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Supercooperators: The Mathematics of Evolution, Altruism and Human Behaviour {Or, Why We Need Each Other to Succeed}
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Supercooperators: The Mathematics of Evolution, Altruism and Human Behaviour {Or, Why We Need Each Other to Succeed}

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  348 ratings  ·  54 reviews
Im Spiel des Lebens treibt uns das Streben nach Erfolg an. Wir alle wollen Sieger sein. Selbst unsere Gene, so heißt es, seien egoistisch. Aber Konkurrenz erzählt nicht die ganze Geschichte der Biologie. Etwas Grundlegendes fehlt.
Um zu überleben, betreiben die Geschöpfe jeder Spezies und auf jeder Stufe der Komplexität auch Kooperation. In der menschlichen Gesellschaft ist
Hardcover, 330 pages
Published March 1st 2011 by Canongate Books
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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
Shai Sachs
Aug 23, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Lukáš Zorád
Sep 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not a new book (2011), but fascinating reading that provides lots of insights into the world of world´s 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 Nowak´s experiments (and that of his collaborators) have taken me away and kept me not only enter
Jan 31, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction, science
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. ...more
Mar 21, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's easy to understand evolution as competition, so why does cooperation exist? Nowak wants to explain why, and his experiments take him from Vienna to Princeton to Harvard and from game theory to viruses to group selection.

The best part, imho, was Nowak's explanation of what happened when he punched strategies for solving the prisoner's dilemma into computer models. At first, tit for tat (if you cooperate, I will too, but if you defect, I will too) is successful. But as the programs become mor
Francis Kayiwa
Jun 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Apr 26, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: popular-science, 2017
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
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
Vegard Pettersen
Oct 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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!

Martin Henson
I really didn't want to be too critical or disappointed with this book. Martin Nowak is something of an hero of mine and without doubt a very very important intellectual. I have enough background to read - with reasonable comprehension - his academic papers, and in that sense, this book is not really for me. However, there wasn't really too much to like - perhaps *especially* for those with no prior knowledge or background. I had hoped the book would set out the conceptual landscape - in a reaso ...more
May 10, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: kindle, en, non-fiction
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
Robert Fischer
Oct 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 31, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
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
Nov 11, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Anne-marie Branch
Nov 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Sandeep Tammu
Started off very slowly, but once the essentials are ready, this book whims with profound ideas. Very rarely one would see a scientist like Martin, he is able to see and perceive​ wide range of topics from evolution, kin-selection, reciprocal alturism, cancer, society dynamics, global warming, virus propagation, and even language formation through the lens of game theory. There is unified direction in which the book hurls through, and it is about understanding the importance of cooperation in ev ...more
Charlie Close
Jul 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
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. ...more
Kit Brown-hoekstra
Jan 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
This book uses the Prisoner's Dilemma to explore game theory elements of cooperation and competition to determine which is the better strategy long-term. It's a fascinating book, and useful when designing teams, systems, and training. Highly recommend it. ...more
Nov 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Could be a great step in humankind.
Bocse Robert
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. ...more
Farhan Lalji
Mar 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First third was great, had trouble with the middle third and the last third came back around to save it.
Ronald J.
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
Imran Shabbir
May 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Needed diagrams other than that a great read!
Feb 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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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.)

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