The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame.
By Christopher Boehm.
Basic Books. 418 pp. $28.99
The stories we’ve been told about the role of competition in our evolution have been unnaturally selective. Sound-bite pop science, of the “red in tooth and claw” and “selfish gene” variety, has left out much that is essential to human nature. Anthropologist Christopher Boehm aims to resurrect some of those missing elements in Moral Origins. In his view, cooperation, along with the traits and rules needed to make it work, was as essential to our survival as large brains.
Boehm has spent 40 years studying hunter-gatherers and the behavior of our primate cousins. His book’s explanatory quest started with a 10-year review of all 339 hunter-gatherer cultures ethnographers have described, 150 of which were deemed representative of our ancestors. Fifty of these have so far been coded into a detailed database. Boehm says this deep data set shows that we have been “vigilantly egalitarian for tens of thousands of years.”
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Jag Bhalla is a writer and entrepreneur living in Washington, D.C. He is the author of I’m Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears (2009), on amusing idioms of various cultures, and is currently at work on Errors We Live By, a book about fallacies in the ideas that run our world.more from this author >>
Religion in American War and Diplomacy.
By Andrew Preston.
Knopf. 815 pp. $37.50 SOMEDAY ALL THIS WILL BE YOURS:
A History of Inheritance and Old Age.
By Hendrik Hartog.
Harvard Univ. Press. 353 pp. $29.95 THE GREAT INVERSION AND THE FUTURE OF THE AMERICAN CITY.
By Alan Ehrenhalt.
Knopf. 276 pp. $26.95