Customer Review

Reviewed in Canada on August 21, 2012
I was sorely disappointed with the Social Conquest of the Earth. I had read the essay Edward Wilson co-wrote with David Sloan Wilson on group selection and its place in sociobiology a few years ago in the Quarterly Review of Biology, and had been looking forward to a book by E.O. Wilson on the subject for some time. I had previously read Consilience and found it immensely rewarding. For someone with a growing interest in evolution (but no formal education in the hard sciences) it was a real joy to read and I took much from it. Not least of which was a great respect for Wilson's vast knowledge, not only of science, but also of the humanities. I had also read On Human Nature, and although it was quite dated by the time it fell into my hands, it was still very insightful. Wilson has made a tremendous contribution to the sciences, particularly evolutionary biology. His work on sociobiology and its offshoot, evolutionary psychology, has been revolutionary. Not just in the 1970s when he began writing about it, but even now. Over the last (roughly) decade, a small library of work has been produced on the importance of cooperation in evolution and the role evolution has played in the development of moral systems. Much of this has its modern roots in Wilson's contribution to evolution.

Unfortunately, this book fell far short of what I had hoped Wilson would contribute to this area of evolutionary studies. The book, overall, did not build toward a coherent argument in favour of group selection's importance to evolution. The chapters read more like individual, second-rate essays on a disconnected issues that only loosely link back to group selection. At certain points, he seems to barely make an effort to tie in individual chapters with the overall stated objective of the book.

The Social Conquest of the Earth seems like a missed opportunity for one of evolution's most important modern thinkers to push an important aspect of the field forward. Given Wilson's stature, not to mention his advanced age, it is too bad that this work fell far short of the expectations created by previous works like Ants, Sociobiology and Consilience.
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