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On Human Nature: With a new Preface, Revised Edition [Paperback]

Edward O. Wilson
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 17, 2004 0674016386 978-0674016385 Revised

View a collection of videos on Professor Wilson entitled "On the Relation of Science and the Humanities"

In his new preface E. O. Wilson reflects on how he came to write this book: how The Insect Societies led him to write Sociobiology, and how the political and religious uproar that engulfed that book persuaded him to write another book that would better explain the relevance of biology to the understanding of human behavior.

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Editorial Reviews


Wilson is a sophisticated and marvelously humane writer. His vision is a liberating one, and a reader of this splendid book comes away with a sense of the kinship that exists among the people, animals, and insects that share the planet. (New Yorker 20041219)

Compellingly interesting and enormously important...The most stimulating, the most provocative, and the most illuminating work of nonfiction I have read in some time.
--William McPherson (Washington Post Book World 20050301)

A work of high intellectual daring...Here is an accomplished biologist explaining, in notably clear and unprevaricating language, what he thinks his subject now has to offer to the understanding of man and society...The implications of Wilson's thesis are rather considerable, for if true, no system of political, social, religious or ethical thought can afford to ignore it.
--Nicholas Wade (New Republic 20071124)

Twenty-five years after its first publication, Harvard University Press has re-released Edward O. Wilson's classic work, On Human Nature. A double Pulitzer Prize winner, Wilson is a writer of effortless grace and stylish succinctness and this is one of his finest, most important books...[A] highly influential, elegantly written book.
--Robin McKie (The Observer )

A seminal, groundbreaking, informative, thought-provoking, enduringly valuable, and highly recommended read. (Bookwatch )

About the Author

Edward O. Wilson is Pellegrino University Professor, Emeritus, at Harvard University. In addition to two Pulitzer Prizes (one of which he shares with Bert Hölldobler), Wilson has won many scientific awards, including the National Medal of Science and the Crafoord Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Revised edition (November 17, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674016386
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674016385
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 6.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #80,719 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Regarded as one of the world's preeminent biologists and naturalists, Edward O. Wilson grew up in south Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, where he spent his boyhood exploring the region's forests and swamps, collecting snakes, butterflies, and ants--the latter to become his lifelong specialty. The author of more than twenty books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Ants" and "The Naturalist" as well as his first novel "Anthill," Wilson, a professor at Harvard, makes his home in Lexington, Massachusetts.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
256 of 267 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Without euphemism June 3, 2001
On reading this again after a couple of decades, I am struck with how brilliantly it is written. The subtlety and incisiveness of Wilson's prose is startling at times, and the sheer depth of his insight into human nature something close to breath-taking. I am also surprised at how well this holds up after twenty-three years. There is very little in Wilson's many acute observations that would need changing. Also, it is interesting to see, in retrospect, that it is this book and not his monumental, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975), that continues to serve as an exemplar for later texts. For example, Paul Ehrlich's recent book on evolution was entitled On Human Natures (2000), the plural in the title demonstrating that it was written at least in part as a reaction to Wilson. I also note that some other works including Matt Ridley's The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature.(1993), Robert Wright's The Moral Animal: Evolutionary Psychology and Everyday Life (1994), and most recently, Bobbi S. Low's Why Sex Matters: A Darwinian Look at Human Behavior (2000), are organized intellectually in such a manner as to directly update chapters in Wilson's book.

On Human Nature was written as a continuation of Sociobiology, greatly expanding the final chapter, "Man: From Sociobiology to Sociology." In doing so, Wilson has met with reaction from some quarters similar to the reaction the Victorians gave Darwin. Wilson's sociobiology was seen as a new rationale for the evils of eugenics and he was ostracized in the social science and humanities departments of colleges and universities throughout the United States and elsewhere. Rereading this book, I can see why.
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54 of 56 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An important book, if a bit outdated nowadays... April 23, 2007
An oldie but a goodie. Published in 1978, On Human Nature completes Wilson's self-declared "trilogy" (The Insect Societies, 1971, and Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, 1975) that proposes the scientific search for genetic explanations for social behavior in animals, including humans.

Then and now, Wilson has been criticized by both religious and atheistic folks for reducing human behavior to the cold and limiting science of genetics. However, I didn't read it that way at all. Over and Over Wilson emphasizes the complexity, and that these are merely tendencies that are indeed influenced by environment (nurture). Consider that men tend to be faster than women, but that a female Olympic runner will always beat the average man in a race.

Some people in my book club had difficulty with some of the science, but I didn't at all (partially due to a minor in anthropology, and a cultivated layman's interest in science), so I doubt the average skeptic would have difficulty reading and fully understanding this book.

While this book was rather groundbreaking when it first came out, further developments in evolutionary psychology make it look rather dated, as do passages like these:

"There is, I wish to suggest, a strong possibility that homosexuality is normal in a biological sense, that it is a distinctive beneficent behavior that evolved as an important element of early human social organization. Homosexuals may be the genetic carriers of some of mankind's rare altruistic impulses. The support for this radical hypothesis..."

Hmmm, not so radical these days. This one's even better:

"...note that it is already within our reach to build computers with the memory capacity of a human brain.
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Boethius, Move Over: The Dawn of New Understanding June 11, 2002
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
Let me add my econium for this wonderful book, which received the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction, and is likely the best introduction into the emergent field of sociobiology (of which E. O. Wilson is progenitor).
The book is deftly, wittily, and elegantly written with great confidence and assuredness. The first half of the book introduces the reader to the promising field of evolutionary psychology, which, for the first time, promises to ground psychology on science rather than ideology. The book rings the death knell to Freud, Jung, pop-psychology, and other pie-in-the-sky notions that have mascaraded as a "human science."
The second half of the book addresses four of the most focal concerns of human nature: Aggression, sex, altruism, and religion, on the basis of sociobiology theory. The emergence of this endeavor begins with genes, evolution, and human enculturation, not with theories about infantilism, phallocentrism, and neuroticism. The topics are sufficiently covered in enough detail to keep the reader's interest and sustain the arguments, but with the intent of being introductory and accessible rather than sallying into the esoteric and academic.
The consequence is a wholly different orientation toward what is meant by "human nature." The concept is no longer the stuff of speculative metaphysics by armchair philosophers and psychologists, but a true science evolving out of the science of evolutionary theory and genetics. The implications are not quasi-scientific, but truly scientific. Humans do indeed have a "nature," and it is based on nature, not in the imaginations of wishful thinkers.
No one, not already exposed to sociobiology, will finish reading this book unaffected for the better.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Insights by one of our generations best minds
There is little that E. O. Wilson has written that isn't worth reading and this is a fine contribution to his library. Read more
Published 18 days ago by Jesse Liberty
4.0 out of 5 stars The debate will never be resolved but pieces can be glimpsed
Nature vs. Nurture will always be a hot button issue and can never be truly answered, mostly because it's unethical to run experiments on humans without their knowledge, and with... Read more
Published 21 days ago by Scott Rupertson
5.0 out of 5 stars A must
It helps to understand why liberalism moves mankind forward, and communism - against human nature - fails. It helps us to understand the Venezuelan mess, for example... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Argie Blue
5.0 out of 5 stars Nature bats last.
Gradually gnawing through E.O. Wilson's oeuvre (rather like one of his social insects) I think I am beginning to know how Darwin's contemporaries must have felt as they consumed... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Panayoti Kelaidis
5.0 out of 5 stars Wilson's 'On Human Nature' is a prelude to the age of epigenetics
Before the discovery of the epigenetics and its huge impact on human behavior Dr.E.O.Wilson through his love for the truth and his unprecedented methodology proves the importance... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Kerem Kaya
5.0 out of 5 stars Great summary on Human Nature
A classic on why we do what we do, from everything to fighting and reproducing. This gets down to the nitty gritty on our DNA and genetics and the ingrained behaviors we have and... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Don (MathCelebrity.com)
Edward Osborne Wilson (born 1929) is an American biologist, researcher, theorist, naturalist and author [he is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction]. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Steven H. Propp
5.0 out of 5 stars good book
Very informative bout sums it up. I need 19 more words to complete this review. Has lots of useful information and research from Edward O. Wilson.
Published 16 months ago by homelesscouchboy
4.0 out of 5 stars Gift
It was a gift for a friend who was doing research while writing a movie script. He was happy with it.
Published 17 months ago by AnielaS
4.0 out of 5 stars nature vs. nurture, still unresolved
Known for his book on Sociobiology, this book is several related essays about the favorite debate: nurture vs. nature. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Timothy J Lindsey
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