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Sociobiology: The Abridged Edition Paperback – Abridged, April 11, 1980

ISBN-13: 978-0674816244 ISBN-10: 0674816242 Edition: Abridged

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Product Details

  • Series: Harvard Paperbacks
  • Paperback: 378 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; Abridged edition (April 11, 1980)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674816242
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674816244
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 1 x 11 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,018,457 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

E.O. Wilson defines sociobiology as "the systematic study of the biological basis of all social behavior," the central theoretical problem of which is the question of how behaviors that seemingly contradict the principles of natural selection, such as altruism, can develop. Sociobiology: A New Synthesis, Wilson's first attempt to outline the new field of study, was first published in 1975 and called for a fairly revolutionary update to the so-called Modern Synthesis of evolutionary biology. Sociobiology as a new field of study demanded the active inclusion of sociology, the social sciences, and the humanities in evolutionary theory. Often criticized for its apparent message of "biological destiny," Sociobiology set the stage for such controversial works as Richard Dawkins's The Selfish Gene and Wilson's own Consilience.

Sociobiology defines such concepts as society, individual, population, communication, and regulation. It attempts to explain, biologically, why groups of animals behave the way they do when finding food or shelter, confronting enemies, or getting along with one another. Wilson seeks to explain how group selection, altruism, hierarchies, and sexual selection work in populations of animals, and to identify evolutionary trends and sociobiological characteristics of all animal groups, up to and including man. The insect sections of the books are particularly interesting, given Wilson's status as the world's most famous entomologist.

It is fair to say that as an ecological strategy eusociality has been overwhelmingly successful. It is useful to think of an insect colony as a diffuse organism, weighing anywhere from less than a gram to as much as a kilogram and possessing from about a hundred to a million or more tiny mouths.

It's when Wilson starts talking about human beings that the furor starts. Feminists have been among the strongest critics of the work, arguing that humans are not slaves to a biological destiny, forever locked in "primitive" behavior patterns without the ability to reason past our biochemical nature. Like The Origin of Species, Sociobiology has forced many biologists and social scientists to reassess their most cherished notions of how animals work. --Therese Littleton


When Sociobiology was published in 1975, our reviewer, John Pfeiffer, hailed it as 'an evolutionary event.' Since then, it has become the framework for a controversial new science--the study of the biological basis for social behavior in every species, from the lowliest amoeba colony to modern human behavior. This shortened version, retaining all of Sarah Landry's illuminating drawings, makes it more accessible to general readers. (New York Times Book Review)

A towering theoretical achievement of exceptional elegance...Like most great books, Sociobiology is unpedantic, lucid, and eminently accessible. (Pierre L. van den Berghe Contemporary Sociology)

The book enthralls and enchants...If you have this book...you can begin getting your mind ready for the illuminations about human society. (Lewis Thomas Harper's)

Rarely has the world been provided with such a splendid stepping stone for an exciting future of a new science. (John Tyler Bonner Scientific American)

Its contents do indeed provide a new synthesis, of wide perspective and great authority...Wilson's plain uncluttered prose is a treat to read, his logic is rigorous, his arguments are lucid. (V. C. Wymne-Edwards Nature)

This book will stand as a landmark in the comparative study of social behavior. (Quarterly Review of Biology)

Sociobiology is an excellent book, full of extraordinary insights, and replete with the beauty and poetry of the animal kingdom. (Times Literary Supplement)

It is impossible to leave Wilson's book without having one's sense of life permanently and dramatically widened. (Fred Hapgood The Atlantic)

Sociobiology, a new concept, is one with extraordinary potential value for understanding and explaining human behavior. (Practical Psychology)

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Brian Swartz on May 26, 2002
Format: Paperback
Wilson really is one of the "twentieth centuries greatest thinkers." This is a dense and demanding publication requiring a scientifically literate audience. It covers basic concepts from altruism, selfishness, and spite; including communication, aggression, social roles, sex, and parenting from "invertebrates" to vertebrates.

Now, in 2007, this is really more of a 'classic'. For intro students, I'd first recommend getting your footing with "Animal Behavior" by Alcock, and *then progressing into more technically written publications like this one.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Steven H Propp TOP 100 REVIEWER on June 7, 2013
Format: Paperback
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]. He wrote in the Preface to this [1980] Abridged Edition, "Modern sociobiology is being created by gifted investigators who work primarily in population biology, [and] zoology... Because my training and research experience were fortuitously in the first two subjects... I decided to learn enough about vertebrates to attempt a new general summary. The result was Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, published in 1975. The book met with substantial critical success... However, its large size... and necessarily high cost prevented it from reaching much of the large audience of lay readers and students who have become interested in sociobiology ... In the present version... I have trimmed the text down... This shortened version is intended to serve both as a textbook and a semi-popular general account of sociobiology. Because of the unusual amount of interest and commentary it has generated, I have left the final chapter on human social behavior... virtually intact." (Pg. v)

He says, "Sociobiology is defined as the systematic study of the biological basis of all social behavior." (Pg. 10) He states, "These prime movers of social evolution can be divided into two broad categories of very diverse phenomena: phylogenetic inertia and ecological pressure." (Pg. 20)

He states in the first chapter, "This brings us to the central theoretical problem of sociobiology: how can altruism, which by definition reduces personal fitness, possibly evolve by natural selection?
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Format: Paperback
I was first exposed to "Sociobiology" in college, and the effect it had on me was enormous. The idea that all human behavior is attributable to natural selection was the most radical and devastating thought that I had ever heard. This book is probably responsible for the philosophy of life that I now have. It shattered the last illusions I had that I still retained some vestige of autonomy. Wilson conclusively proved that nationalism, religion, and civilization exist for the sole reason to facilitate cooperation between individuals, thereby making it more likely that a society will survive. We are all termites, albeit more interesting and complex ones.
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By Tony Jacobsen on April 9, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Not a problem getting this at all. It was a quick arrival and everything that I needed.

One more thing... Go Huskers!
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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.

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