January 25, 2008

Not By Genes Alone

Humans often seem to be a striking anomaly in the natural world. While we are similar to other mammals in many ways, our behavior sets us apart. Our unparalleled ability for adaptation has allowed us to occupy virtually every habitat on earth using an incredible variety of tools and subsistence techniques. Our societies are larger, more complex, and more cooperative than any other mammal's.

In Not By Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution (2005), Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd offer a stunning exploration of human adaptation arguing that a non-reductionist Darwinian theory of cultural evolution can further our scientific understanding of the rich diversity of human life.

Drawing on work in the fields of anthropology, political science, sociology, and economics—and building their case with such fascinating examples as kayaks, corporations, clever knots, and yams that require twelve men to carry them—Richerson and Boyd convincingly demonstrate that culture and biology are inextricably linked, and they show us how to think about their interaction in a way that yields a richer understanding of human nature.

In abandoning the nature-versus-nurture debate as fundamentally misconceived, Not by Genes Alone is a truly original and groundbreaking theory of the role of culture in evolution and a book to be reckoned with for generations to come.
READ CHAPTER ONE HERE: 'Culture Is Essential'
“Not by Genes Alone is a valuable and very readable synthesis of a still embryonic but very important subject straddling the sciences and humanities.” —E. O. Wilson, Harvard University

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