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Academic & Professional Books  Evolutionary Biology  Human Evolution

Selfish Genes to Social Beings A Cooperative History of Life

By: Jonathan Silvertown(Author)
240 pages, 4 plates with colour photos; b/w photos, b/w illustrations
Selfish Genes to Social Beings
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  • Selfish Genes to Social Beings ISBN: 9780198876397 Hardback Apr 2024 In stock
Price: £20.00
About this book Contents Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

For all the "selfishness" of genes, they team up to survive. Is the history of life in fact a story of cooperation?

Amid the violence and brutality that dominates the news, it's hard to think of ourselves as team players. But cooperation, Jonathan Silvertown argues, is a fundamental part of our make-up, and deeply woven into the whole four-billion-year history of life. Starting with human society, Silvertown digs deeper, to show how cooperation is key to the cells forming our organs, to symbiosis between organisms, to genes that band together, to the dawn of life itself. Cooperation has enabled life to thrive and become complex. Without it, life would never have begun.


Part One: Groups
1. Topos and Narcos
2. A river of glowing light
3. From selfish genes to social beings
4. Big steak or big mistake?

Part Two: Individuals
5. Matryoshka
6. Odd couples
7. Phytosympathies
8. Good Companions

Part Three: Cells
9. A Brand-New Bag
10. Three-card trick
11. That green new thing
12. From solitude to solidarity

Part Four: Genes
13. Ordering the primordial soup
14. Peas and Justice
15. Naked selfishness
16. Coda: the cornucopia of cooperation


Customer Reviews


Jonathan Silvertown is an evolutionary biologist who has published widely on plant population biology. He is the author of eight books, including Dinner with Darwin: Food, Drink, and Evolution and, most recently, The Comedy of Error: Why Evolution Made Us Laugh. Formerly a Professor of Evolutionary Ecology at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Edinburgh, and Chair of Technology-Enhanced Science Education in Biological Sciences, he is now, following retirement, an Honorary Professor in the Institute.

By: Jonathan Silvertown(Author)
240 pages, 4 plates with colour photos; b/w photos, b/w illustrations
Media reviews

"Jonathan Silvertown's mission here is to show that however selfish genes may be, the outcome of all that competition is, more often than not, cooperation [...] You couldn't ask for a more insightful and entertaining account. Direct from the front lines of evolutionary biology, of why we live in a cooperative world"
– Ken Thompson, The Niche 55(2), summer 2024

"The world may seem brutish and selfish, but Jonathan Silvertown's Selfish Genes to Social Beings celebrates the evolutionary virtues of cooperation. A leading ecologist and evolutionary biologist, Silvertown weaves together science, history, literature, and storytelling to sing the praises of cooperation. Written with warmth and wit, this book provides a much-needed antidote to the unfair stereotype of nature, red in tooth and claw."
– Steve Brusatte, author of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs

"For long, the dominant explanation for the evolution of life has been that change came about as a result of 'ruthless competition'. But there were always voices arguing that cooperation, not just competition, was the motor of change. Cooperative behaviour has now been observed in organisms from microbes to plants and humans, all empowered by those famous selfish genes. We are in the midst of a major paradigm shift in the life sciences. Selfish Genes to Social Beings is a report from the frontiers of research, one that evolutionary ecologist Jonathan Silvertown is well-placed to make. He draws on a wealth of examples, some familiar, many less so, to document cooperation in action. A tour de force of synthesis."
– Steven Rose, Author of The Chemistry of Life and The Making of Memory

"Selfish Genes to Social Beings is at its best in the long, fascinating discussions of the complexity of cooperative behaviours across the natural world [...] Silvertown can talk as easily about the compounds making up your genes as most people can about yesterday's football match."
– Jonathan R. Goodman, Nature

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