*Starred Review* Herbert Spencer got it wrong. True Social Darwinism does not mean ruthlessly inhuman competition. Rather, it means the emergence of cooperation and altruism as vital parts of the astounding set of distinctively human adaptations called culture. Arguing this point, Pagel invokes Richard Dawkins’ notion of memes as cultural units that compete for survival in social life in the same way genes compete for reproduction in biological life. Readers soon see how the memes that foster trust, division of labor, and intergenerational learning have flourished in small groups of related individuals. But Pagel also limns the dynamics of kin groups in incubating memes for deceit, prejudice, and violent aggression toward out-groups. Yet by ferreting out the hidden implications of game theory, sociolinguistics, and the mnemonics of music, Pagel shows that cosmopolitan civilizations can transcend such destructive impulses and so sustain very large yet harmonious societies. Some readers, to be sure, will resist the explanation of even religious worship and artistic creativity in terms of biological science. But readers of diverse perspectives will recognize the timely wisdom in Pagel’s concluding reflections on the challenge humans now face in overcoming deeply ingrained ethnic jealousies by developing much more inclusive new conceptions of culture. --Bryce Christensen
“Gorgeously written, elegantly argued, Pagel demonstrates that genes are only a small part of the human success story; minds and culture are the larger part. A compelling read that allows us to appreciate everything around us with fresh eyes.” (David Eagleman, author of Tales of the Afterlives and Incognito)
“An intriguing combination of information...with an optimistic prediction of a future global society in which inventiveness and cooperation prevail.” (Kirkus Reviews (UK))
“Starred review. Pagel does an excellent job of using evolutionary biology to discuss the origins of religion, music, and art, and the reason why, cross-culturally, we generally share a sense of morality.” (Publishers Weekly (UK))
“This richly rewarding work of science explains the evolutionary significance of living in a collaborative culture.
Human evolution may be the hottest area in popular science writing, ahead even of books about cosmology and the brain. Within this crowded field, Mark Pagel’s Wired for Culture
stands out for both its sweeping erudition and its accessibility to the non-specialist reader.” (Clive Clarkson - Financial Times)