“Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?” Those famous questions, inscribed by Paul Gauguin in his giant Tahitian painting of 1897, introduce The Social Conquest of Earth. Their choice proclaims Edward O Wilson’s ambitions for his splendid book, in which he sums up 60 distinguished years of research into the evolution of human beings and social insects. Wilson has focused on the biology of behaviour since joining Harvard University as a junior research fellow in 1953. He also has a passion for writing, with 25 books to his credit (including two Pulitzer Prize-winners). The Social Conquest of Earth fully maintains the elegant and informative style of its predecessors. His most influential book, Sociobiology (1975), defined a new discipline, with the message that social behaviour could only be understood through the lens of evolution. At that time the idea that genes and natural selection play such an important role in human society outraged many social scientists and people on the political left. By now the main messages of sociobiology and its offspring, evolutionary psychology, have been absorbed into the intellectual mainstream, though the nature-nurture debate rumbles on as scientists investigate the relative contribution of genes and the environment to various aspects of life.
more from Clive Cookson at the FT here.