easily fallen into the "whirled peas" category. It was interesting to read this book at the same time that I have been reading Time Reborn by physicist Lee Smolin. S ...more
Jan 31, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, nonfiction
You are much, much better off just reading his papers. Even if you're not so mathematically minded, skim the equations and just read them. I found all the memoir and fluff boring and pointless. Nowak's ideas are brilliant, but he is at his core a scientific writer.
Shai Sachs
Super Cooperators is a book about a mathematician who develops a mathematical model to describe how cooperation might evolve out of the conditions of classical Darwinian natural selection. It's a fascinating topic described in a somewhat cloying manner. The results are fascinating: I was particularly surprised to learn about the evolutionary model of cooperative and anti-cooperative generational "waves" described in his genetic programming experiment in the first chapter, and intrigued by some o ...more
Francis Kayiwa
Jun 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a fantastic read. This was a fun book to read. The premise of the book is a subject that theologians have dealt with for a lot longer than any other field of study. The title says it all. One of the toughest problems faced by many an atheist is the ability to articulate altruism. I can't say that I did a literature review of what has been written out there on the matter. What I can say is this is a good primer for anyone keen to explain altruism using mathematical modeling.

I was expect
Martin Cohen
The book gives a good overview of the application of mathematical biology to the study of cooperative behavior in nature. Before reading the book, I thought that the selfish gene theory was what was still believed. The book shows that selfish gene theory in the form of kinship selection does play a small role in evolution and that much of what was thought to be kinship selection can be ascribed to selection at the group level. There are in all five mechanisms that are currently known that allow ...more
Vegard Pettersen
Oct 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People interested in game-theory, cooperation, evolutionary psychology
An amazing book.

Throughout the book, Nowak keeps the style light and the reader entertained, by drawing on his life-long experience in the field of game theory, in which he has worked together with academics and mathematicians to distill the foundations of what it is that makes us cooperate - and what makes us defect.

A highly entertaining and enjoyable read, and a must-read for anyone interested in the science of cooperation!

Apr 26, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, popular-science
The last chapter/epilogue was, as with most epilogues, a little disappointing and sort of worthless. From the chapter and a bit I read of Nowak’s other book (Evolutionary Dynamics), his gift is in explaining mathematics with numbers and formulas, and probably not in conveying it to the lay audience only with words. SuperCooperators is a math-phobic book, banishing almost all numbers and formulas—the fascinating parts!—and replacing them with banal, vague, and ultimately unsatisfying glosses of t ...more
José Luis
Mar 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Um livro longo, em que a trajetória científica e como pesquisador do primeiro autor é contada, como pano de fundo para falar de evolução. Mas, não apenas da evolução que acontece nos genes por mutação, mas também outras faces da evolução (como por exemplo a social, a das redes dinâmicas,etc ). O foco do livro é explorar mais um requisito da evolução que é a cooperação, que depende da mutação e da seleção para se manifestar. Particularmente interessante e muito bem explorado pelos autores é a Teo ...more
May 10, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, en, kindle
Martin Nowak is a professor at Harvard who has published about 40 articles in Nature (!), and this book is about all kinds of problems he has worked on, the main theme is cooperation: how it evolves and propagates in a network of agents. The book is easy to read, requires zero background in math or sciences and tells all kinds of stories about semi-famous people. The fact that the book is so non-technical can be seen as a drawback, too, because understanding Nowak's papers like those published i ...more
I guess that after 'Evolutionary Dynamics' this one could only disappoint. This is a bad example of presenting your complicated field off research to the broad public.

Removing all the equations out of ED was probably fair as most people have no message to this. Though it was not an added value to add a truckload of anecdotes and little histories of all the people involved. Yes, professor Nowak has met everybody in science who is worth knowing, from Dawkins to Hawkins and has written more Scienc
Blair Conrad
Pretty disappointing. Really, it seemed to be almost content-free, after the initial discussion of the Prisoner's Dilemma and the contests organized around the same.
Like many "popular science" books, this one paired a researcher and a writer, so the researcher's ideas could be palatable to normal people. Unlike other such books, this pairing was a failure. It seemed like the book was constructed in a way to not include too much math for normal people, but not include too much soft content for th
Feb 20, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Actual content is good. However the book is a annoying mixture of presenting mathemathical work on the mechanics of cooperation and defection (which is good) and a near endless series of personal anecdotes that seem designed primarily to give the idea that the Author is a splendid kind of person.

Yes I get it, FAMOUS scientists went to the same university he did. He has met many nobel-prize winners. He once got a desk from some famous scientist. He likes to walk in the forest and listen to classi
Robert Fischer
I thought back and forth between doing 4 or 5 stars. Ultimately, I sided on 5 because the current scoring of the book is lower than it should be.

The reason I thought about giving it 4 is because this book has the burden of authors who are too familiar with the subject yet writing for a popular audience, and so they don't go into enough detail or spend enough time working out exactly how game theory works and why it is significant. So the book ends up being too advanced for popular groups and too
Anne-marie Branch
Prisoner's Dilemma experiments are not a topic I would expect to ENJOY reading about! Nowak's writing is entirely 'consumable',and, thoroughly entertaining, which causes me to rate this book Supercooperatorshighly.....I am engaged in fundraising for a large international development not-for-profit, found the rationale for caring about others across the globe to be compelling. I will reread this book many times, I do hope Nowak's conclusions about the underlying basis for human altruism enter the ...more
Charlie Close
Jul 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorite-books
My favorite book so far on evolution and altruism. A great treatment of the Prisoners Dilemma.
May 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Evolution's "natural selection" is often portrayed as an "every man / organism for himself" battle. Reconciling the selective logic to favor one's own genes over other genes with cooperation (or putting oneself at risk to help others) has been an issue since Darwin. Observations show even in pre-human species cooperation is used, but doesn't necessarily tell us why. The central theme of this book is the use of mathematical modeling and simulations in order to show what kinds of selfish or cooper ...more
The role of cooperation in evolution is certainly a very interesting topic and I'm sure the author has done some great research on it. He left out all the technical and mathematical aspects and instead included a lot of background information and stories, even theology as well as awful of personal memoirs. In the end, there's just too much of all these things that are barely, if at all related to the topic and only slightly interesting.
Nov 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Could be a great step in humankind.
Bocse Robert
Sep 16, 2018 rated it liked it
The game theory is right in this book, the conclusion however is a leap of faith, just apply Occam's razor to the parts that Schelling got right the first time.
Ronald J.
Mar 08, 2017 rated it liked it
I'm reading this one based on a recommendation from Rory Sutherland. There's no doubt the cooperation is vital to a thriving society, and Nowak is a mathematical biologist who tries to prove it mathematically. Ok. Thinkers like Mises, Adam Smith, Hayek, did it without the math, and I think they provide a better explanation of human behavior. This book gets preachy about environmental problems, such as climate change and overpopulation. I wish Nowak would explore the contrary evidence, especially ...more
Feb 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2017
I really enjoyed this book. While his writing style isn't very captivating (and he does go on some personal tangents), you have to stick around for the actual meat of his message, which is that, by applying game theory to evolutionary dynamics, he has identified how *cooperation* is, in fact, a fundamental component of evolution. This applies to humans as much as cancer and cells and fashion and ants. His work spans decades and he collaborates with the most innovative minds of our time to explor ...more
Larry Perez
Mar 12, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The premise behind Martin Nowak’s Super Cooperators was intriguing: though natural selection is classically portrayed based upon principles of competition, might there be a role for altruism in the evolution and survival of species? Certainly, cooperative relationships continue to form and persist, so how do they ultimately function in the greater scheme of nature?

I gave this book more than 50 pages to draw me in—to reveal some novel thought or some new compelling insight. Instead, Nowak took me
Lois Bujold
Nov 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Bought on book tour, having been given a thank-you store credit and only about 10 minutes to select my prize; I found this instead while I was looking for a recently recced book about Darwin but could not remember title or author. Pretty good pop sci; gets a bit political toward the end for my taste, even though I agree with most of the politics. Starting from an analysis of The Prisoner's Dilemma, the writers take one through a logical progression of exactly how cooperation could evolve at ever ...more
Pierre Lauzon
The book is by the researcher/scientist and is written in the first person - a bit unusual. I think he assumes the reader has background in the topics presented.

The book does a good job of explaining The Prisoner's Dilemma, reciprocity - direct and indirect, and the power of one's reputation. He also speaks to his computer modeling of interactions related to altruism.

The book also does a good job of discussing The Tragedy of the Commons and the implications for the future of the environment and
Thomas Edmund
This book had some of the most insightful stuff about (human) nature I've read in some time. Although I will say it was hard biological and mathmatical slog through the central part of this book.

Luckily thats what chapters are for - if you're looking for the layman's summaries and most useful pages - just miss out the "Feats of Cooperation" section which largely focusses on biology and while being totally informative, is not the easiest read.

Overall though - Supercooperators is a must read for t
Nov 11, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Based on mathematical models, the authors describes five mechanisms for achieving cooperation - repetition, reputation, spatial selection, multilevel selection, and kin selection. A simpler way to describe the book is "variations of the prisoner's dilemma". I am truly impressed with the breadth and depth of variations pursued by the authors and their collaborators, which gives insights (or words) for many real world situations. However, I am not too happy with the style of writing. Actually, it ...more
Fr. Ted
Dec 08, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The books premise and concept was very intriguing to me - that in evolution cooperation between cells and species matters as much as competition. Survival of the fittest also entails natural cooperation. But somehow I found it more difficult to keep interest through the chapters, some were more interesting than others. Perhaps I really only wanted/needed to read the books conclusion and was not interested enough in the long journey to bring together the math, biology and gaming theory that make ...more
Kim Olson
One of the world's preeminent game theorists, Nowak shares his own (and colleagues') investigations into whether human beings are prone to cooperate with one another. While competition is built into evolution, Nowak shows that self-interest gives way to cooperation more often than not, and does in humans especially, due to our use of language and other factors. The ideas in this book are interesting and well-conveyed, although there was enough redundancy to make the read a bit frustrating at tim ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame
  • Networks: An Introduction
  • The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy
  • How We Do It: The Evolution and Future of Human Reproduction
  • The Many Worlds of Hugh Everett III: Multiple Universes, Mutual Assured Destruction, and the Meltdown of a Nuclear Family
  • The Vision Revolution: How the Latest Research Overturns Everything We Thought We Knew About Human Vision
  • Flow
  • The Computational Beauty of Nature: Computer Explorations of Fractals, Chaos, Complex Systems, and Adaptation
  • Born in Africa: The Quest for the Origins of Human Life
  • High and Mighty: SUVs-the World's Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way
  • How to Disagree Without Being Disagreeable
  • Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding
  • Cells to Civilizations: The Principles of Change That Shape Life
  • The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death
  • Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution
  • The Sciences of the Artificial
  • A Geometry of Music: Harmony and Counterpoint in the Extended Common Practice
  • Networks: A Very Short Introduction
Martin A. Nowak is Professor of Biology and Mathematics and Director of the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard University.

(His writings are indexed under the name M.A. Nowak.)
“Music is the pleasure the human mind experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting.” 7 likes
“Another marine example is the Portuguese man-of-war, which can measure more than 150 feet from its air bladder to the tips of its tentacles. Many think of it as a jellyfish, but in fact it is a siphonophore—a colony of minute individuals.” 0 likes
More quotes…