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The Spirit in the Gene: Humanity's Proud Illusion and the Laws of Nature (Comstock Book)

19 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0801436512
ISBN-10: 0801436516
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Photojournalist Morrison (Australians Exposed, etc.) turns his attention to science writing in an attempt to describe and understand the world's growing ecological crisis. Though he writes with conviction and passion, he seems very much out of his depth when discussing scientific material. Morrison does an impressive job of summarizing the ways in which humans are altering the planet. He touches on the importance of biodiversity, the declining quality of agricultural lands, ozone destruction, global warming, acid precipitation and overpopulation, as well as a host of other critical issues. But the bulk of his book centers on his belief that virtually every aspect of our behavior is under strict genetic control. We are, in his terms, a plague animal, destined by our genes to reproduce abundantly and then, after destroying our environment, to endure a decimation of the species. As a metaphor, this is powerful stuff. Morrison isn't arguing metaphorically, however; rather, he contends that evolution, which he anthropomorphizes, is pushing us in this direction to protect the rest of the planet from our depredations. His conviction that genes dictate behavior lead him to political conclusions that are, by most lights, distressing. After saying that Hitler's policies arose from his lack of interest in sexual promiscuity, Morrison asserts that "national leaders who are discreetly promiscuous are merely displaying reassuring evidence of their well-balanced ambition and general genetic fitness for leadership." The kindest accurate description of this book is offered by Lynn Margulis in her very brief foreword, in which she refers to Morrison's ideas as "idiosyncratic." 49 b&w photos, 22 drawings, one map.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Series: Comstock Book
  • Hardcover: 286 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press (June 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801436516
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801436512
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #865,883 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Reg Morrison was born in England in 1934, and lived in Sri Lanka until 1944 when his family fled to Australia as war refugees. He became interested in photography as a 13-year-old Melbourne schoolboy, and finished his formal education at Mill Hill in London. After 15 years on the staff of two West Australian Newspapers he moved to Sydney and switched to book illustration. He has worked on assignments in India, south-east Asia, Hawaii and America, and
for the past 30 years he has specialized in evolutionary and environmental matters in Australia. During the 1980s he compiled a major coffee-table book that outlined the geological and biological evolution of this ancient continent and has subsequently distilled that research into two High School science resources. His last general-market book, 'The Spirit in the Gene' (Cornell University Press, 1999), summarized the impact that humans have had on the biosphere and explored the genetic origins of the behaviour that produced this impact. He continues to expand on this work via his website at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Ron Patterson on October 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Reg Morrison tells us, in this book, not only what is happening to the world's ecosystem but he also tells us why most people do not believe it. Morrison lays it out step by step. He explains why the population, in the last century has grown at such an exponential rate, and why that growth will soon come to an end....and head dramatically in the other direction. But one of the most important things covered in this book is why we refuse to believe the obvious, why we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the Easter Islanders and refuse to believe that our actions must inevitably lead to a dramatic population collapse.
Morrison tells it like it is, we are by nature anthropocentric and have ultimate faith in the ability of Homo sapiens to overcome any difficulty. Faith, Morrison tells us, is the magic ingredient that enables to make that wondrous leap from grim reality into the totally bloody ridiculous. So those who have given this book one star are the true believers. They have criticized it because they say it smacks of genetic determinism, a term invented by the critics of sociobiology, and not subscribed to by sociobiologists themselves. Or they have criticized the book because it does not offer a rosy picture where we are all saved by the wonders of science. Morrison paints science as one of the culprits in the rape of the world and not our ultimate savior. That is a message that raises the ire of many a true believer.
Yet all Morrison is trying to tell us is that what has happened many times in the past on a much smaller scale, is happening again on a worldwide scale. And it will happen because our population has already reached plague proportions and is now way beyond any sustainable level.
This is the very best book I have read in years, and I read an awful lot of books.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 26, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Reg Morrison summarizes in succinct and personal polemic style what problems the human race really faces, and does a good job of unmasking the nature of our mystically constructed delusions. It is a short book for covering such a broad sweep of our evolutionary and cultural heritage. Possibly some minor details are amiss, but the message is clear. For such an ultimately pessimistic view of what we prize most about ourselves, its punches are well delivered.
According to Morrison, globalism is heading for global ecological collapse under the weight of the human plague, and will be followed by massive decline in human numbers, if not outright extinction. As the situation gets more dire, the search for mental escape in our mystical beliefs in culture-land, nationalism, media will increase, not decrease. We will be all mentally "off the planet" by the time we are kicked off it.
Taking his presentation of facts and conclusions seriously means that the present course of human affairs is still heading for disaster. I present some conclusions of the book. Reg debunks some of our cherished mystical beliefs, and counterpoises his grim facts, and I present here his main conclusions.
Belief 1. Humans have spiritual autonomy and are therefore accountible for their actions.
Fact 1. We are genetically driven just like any other animal. We have no mind other than the body, and we lack behavioural choice.
Belief 2. The environment is inherently stable and will rebound if given half a chance.
Fact 2. The environment is a chaotic system and is therefore inherently unstable and always has been. If it were not so, evolution could not have occurred. Rebound is a not characteristic of the system.
Belief 3.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Donald A. Collins on January 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As I looked at the CNN tv coverage on Tuesday, January 3, 2012 of the nice folks in Iowa mulling over their choices for Republican front runner to combat Obama this coming November, I was pleased that our country was engaged in a time worn (if only a brief couple of centuries here) democratic process of trying to pick the best person to lead us.

What were the messages coming from these candidates? They bespoke of a complete disconnect from the real issues which confront human kind.

Having only been around a brief 80 years myself, who am I to judge the future? Or for that matter who alive can do so. We have many pundits of all stripes doing so, so my continuous note of pessimism can't make any impression.

That fact will not matter, because the coming apocalypse due to excess humans on our small planet will be the factor that will govern us and everyone on the planet.

Many have predicted this happening and observable facts from around the planet support the thesis that it has already well begun to occur.

Thus, when I came across a book by Reg Morrison entitled "The Spirit in the Gene: Humanity's Proud Illusion and the Laws of Nature" written in 1999, published 11 years ago which so eloquently put the case for restraint, I found a kindred spirit who has been saying many of the things I have written about and thought about and talked about for years.

The book got only 16 reviews, mostly favorable, eleven of them Five Stars (highest rating). The lead review from Ron Patterson says, "He explains why the population, in the last century has grown at such an exponential rate, and why that growth will soon come to an end....and head dramatically in the other direction.
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