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Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution Paperback – June 1, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0226712123 ISBN-10: 0226712125

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Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution + The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition--with a new Introduction by the Author
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 342 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (June 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226712125
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226712123
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #421,872 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"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 "I continue to be surprised by the number of educated people (many of them biologists) who think that offering explanations for human behavior in terms of culture somehow disproves the suggestion that human behavior can be explained in Darwinian evolutionary terms. Fortunately, we now have a book to which they may be directed for enlightenment.... It is a book full of good sense and the kinds of intellectual rigor and clarity of writing that we have come to expect from the Boyd/Richerson stable." - Robin Dunbar, Nature"

About the Author

Peter J. Richerson is professor of environmental science at the University of California, Davis. Robert Boyd is professor of anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Prolific authors and editors, they coauthored Culture and the Evolutionary Process, published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Customer Reviews

All this detail interferes with readability and makes it unclear for whom the book is intended.
Jen Badham
Book is very interesting, but focuses on the environmental factors that shaped culture, and not really any others.
Caroline Golden
The Science section for 5/10/05 had a great review and discussion of this book and its concepts.
Pablo Paz

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

150 of 156 people found the following review helpful By R. Stone on December 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In the concluding pages of this book, Richerson and Boyd observe that universities have introductory courses in psychology, sociology, economics and political science in which students "are encouraged to think that the study of humans can be divided into isolated chunks corresponding to these historical fields." There is, however, no Homo Sapiens 1 or 101, "a complete introduction to the whole problem of understanding human behavior." The authors note that the chief reason no such course exists is "that the key integrative fields have not yet developed in the social sciences" and that "a proper evolutionary theory of culture should make a major contribution to the unification of the social sciences. Not only does it allow a smooth integration of the human sciences with the rest of biology, it also provides a framework for linking the human sciences to one another." I believe that such an evolutionary theory can and should integrate the social sciences with each other and biology and that this book could and should serve as the foundational text for Homo Sapiens 101.

There are dozens of books available employing evolutionary thinking to humans, the large majority of which do not offer a "proper evolutionary theory" because they neglect the most obvious and unique feature of our species--our culture, information affecting behavior acquired from other humans through social transmission. This failure results from a steadfast dedication to accounting for human behavior in terms of principles applicable to the prosocial behavior of other species-- kin selection and reciprocity.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Michael Valdivielso on March 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Not By Genes Alone by Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd explains something that should seem simple. Genes made us, we made culture, so genes shaped culture. Yet culture also helped shape us, so genes and culture interact together and work together to make us. But HOW do you do research on culture and link it to genes? Well, if culture also acts like genes, then what you want to do it treat it like genes.

And that is what the book does. It studies culture from an evolutionary point of view, breaking it down to traditions and values, making these the genes of culture. Cultures evolves, adapts and sometimes even cause problems, bringing about the extinction of the culture. One culture might work better than another and overwhelm the weaker, less fit culture.

By using the ideas and knowledge that Darwin has passed down to us the authors were able to understand how genes and culture worked together to shape US. LOTS and lots of detailed, data rich, chapters. Take your time and enjoy.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jen Badham on March 18, 2012
Format: Paperback
Richerson and Boyd present the same argument in (at least) two books. Culture and the Evolutionary Process is the earlier mathematical treatment. Not By Genes Alone is the later nonmathematical version, though it is informed by the same mathematical models as the earlier work. I am reviewing them together because the key concepts are the same, I read them almost together, and which version you prefer will probably depend on your background.

The core argument has several elements. First, culture constrains and shapes human behaviour (social scientists may be surprised that this is not immediately evident to all). Second, that the way that culture spreads can be understood using mathematical models based on evolutionary principles: competition between different ideas and behaviours (social norms) spread through inheritance from cultural parents (parents, teachers, social leaders). Importantly, this means that culture can evolve relatively quickly, allowing populations to adapt, but can also persist within a population even where the particular idea is no longer appropriate. Finally, the authors argue that the importance of culture for humans has led to greater fitness of genetics that favour culture (eg language facilitation), which has in turn supported a greater role for culture and further genetic pressure and so on.

In many ways, Culture and Evolutionary Process is the easier book, particularly if you are comfortable with mathematics. The mathematics is not hard, just very long and extremely tedious, particularly as the authors have attempted to make it accessible to nonmathematicians.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Hugh Small on June 5, 2011
Format: Paperback
This is a remarkably comprehensive guide to recent research into the interaction between human culture and biology. The academic authors, an environmental scientist and anthropologist respectively who call themselves for the purpose of the book `environmental theorists', have integrated the research of many others with theories of their own. One of the strongest points of the book is its promotion of recent discoveries about the extraordinary climatic conditions that shaped humanity, literally earth-shaking information that makes new sense of human evolution but is often not taken into sufficient account. I assume that the inspiring, almost lyrical, treatment of this new information comes from the environmental scientist.

Overall, this is not a popular science book, though it is more readable than most scholarly texts. What stops it being popular science is perhaps the lack of an easy-to-grasp narrative with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The more comprehensive the research gathered the harder this gap is to fill, and it is to their credit that the authors have managed to link together such wide-ranging research from so many disciplines even if the linking theory seems sometimes contradictory, unclear, and over-complex with its many types of cultural transmission "biases" which account for everything. At times they seem to be hinting that culture is a sort of test-bed for natural selection, and that software will eventually be turned into silicon, so to speak. This would be the ultimate `gene-culture coevolution'. What else can they mean in the book's conclusion (p. 235) by: "In the short run, cultural evolution, partly driven by ancient [i.e.
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