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Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution [Paperback]

by Peter J. Richerson, Robert Boyd
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 1, 2006 0226712125 978-0226712123
Humans are 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 to adapt 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 this stunning exploration of human adaptation, Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd argue that only a Darwinian theory of cultural evolution can explain these unique characteristics.

Not by Genes Alone offers a radical interpretation of human evolution, arguing that our ecological dominance and our singular social systems stem from a psychology uniquely adapted to create complex culture. Richerson and Boyd illustrate here that culture is neither superorganic nor the handmaiden of the genes. Rather, it is essential to human adaptation, as much a part of human biology as bipedal locomotion. 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.

“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

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


Frequently Bought Together

Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution + Lone Survivors: How We Came to Be the Only Humans on Earth + Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters (P.S.)
Price for all three: $45.33

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"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.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 342 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (June 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226712125
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226712123
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.7 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #399,210 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
147 of 153 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Homo Sapiens 101 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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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genes and Culture working together. 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Difficult but rewarding treatment of culture 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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74 of 108 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Gently bashing the straw man May 16, 2005
Format:Hardcover
Some years ago, Richard Dawkins published "The Selfish Gene", explaining how gene survival was fundamental in natural selection. He also coined the term "meme" to explain the dissemination of ideas across societies. Almost immediately, there was a strident chorus of objection, based on the theme of "you can't say that about humans!" The outcry hasn't ceased, but in the case of Richerson and Boyd, it's become somewhat muted. This book is designed to gently persuade you that human evolution rests on a solid "cultural" base. Biology is under there somewhere, but for humanity, cultural impact overwhelms our genetic roots.

The authors would like to abandon the dichotomy of what's usually referred to as the "nature versus nurture" debate. That's admirable, but not only has that contest been challenged elsewhere, finding anyone adhering to either position as an absolute is difficult, if not impossible. Who claims "genes" are the sole behaviour drive? Not even religions, the most dogmatic element in our society, any longer label infants as "blank slates" to be moulded at will. Individuality and expression may be curtailed, but not constrained. Yet that curtailment, even if only mindless imitation, is the foundation of this book. Instead of the chaos of individual response to environmental pressures, "culture" guides behaviour to the extent that groups become predictable in their activities. For them, "culture" is a sort of behavioural umbrella keeping families and small communities from unravelling the fabric of society.

Richerson and Boyd gather a wide spectrum of studies to erect their cultural edifice.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great intro to evolution of culture(s)
Greatly interested in neuroscience of the brain & said book was mentioned in
Patricia Churchland's "Touching a nerve... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Manuel A. Ramos
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting way of looking at culture
I love the combination of evolutionary biology with culture. It's a simple yet powerful way of looking at culture, which too often remains mired in obscure or meaningless... Read more
Published on February 1, 2012 by Enjolras
5.0 out of 5 stars Bound to inspire human science
This is a remarkably comprehensive guide to recent research into the interaction between human culture and biology. Read more
Published on June 5, 2011 by Hugh Small
3.0 out of 5 stars Much to be learned, unnecessarily tough going
There is much to be learned from this book, but it is unnecessarily tough going. The authors delight in long verbal arguments about very fine distinctions. Read more
Published on May 11, 2010 by algo41
5.0 out of 5 stars Boring, Original, Don't Know Enough to Give Less Than Five Stars
I found this book boring, and not nearly as breath-taking and inspiring as Robert Wright's Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, which altered my perception of everything else, and... Read more
Published on November 28, 2009 by Robert David STEELE Vivas
3.0 out of 5 stars Culture? Or izzit still genetics in disguise?
I have to admit that with a title that makes as straighforward a declaration as this one does, I anticipated an imaginative, full frontal assault against the increasing dependence... Read more
Published on May 23, 2007 by Gregory Nixon
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful and readable insights
If you are curious as to why human behavior is often described in terms of culture or nature, and felt something was missing, this is a must read book. Read more
Published on January 15, 2007 by R. Rodriguez
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing About Culture Makes Sense Except in Light of Evolution
All social scientists and psychologists should read this book, or another introduction to Dual-Inheritance Theory.
Published on December 26, 2006 by Michael Bishop
4.0 out of 5 stars Great article in NY Times
The Science section for 5/10/05 had a great review and discussion of this book and its concepts. Made me order toot sweet.

[...]

DPS/Seattle
Published on May 26, 2005 by Pablo Paz
4.0 out of 5 stars Evolution's Trajectory
I purchased "Not by Genes Alone" because it promised to further develop the concept of `evolution's trajectory' explored in chapters 11 & 12 of my book, "Concepts: A ProtoTheist... Read more
Published on February 15, 2005 by Paul Carleton
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