Why cooperate? This may be the most important scientific question we have ever, and will ever, face.
The science of cooperation tells us not only how we got here, but also where we might end up. Cooperation explains how strands of DNA gave rise to modern-day nation-states. It defines our extraordinary ecological success as well as many of the most surprising features of what makes us human: not only why we live in families, why we have grandmothers and why women experience menopause, but also why we become paranoid and jealous, and why we cheat.
Nichola Raihani also introduces us to other species who, like us, live and work together. From the pied babblers of the Kalahari to the cleaner fish of the Great Barrier Reef, they happen to be some of the most fascinating and extraordinarily successful species on this planet. What do we have in common with these other species, and what is it that sets us apart?
Written at a time of global pandemic, when the challenges and importance of cooperation have never been greater, The Social Instinct is an exhilarating, far-reaching and thought-provoking journey through all life on Earth, with profound insights into what makes us human and how our societies work.
Nichola Raihani is a Royal Society University Research Fellow and Professor in Evolution and Behaviour at UCL. Her group's research focuses on the evolution of social behaviour in humans and non-human species. She has been widely published in scientific journals, won the 2018 Philip Leverhulme Prize in Psychology for her research achievements, and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology in 2018. She lives in the UK with her family.
"A phenomenally important book. The story of why we humans evolved to become such a wonderfully cooperative, social species, and what that means for the world today. Nichola Raihani will change the way we think about ourselves."
– Lewis Dartnell, author of Origins: How the Earth Made Us
"A well-written book, easy to read – a pleasing juxtaposition of insightful scientific theory with illuminating anecdotes"
– Richard Dawkins
"This is a superb book about how important cooperation is in biology, from molecules and cells to families and whole societies."
– Alice Roberts
"Vibrant science about a topic that could not be more important: How did our superpower of cooperation evolve against the odds? This engaging book wears its strong scientific credentials lightly. I could not put it down."
– Uta Frith, Professor Emeritus of Cognitive Development, University College London
"Cooperation is at the heart of our bodies, our societies and our ecosystem. Nichola Raihani's stunning book flips the selfish gene on its head, showing us not only how to better understand the world, but also how to change it."
– Matthew Cobb, author of The Idea of the Brain
"In this captivating book, Nichola Raihani [...] provides a compelling argument that cooperation is the secret of human success and yet has never been as crucial as it is now, during a global pandemic and with the threat of the climate crisis. I found this intriguing and beautifully written book hard to put down."
– Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, author of Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain
"The Social Instinct is surprising, thoughtful and, best of all, endlessly entertaining, examining the puzzle and power of co-operation from the decks of the HMS Bounty to the babbling birds of the Kalahari. Absolutely loved it."
– Will Storr, author of The Science of Storytelling
"This is a glorious book, with an insight on every page. Above all it taught me that while our individual bodies and brains might reward comparison with our primate relatives, in understanding our social relations we would be much better off comparing the meerkat. And the naked mole-rat. And the bower bird. And the cleaner-fish."
– Rory Sutherland, author of Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas that Don't Make Sense
"If you've ever wondered why people aren't as cooperative as they ought to be, you'll find the answer right here – mapped out in detail that is full of surprises at every page-turn."
– Robin Dunbar, Emeritus Professor of Evolutionary Psychology, University of Oxford
"A fascinating exploration of the ties that bind us from our smallest cell to our grandest society. Raihani reveals the deep evolutionary roots of cooperation, drawing on her own extensive scholarship in an entertaining and insightful new look at the risks and rewards of collaborating."
– Gaia Vince, author of Transcendence and Adventures in the Anthropocene
"A well informed, pithy, provocative overview of the evidence that cooperation is the key to success – for microbes and animals as well as for humans."
– Tim Clutton-Brock, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Cambridge
"Raihani weaves a captivating tale through the tree of life, to show how our own societies are shaped by the same evolutionary games as other animals. A beautiful, compelling and unstoppable read [...] This book will change the way you view your own behaviour."
– Seirian Sumner, Professor of Behavioural Ecology, University College London
"A fascinating deep dive into what makes us powerfully social creatures. Raihani takes us on a gripping journey from the Kalahari desert to modern city living. From economics to colonies of reef fish, cooperation is one of nature's marvels and Raihani is a compelling guide."
– Vaughan Bell, Associate Professor in Clinical Psychology
"With colourful examples from ants to meerkats and cleaner fish to chimps, Raihani expertly explores the biology and dynamics of social interactions that underpin human cooperation and competition [...] Essential reading for everyone from ecologists to economists. Kept setting off idea fireworks in my brain!"
– Kevin Mitchell, author of Innate: How the Wiring of Our Brains Shapes Who We Are
"The Social Instinct is filled with curious intellectual adventures at every turn [and] achieves the difficult task of being accessible to evolutionary novices and experts alike [...] A must-read account for anyone with an interest in how cooperation has shaped the world around us."
– Nicole Barbaro
"From cells to cities, cooperation is one of the deepest trends in the living world – and one of real keys to our success as a species. Raihani does a great job of explaining where it came from and why it matters. An insightful, entertaining, and extremely informative book."
– Steve Stewart-Williams, author of The Ape That Understood the Universe
"Nichola Raihani['s] [...] rewarding analysis ranges from genetics to politics, and from the individual to the international, including the COVID-19 pandemic."
– Andrew Robinson, Nature
"The Social Instinct fascinatingly combines vivid descriptions of the rich varieties of cooperation that exist in the natural world with thoughtful insights into how cooperation between humans is in some ways surprisingly similar and in others very different. A great read."
– Matthew Taylor
"In her energetic analysis, psychologist Nichola Raihani recontextualizes cooperation within the framework of evolution and reveals the competition for survival that still bubbles below its surface [...] Raihani offers insight into how our hardwired drive to cooperate could help us meet the challenges rushing at us, from pandemics to climate change."
– Scientific American