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

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  224 ratings  ·  33 reviews
The epic story and ultimate big history of how human society evolved from intimate chimp communities into the sprawling civilizations of a world-dominating species

If a chimpanzee ventures into the territory of a different group, it will almost certainly be killed. But a New Yorker can fly to Los Angeles--or Borneo--with very little fear. Psychologists have done little to
Hardcover, 468 pages
Published April 16th 2019 by Basic Books
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Ryan Boissonneault
Apr 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
In most accounts of world or macro history, you get a few introductory sections or chapters on our hunter-gather past before moving on to the civilizations of written history. Yet 6,000 years of written history represents only three percent of our collective 200,000 year history as a species. Surely this span of time has more relevance and deserves more attention than it is typically given.

The Human Swarm by biologist Mark Moffett does not suffer from this limitation; it takes 21 chapters and
Matt Nyman
Jul 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
What a strange book. I hoped, based on the titles and reviews, to find some overarching way to look at our modern anomized huge society differently. A new perspective. What this book is instead is a series of reinforced belabored concepts about the human tendency to find nothing of value in other societies. That we are are inherently and perpetually stuck in a world where there will be conflict and division between societies. Yes, we all know this. Its the entire extent of human history. But if ...more
Bryan Alkire
Jan 02, 2020 rated it it was ok
Confused swarm of data ideas and speculation. The book does move along, which is its one virtue. The writing is confused, in fact, this is really two booksone on non-human societies and one on human societies. The melding of the two just doesnt work. The author tends to andromorphic the non-human societies and conflate non-human societies with human ones and the confusion reigns since human and non-human societies are apples and oranges. The data can be controversial as I read at least two ...more
William Schram
Apr 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Human beings are lauded by human beings as the greatest thing since sliced bread; a thing that they invented. The main problem is that people dont have a real comparison to go against. Human beings are closely related to Chimpanzees, this is something that is a biological fact. Although humans and chimpanzees share many similarities they also have plenty of differences. This is mainly highlighted by their social structures.

In the book titled The Human Swarm author Mark W Moffett compares our
Bastard Travel
Mar 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
An exhaustively researched analysis of human tribalism and the evolutionary underpinnings of in-group selection, cultural identifiers, and racism, for some reason put together by a tropical biologist who specializes in insects.

Humans are unique in that they can pass other, strange humans on the street without it becoming an ordeal. Very few social animals are capable of ignoring one another due to instinctual acknowledgement of potential competitors. We've adapted to being able to disregard
Aug 31, 2019 rated it it was ok
This is a book written by an amateur who pretends to be an expert. Come on, just because you are a biologist, it doesn't mean you can claim yourself as a sociologist! There is few meaningful insight or scientific proof. Also, the book is very hard to read.
This was an excellent read. Author Mark W. Moffat takes the reader on a deep dive into sociology here.
He drops an interesting quote early on:
"Chimpanzees need to know everybody.
Ants need to know nobody.
Humans only need to know somebody."

He continues on, talking at great lengths about different animal societies, as well a human societies.
There's an interesting chapter about the Argentine ant. He also covers tribalism and group badging, aka "markers".
He speaks with great insight and clarity
John Kaufmann
Good thesis -- Large societies must be anonymous societies, but how do you hold people together? In short, with identity markers. That oversimplifies it, of course, but that's the essence. Also a lot of evidence and detail to support the premise, of course, as the author traces the thesis from animal societies to hunter-gathers, chiefdoms, kingdoms, and nation states. Relevant considering how identity markers have shaped some of our recent politics.
Jan 01, 2020 rated it liked it
Simple and useful concepts - organized poorly and extended in a way that makes it an ordeal to read this book
I did not finish this book. It is long, 362 pages. It has 26 chapters. I got to chapter 11. The book seemed to me to ramble on. To what extent can we try to figure out early humanoid and human societies from looking at bonobos, chimpanzees, and hunter-gatherers? Well, true, that is what we have to go by, but..... Can we ignore other types of societal organization? What about gorillas? Many societies have had one "band" with a single male--Solomon with all his major and minor consorts comes to ...more
Richard Thompson
It wasn't bad, but it didn't inspire me. I think that maybe it was just the wrong book at the wrong time. I read books like this because I want them to stimulate my thinking about big picture issues for humanity. This one didn't. Oh well. Next.
Sep 25, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
I read more about animal societies than I wanted
and less about human societies than I needed.
Jayden Aubryn
Oct 29, 2019 rated it liked it
Fascinating and insightful content. Disliked the writing style; too many run on sentences
Scott Hunter
Aug 19, 2019 rated it liked it
a very interesting read, but too much information, too many words. I stalled out reading it, though I would have like to continue. I moved on and couldn't get back to it as of yet.
Apr 06, 2020 rated it liked it
This is a book about the ethology of "societies," taken here as identity groups analogous to countries or tribes for which animals feel chauvinism or at least hostility to those who are not members, and what those patterns in different animals tell us about humans. Moffett is an entomologist specializing in ants, so they feature prominently, but he will happily draw on examples from bonobos or bottlenose dolphins or pinyon jays when making his points.

As that suggests, it's a Big, Sweeping Book,
An serendipitous sequel to The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution, the last nonfiction I read before tackling this one. Where Wrangham focused on humans' decreased reactive aggression compared to other animals, Moffett focuses on humans' ability to create anonymous social networks similar to those of social insects like ants or bees.

My goal is to show that membership in a society is as essential for our well-being as finding a mate or loving
Moffet uses his background studying animal societies in order to compare them to the evolution and development of human societies. Some interesting takes on human development from hunter-gatherer bands to state societies and the forging and breaking of ethnic and national identities in history as an integral part of the cycles of rising and declining states. Basically, its Guns, Germs, and Steel, but from a biologists point of view, with more reflections on the psychological of ethnic/national ...more
Dylan George
Mar 25, 2020 rated it it was ok
While this book has some interesting information, I feel it is arranged and presented very poorly, as I got about 40% through and gave up. This book focuses on looking at human societies and comparing them to animal societies. Again, while this is interesting, getting halfway through the book I still haven't found many conclusions linking biological systems and how they may drive society. Disappointing, but may be worth picking up again in the future.
Russell Christenson
Sep 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a tremendous accomplishment of cross-disciplinary association.

Curious about assimilation, racism, xenophobia, language discrimination? Maybe you just want to know what ants can teach us about borders, wars, or why you can sit next to someone completely unlike you at a coffee shop without feeling the need to eradicate them? Then I suggest you read this book.
Nov 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This fascinating book has something for everyone! Perhaps the most comprehensive yet readable account of animal societies - how and why they occur, and their benefits and consequences for a range of species, including our own. This book has a special place on my bookshelf of humans and human evolution in the company of works by E.O. Wilson, Paul Ehrlich, Jared Diamond, and more recently, Yuval Harari. I loved it, and highly recommended it!
The Inquisitive Biologist
Dense and captivating, The Human Swarm is a proper big history take on the deep history of human societies. See my full review at
Felipe CZ
Jun 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Many animals live in societies that can even become very complex (such as ants) through markers. Humans have scaled this and made sophisticated societies where we connect even on emotional levels and are part of humanity.
Jun 07, 2019 rated it liked it

Jason Larimer
Jan 22, 2020 rated it liked it
Sep 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Fails to deliver on the promises in the first chapter. Author pussyfoots around sensitive topics as if he was running for office.
Nabilah Mokhtar
Oct 13, 2020 rated it liked it
Full of interesting informations but its so wordy. Oh well. ...more
David Kennerly
May 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Dr. Mark Moffett's take on the human condition is brilliant!
Aug 16, 2019 added it
Jun 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Interesting read. Very well written, however at times it may be a bit dry and repetitive. Thought provoking nonetheless.
Dec 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Took my time with this one because there was a lot of mark for later citation and reference. My full review can be found here:
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