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Genesis: The Deep Origin of Societies

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  310 ratings  ·  67 reviews
Asserting that religious creeds and philosophical questions can be reduced to purely genetic and evolutionary components, and that the human body and mind have a physical base obedient to the laws of physics and chemistry, Genesis demonstrates that the only way for us to fully understand human behavior is to study the evolutionary histories of nonhuman species. Of these, ...more
Hardcover, 160 pages
Published March 19th 2019 by Liveright (first published 2019)
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Will Byrnes
Apr 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Within groups, selfish individuals win against altruists, but groups of altruists beat groups of selfish individuals.

So when Benjen Stark throws a defeated Jon Snow onto his horse and sacrifices himself to an onslaught by a crazed zombie horde, it is an action that is advantageous to House Stark. Uncle Ben will not be making any little Bennies, but his sacrifice helps allow at least the possibility that his nephew might generate little Jon-Snow-flakes someday, thus keeping the Stark gene
Interesting, but he uses a lot of technical jargon without needing to & often uses citations in a way that confused matters for me. His phrasing is often awkward & he's trying to fit too much information into this short of a book. His first chapter, "The Search For Genesis" was very thin, but he really shined later when it came to detailing insects - his specialty.

I wondered about his refutation of Hamilton's Rule of kin selection which Richard Dawkins showed works out very well
Ryan Boissonneault
Mar 15, 2019 rated it liked it
There exists within evolutionary theory a deep contradiction, one that Charles Darwin noticed back in the nineteenth century. The problem is this: how can evolution by natural selection account for altruistic behavior that benefits the group at the expense of the individual?

The standard view of natural selection, operating at the level of the gene, goes as follows: genetic mutation results in variation in form and function in the individual, which either confers an advantage or disadvantage (or
Jan 30, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: blue
First, let me say that I am a great fan of E.O.Wilson. I think he's not only a great scientist, but also a deep thinker, whose influence (rightly) extends far beyond his particular field of expertise (which is ants). I wonder if there was perhaps not a bigger, more ambitious book that he envisioned, which got trimmed down to this because, you know, he was not a young man 20 years ago, and this was published in 2019. Or perhaps he felt that several of the many books he has previously written were ...more
May 19, 2019 rated it liked it
There is no reason at all this book should have been written. Everything in here is already in his other books. It's just a very quick recap of eusociality, which he explains at length and better in his earlier books. I think he fails to even make the case about deep origins of human societies, which is the subtitle. He says humans are eusocial, but just leaves it there as a statement without much proof. I believe him but only because I read his other book with all the supporting data.
Catherine Puma
Apr 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a great little book by the esteemed Harvard University biologist about genetic bases for the formation of societies across different species. Not just humans, but complex social organizations within chimpanzees, ants, wasps, bees, spiders, termites, shrimp, naked mole rats, and various bird groups are also discussed. Wilson seems to adhere to the assumption that evolution progressions are inherently "better" than previous iterations, so he sees eusocial communities as the highest form of ...more
Juju Dessert
Mar 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Consistent with his other books - Wilson writes as if his audience is quite uninformed by taking time to define simple concepts such as genes and in this case group selection continuously throughout the book. However, he will only touch upon more complicated processes as if you are already well informed in a more detailed field. If I wasn't studying entomology, it might frustrate me to the point where I stop reading - but I am lucky and think I have a solidified background to comprehend what he ...more
Geoffrey Payne
Jan 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book accomplishes what it set out to explain, at least on a surface level. I think that it’s approachable to a wide audience and length isn’t intimidating like some non-fiction works. He makes his argument concisely and his examples are mostly straight forward and explained clearly. The downside of this book is that many of the examples and ideas presented here have been in his previous books. That being said, the examples are still fantastic and I think this is a perfect book to give ...more
Ali Hassan
Jan 25, 2020 rated it liked it
A short but brief sketch of the origin of societies and evolution of various species. Edward Wilson describes how human societies began to evolve in their early stages. But the interesting fact is that he takes species other than human beings as focal point of his study and biologically explains how animals, reptiles and insects make societies like those of humans and thus build an eusocial structure.
James Foster
Sep 08, 2019 rated it liked it
There is nothing in this little book that Wilson hasn't said, and said better, elsewhere. I've read everything of Wilson's (even the massive tomes), and would recommend just about anything else of his over this. His writing is lovely, as always. But, I don't see what this book adds.
Dennis Robbins
Mar 16, 2019 rated it liked it
The author is one of the most prominent thinkers of our time who also is an engaging writer. This is a short-book essay on the author's thoughts about three eternal questions. He states in the beginning:

What are we?
What created us?
What do we ultimately wish to become?

Not wanting to leave these existential issues to political dogmas or religious superstitions he takes a naturalistic and evolutionary perspective. He assumes our minds and bodies evolved and are sufficiently understood by applying
James Easterson
Apr 03, 2019 rated it it was ok
Ah, why do I keep bothering with E. I. Wilson books? This is not a criticism of his science, but rather his very boring writing. The only one that I recall enjoying was The Meaning of Human Existence. Sorry but just bored to death. It’s just me I’m sure.
Todd Martin
Dec 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Here’s the basic premise of E.O. Wilson’s new book Genesis: The Deep Origin of Societies … certain species have been extremely successful due to the fact that they’ve evolved to be eusocial. Unpacking this a bit - the species in question are mostly insects, including ants, bees, and wasps, but also include some mammals such as naked mole rats and humans. While eusociality is defined by:
- Cooperative brood care (including care of offspring from other individuals)
- Overlapping generations within
Tammam Aloudat
Feb 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, science
Very interesting concept in the book, but the negatives first to get them out of the way.

The book is a little awkward to read for some reason. I couldn't put my finger on it exactly but it is simple enough to be understood mostly by anyone, however, it feels that the simplicity of the language and the easing of the concepts was a little forced by someone whom such simplicity doesn't come to naturally. It was told like a flattened academic text rather than like a story.

The second critique is that
John McDonald
May 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This very short book--I more or less think of it as an essay which designed to explain Wilson's deeper research and field observations over a lifetime--allows Wilson to present one part of his scientific conclusions arising over a lifetime of field and other research and observations about the origins of communities, especially human communities (or tribes and tribalism). This is how the work begins:

"All questions of philosophy that address the human condition come down to three: what are we,
Jun 23, 2019 rated it liked it
While I enjoyed parts of this book, particularly the sections about insects, this book was a rather dull read for such a short text and it rather abruptly ends just as he's getting to his point. I also feel that it failed at its major point. It's supposed to answer the age old questions of philosophy definitively with evolutionary biology and chemistry. Only, it doesn't do that.

It focuses almost entirely on the way organisms arrange themselves based on biological needs and instincts and how
Sep 17, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book explores animal societies and draws some parallel with human ones. It starts out with a somewhat provocative introduction, where the author states we shouldn’t look to religion for answers about the human condition, but instead look to scientific understandings of animal societies. The rest of the book doesn’t really follow up on the promise of the introduction. I found no contrast between science and religion, but instead the author devotes the book to explaining what science tells us ...more
Sep 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfic-science
E. O. Wilson's work was a huge influence on my early thinking about evolutionary psychology (called sociobiology) at that time, and pushed me toward my primary interest in that field today. I developed a class at my university on Evolutionary Psychology in part because of that influence. Unfortunately, I was generally disappointed with this book. Most of the ideas here have been explained by Wilson at much greater length and with greater clarity in previous works. There are quite a few sections ...more
Jeni VW
Aug 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A quick read, this is more an extended essay than a full book and is immensely accessible to lay readers who are familiar with the rudiments of biological concepts such as taxonomy, evolution, genetics (as much as you remember from h.s. Biology class). Wilson discusses eusociality, the altruistic, cooperative bent of the most complex societies, of which humans are one of 17 species to have evolved to the highest level. The book weaves prehistoric evolution with insights derived from studying ...more
Dan Graser
Apr 17, 2019 rated it liked it
E.O. Wilson is such a wonderful writer and expositor of the wonders of biology that I will pretty much read anything he writes. This very brief work, however, comes close to being a disappointment. This is not due to a lack of substance, elegant prose, or interesting discussion, rather the problem lies in the lack of connection being made between the examinations of altruism and eusociality in the myriad species discussed and the evolution of these traits in humans. In fact, humans and ...more
Will F
May 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
When I read the Origins of Creativity by Wilson, I was not totally impressed. I had heard that the author was one of the 20th century's great biologists. When I finished Genesis, it was clear that this initial impression was an incorrect one. This book was very well organized and lucidly written.
Genesis primarily covers the history (and pre-history) of the evolution of eusociality, and structure in social organisms. The book is convincing and detailed. I was very impressed, and overall glad that
Jun 30, 2019 rated it liked it
The author proposes an explanation of altruistic behavior based upon biological and evolutionary constructs, and the ordering of societies, both human and nonhuman, along such lines. The attempt is made to explain behaviors such as the killing of rival queens by worker ants in ant colonies, or chimpanzee warfare, along such biological lines. The author acknowledges the uniqueness and complexity of human behavior, and how insect or chimpanzee behavior does not match the complexity of human ...more
LIv Meyer
Jul 31, 2019 rated it it was ok
A lot of potentially interesting ideas with no supporting data or references. For instance- the crux of this book relies on the identification of eusociality as the apex of social organization. This is based solely on the idea that humans and certain eusocial organisms such as termites and ants are the most abundant species. And yet, his argument for the characterization of humans as eusocial falls short, which leaves us with the organization of ants and termites as the most complex, successful ...more
Lee Barry
Jun 09, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: science, _partial
Read in part. As always, Wilson hints at some kind of consilience:

"The history and moral lessons [of organized religion] contain often colorful, even bizarre in content, are already excepted as basically unalterable and more importantly, superior to all competing stories. The members of the tribe are inspired by the special status the story gives them, not just on this planet but on all other of the multitude of planets in each of the trillion galaxies estimated to compose the known universe.
Peter A
May 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
I have always learned something from reading E.O. Wilson; this book is not exception. This short essay addresses some very deep questions of the biological underpinnings of societies, be they insect or human. This area of research is continuing to develop new insights, many of which are reported in the book.

One nice feature of each of the chapters is a succinct summary of the key message of the chapter.

That said, I felt there was a discontinuity between the first six chapters about societies in
Nithila Peter
Feb 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
I love the clarity of Wilson's mind, in his recent works. After processing this material of evolutionary biology, for so long, Dr. Wilson's propositions are sage like - aphorisms, resonant with philosophical and scientific depth.

I appreciate the breakthrough he makes in studying evolution, where he recognizes the role of altruism and co-operation in non-human species, that have aided their survival and longevity....
D.L. Morrese
Jul 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Extrapolating from social insects and spiders, Wilson argues that altruistic social societies are highly successful (from an evolutionary standpoint), and that human social behavior was instrumental in our species biological evolution.

Lots of technical bug talk that's kind of dull (if you're not a big fan of creepy crawlies), but an easily readable short book about social species and why they are adaptive.
May 13, 2019 rated it liked it
I think what Wilson is saying is that species that, one, have evolved to have some members who have no reproductive function, like humans and bees, and, two, these same non producers then support the group in other ways, are very strong. This is a hugely reductive condensing of a much more complex explanation, but I keep getting lost in the explanation, so I’ve settled on this kind of big picture view.
John Kaufmann
Jun 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: science, evolution
E.O. Wilson is one of the best biologists in our time. However, this was not one of Wilson bets books. It seemed somewhat redundant to some of his recent works, and where it did seem to try to add to his previous works I though he was unclear. In addition, his style has always been a little tedious, but this one was very tedious.

I only gave this book three stars because it was E.O. Wilson - I would have had a hard time giving anything of his any less.
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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 ...more
“For most of history, organized religions have claimed sovereignty over the meaning of human existence. For their founders and leaders the enigma has been relatively easy to solve. The gods put us on Earth, then they told us how to behave. Why should people around the world continue to believe one fantasy over another out of the more than four thousand that exist on Earth? The answer is tribalism,” 1 likes
“Natural selection, the driving force of biological evolution in both individual and group selection, is captured in a single phrase: mutation proposes, the environment disposes.” 1 likes
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