Book Review: Genesis, the deep origins of society

(by Edward O. Wilson)

Wilson has written thirty some books, several of them path breaking, and many of them thick tomes, and this is his latest.  The subject is one of my favorites, and he brings his vast erudition and insight to the task.  This is a very short book, only 153 pages total and less than 120 uncrowded pages if you subtract the front and back matter.  At 89, I guess Wilson has slowed more than a bit.  He remains a graceful writer.

This is probably a good book if you want a very short introduction to the fundamental ideas of sociobiology, but I was disappointed, partly because I was pretty familiar with the contents and especially because I have read his earlier and far more comprehensive book The Social Conquest of  Earth, which covers much the same ground in more detail.  Also disappointing was the very short section on the origins of human society, largely based on plausible speculations with very little supporting detail.  He can still come up with some gems, though:

The most elementary organized groups above those of bacterial colonies are mating swarms of insects. They are the phantoms of nature, here one hour and gone the next. Among those most commonly seen are the chironomid midges. Individuals, when flying alone, are almost invisible. Such airborne micro-insects belong to the great assembly of very small flies, parasitic wasps, beetles, aphids, thrips and others that you rarely see unless you pay deliberate attention to the minutiae of nature. When flying singly they are like dust particles carried by wisps of air, visible only when passing close to your eyes. Their existence becomes clear when winged adults of one of the species gather in hundreds or thousands in aerial swarms in order to mate. They dance about like acrobats in tight, roughly spherical groups measuring from under a meter to tens of meters across. Their swarms seem to hang in the air. If you pass your hand through one (don’t worry, they don’t bite), the group disintegrates into swirling fragments. When you pull your hand back, the group reunites.
Wilson, Edward O.. Genesis: The Deep Origin of Societies (pp. 51-52). Liveright. Kindle Edition. 
It occurred to me that similar mating swarms can be seen at any high school football game.


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