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I had this book for a semester in my humanities class and it was tough. this book has so much information, trying to retain more than a couple of pages gets overwhelming. The concepts of human behavior, various cultures and incredibly detailed analyses on shipwrecks were honestly fairly fascinating to learn about, but having to know the mundane details of what sort of culture likes to hook up with each other really ruined enjoying this otherwise fine good quality book. Also, i barely read so that should say enough. alright book, would not take test again.
5.0 out of 5 starsNatural Humanism, why we are basically good.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 30, 2019
This is a fascinating and important book. It sets out why human behaviour evolves towards more cooperation and order - it promotes survival. This explains clearly that morality is natural (and does not require any divine prompting). If everyone understood this fundamental point the world would get better faster. This, not by coincidence, is also the theme of the book.
Working in HR I found this book quite fascinating in its comparisons to the animal kingdom and findings relating to a blueprint for society. I like a bit of data, so seeing some of the research gives much food for thought.
5.0 out of 5 starsA deeply humane book that highlights our shared humanity in a world of great divisions
Reviewed in the United States on March 28, 2019
With lucid prose and wide-ranging knowledge on the human sciences, this book is a must-read for anyone who is curious about the origins of social groups and societies, as well as the common bonds that Christakis called "the social suite." This book is not only brilliant in its conception, but also sweeping in its scope. But most importantly, Christakis highlights our shared humanity that lies deep within the evolutionary process over centuries, despite our cultural and social differences. This unifying message is both timely and urgent, especially in this historical moment of great divisions and disparities in the United States and beyond.
4.0 out of 5 starsFascinating? Yes! Convincing? Naaaah
Reviewed in the United States on July 12, 2019
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Author Nicholas Christakis spells out the main claim of this book on page 397: “The social suite is founded on human evolutionary biology and is therefore a universal feature of our societies.” In other words, the way we behave versus one another, the structure of our society, is built-in and it’s gotten to where it is now through natural selection.
I read the whole thing, carefully, and my feeling is that “the jury’s out,” but I truly enjoyed this (epically discursive) exploration regardless.
The structure of the book is that the author does not get down to the business of laying out his argument straight away. You’re first taken on a number of “tours” where you get to observe behavioral traits of groups. The sundry tours include, among other things:
1. an enumeration of castaways from the nineteenth century: what binds these people is that they did not plan to form a “society”
2. a tour of utopian (American) experiments, who explicitly aimed to do so;
3. an attempt at describing a taxonomy of communities;
4. a full exploration of all the ways societies make their family arrangements (from Hazda foragers of Tanzania to the Na people in the Himalayas via the the Nuer of Sudan and the Tapirape people of Brazil)
5. a study of monogamy and polygamy in animals (including its relation to “key” genes that might potentially catalyze these behaviors)
6. an exploration of friendship in animals, including the examination of mathematical graphs of the links between animal “friends” which –amazingly, one must admit-- looks pretty much the same as it does for primitive humans
With one or two exceptions, what I took away from this tour (that takes you all the way to page 280 out of 420) is how immensely diverse all these arrangements are, which I think is pretty much the opposite of what I thought was the central tenet of the book. I mean, if the author is to believed when he says (p. 128) that “a global, cross-cultural survey found that kissing was present in only 46 percent of one hundred and sixty-eight cultures studied” I think we have conclusive proof that there ain’t no “Blueprint.” To say nothing of the castaways, some of whom looked after one another all the way to safety, when others went on to capture and subjugate women and form a child-exploitation colony that lasted generations.
So Nicholas Christakis has his work cut out to convince you there is a “Blueprint,” let alone to do so in only half as many pages as he takes you on his wacky tour. He does do a tremendous job of explaining where genes come in and he builds a nice little mini-body of circumstantial evidence, but I don’t think he quite gets to a QED, or even an “aha” moment. Not for me, at any rate.
Still, there are rewards to paying attention. It was interesting to read the argument regarding why the width and the length of a human nose --in contrast to the width and the length of one’s hand-- are uncorrelated: society rewards good people with progeny, but you need to identify those good people first and variety in facial characteristics is an aid in that quest. It was fascinating to follow the argument regarding teaching and how that can feed back into genes through the shaping of one’s environment, even if this was not the first time I heard the argument regarding fire, cooking, brain size etc. And it was intriguing to follow the argument that the pathogens make me sneeze so they can spread, much as I found it to otherwise be a non-sequitur.
But did I REALLY change my mind about the fundamental question here? Do I now think my genes have predestined me to check on Linked In to see if I have any more links? Not really, especially since I know it’s my investor Andreas who demanded I get to 500+
5.0 out of 5 starsA Well-Supported Optimistic Perspective on Who We Truly Are
Reviewed in the United States on April 6, 2019
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
There are thousands of academic writings that address the question, "Are humans fundamentally good?" Scholars will likely never reach consensus on an answer, just as the general population will likely never reach consensus on an answer. But Nicholas Christakis makes a scientifically-supported, passionate argument that we are wired to be decent, to work together, to not hate each other. And, to the extent that that belief can become a self fulfilling prophecy, I'm inclined to join him in it. This is a smart, timely book written by a scholar who has demonstrated that HE is a truly decent human. It is, in my opinion, his masterpiece.