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The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies Hardcover – November 17, 2008
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About the Author
Edward O. Wilson is widely recognized as one of the world's preeminent biologists and naturalists. The author of more than twenty books, including The Creation, The Social Conquest of Earth, The Meaning of Human Existence, and Letters to a Young Scientist, Wilson is a professor emeritus at Harvard University. The winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, he lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.
Top Customer Reviews
From a theoretical standpoint, this book champions two ideas that E. O. Wilson has vigorously supported despite considerable criticism by biologists and social theorists. The first is that all social species share many traits in common, so that there is room for a special field, which Wilson calls "sociobiology," that charts the commonalities and differences among social species. This notion, laid out in Wilson's brilliant 1975 volume by that name, was greeted with scorn and contumely by social theorists who vehemently objected to including human sociality as a mere variant of biological sociality. The ensuing debate is brilliantly documented in Ullica Segerstrale, Defenders of the Truth: The Sociobiology Debate (Oxford University Press, 2001). Of course, sociobiology has withstood the criticism of the ignorant and the intolerant, and is now a fully flourishing field.
More recently, E. O. Wilson has become an ardent supporter of group selection, which holds that Darwinian selection occurs on multiple levels, including the gene, the individual, and in species with a high level of sociality, on the level of the group itself.Read more ›
FOR: This book is full of interesting material, most of which is well explained. It follows how eusocial insects construct complex insect societies that display apparent group intelligence by using only a small number of chemical signals and stereotyped responses. It seeks to understand how such complex societies came to exist, based on the competing interactions of selection between indivuals within the colony, and selection between colonies or group selection. It reviews a wealth of material on how such societies operate from relatively simple colonies to the vast and elaborate super-colonies of the leaf cutter ants. Although the shortest chapter, I was fascinated by the evolution of the ants, particularly the Sphecomyrminae, an extinct early ant with properties both of an ant and a wasp. The graphics are stunning, both the line drawings and the photography. Visually it is one of the most beautiful books I have read for some time. The images of concrete casts of ant nests are a revelation.
AGAINST: The authors often over-complicate. For instance, in one section ("anonymity and specificity of chemical signals" p270) the simple idea that some signals are widely used and recognized by many ants in a colony while others are more specific, even down to the recognition of individuals, is introduced by comparison with artificial intelligence and "class variables" and "instance variables". This is a pretentious sledgehammer used to crack a nut (and the supporting reference dated 1984 is very old). The chapter on communication is far too long, and could have been broken down into more manageable chapters.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
TREMENDOUSLY good book on ants and insect societies. I learned a lot and thought it was absolutely fascinating. Read morePublished 9 months ago by P. Pollock
So much information and so well written. I read it twice to gather it all in and still need to read it again!
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book - fascinating. I provides so much material for stories to tell around the camp fire.Published 13 months ago by Adele
Has to be the difinitive work on the subject. It puts the casual reader to task in a number of places to do some side reading, but even without this, enough of the text is... Read morePublished 15 months ago by James P. Buckner
The book "The Superorganism" is very nice. Just 3 comments:
1- The understanding of chemical communication is a bit too simplistic for my taste, thus loosing... Read more
The title of the book is “The Super-Organism, The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies” by Bert Holldobler and E.O. Wilson. This book was published by W.W. Read morePublished 17 months ago by Erica Knowles