On Human Nature

by Edward O. Wilson

Hardcover, 1978




Cambridge : Harvard University Press, 1978.


In his new preface E. O. Wilson reflects on how he came to write this book: how The Insect Societies led him to write Sociobiology, and how the political and religious uproar that engulfed that book persuaded him to write another book that would better explain the relevance of biology to the understanding of human behavior.

User reviews

LibraryThing member keylawk
The book reveals how different characteristics of humans and society are explained from the point of evolution. Wilson challenges the tabula raza concept and other prejudices and misconceptions about the nature-nurture debate. Evolution has left its traces on the characteristics which are the
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speciality of human species, for example sex for pleasure, generosity, altruism and worship. The book is Darwinian, not only in its use of evolution, but in its restraint in drawing conclusions before an enormous amount of research and data has been brought to beach. He brings biological thought into social sciences and humanities.
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LibraryThing member gbsallery
Staggeringly good; the product of a formidable (ha!) intellect. Calm, lucid, and bold in scope, this work explains the earlier themes of Sociobiology, with particular impact on the "anti-discipline" of sociology. Well worth a read, if you are at all interested in the biological basis of morality
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(or more generally, culture).
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LibraryThing member ppendharkar
The book is somewhat outdated and I disagree with Wilson here and there but overall a great book.
Love Wilson. He is a great scientist and an infectious author.
LibraryThing member setnahkt
Recently reissued for the 25th anniversary of its publication, Edward O. Wilson’s On Human Nature doesn’t wear that well. The main problem is that this isn’t a scientific work; it’s philosophy. Wilson seems to be attempting to write a kinder, gentler exposition of Sociobiology for the
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“intellectual” crowd (subtly echoing C.P. Snow’s complaint that, inexplicably, scientists are not considered “intellectuals”). It doesn’t really work. Wilson forgoes rigor for anecdotes, possibly feeling that they will be more accessible; thus we have various accounts of behavior among hunter-gatherer tribes, insect societies, and other social animals and how this is explained by natural selection. The catch here is that while a rigorous mathematical treatment can only be disproved by more mathematics, an anecdote can be dismissed by another anecdote. Wilson, in fact, gives an example – when he talked about altruism in Sociobiology one of his critics immediately came up with “How do you explain Mother Teresa?”. In On Human Nature he answers that criticism with a discussion of the fitness value of religious belief; a better counter would have been “Statistics”.

Wilson discusses aggression, sexuality, altruism and religion but only with various “just so stories”; they are all perfectly plausible but are unlikely to convince anybody who needs convincing. While he’s a literate and engaging writer, if you’re seriously interested in this sort of thing you’re better off with Dawkins or Pinker.
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LibraryThing member WillWoods
If I could give this book six stars I would.
LibraryThing member Paul_S
Short, terse, concentrated and to the point without extraneous bullshit, florid language, personal anecdotes or dramatising. Joy to read. Unlike Jared Diamond not falling for wishful thinking and not afraid to touch on difficult topics - although writing this a few decades ago didn't carry the same
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kinds of risks as it does today.
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Pulitzer Prize (Winner — General Non-Fiction — 1979)
Alabama Author Award (Non-Fiction — 1980)


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