’With Genesis, Wilson inspires awe … His message is that selection has shaped a society that is characterized by cooperation and division of labour’ Nature
Of all species that have ever existed on earth, only one has reached human levels of intelligence and social organisation: us. Why? In Genesis, celebrated biologist Edward O. Wilson traces the great transitions of evolution, from the origin of life to the invention of sexual reproduction to the development of language itself.
The only way for us to fully understand human behaviour, Wilson argues, is to study the evolutionary histories of nonhuman species. Of these, he demonstrates that at least seventeen – from the African naked mole rat and the sponge-dwelling shrimp to one of the oldest species on earth, the termite – have been found to have advanced societies based on altruism, cooperation and the division of labour. These rare eusocial species form the prehistory to our human social patterns, even, according to Wilson, suggesting the possible biological benefits of homosexuality and elderly grandmothers.
Whether writing about midges who dance about like acrobats, schools of anchovies who protectively huddle to appear like a gigantic fish or well-organised flocks becoming potentially immortal, Genesis is a pathbreaking work of evolutionary theory filled with lyrical observations. It will make us rethink how we became who we are.