A concise, thoughtful exploration of how human understanding will be enhanced by “a humanistic science and a scientific...

THE ORIGINS OF CREATIVITY

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Wilson (Emeritus, Evolutionary Biology/Harvard Univ.; Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, 2016, etc.) offers a philosophical examination into “the mystery of why there are universal creative arts.”

The author’s answer exemplifies an alliance between science and the humanities that he champions throughout the book. Such a blending, he maintains, could “reinvigorate philosophy and begin a new, more endurable Enlightenment.” Wilson identifies five fields of research where this blending can be especially fertile: paleontology, anthropology, psychology, evolutionary biology, and neurobiology. These fields may allow “the full meaning of the humanities” to emerge by helping the humanities overcome their shortcomings: “they are rootless in their explanations of causation and they exist within a bubble of sensory experience.” The big five fields are united by a “common thread” of belief in the crucial importance of natural selection. “Nothing in science and the humanities makes sense except in the light of evolution,” Wilson quotes a geneticist, including the existence of creativity. The author sees language as “the greatest evolutionary advance,” setting Homo sapiens apart from other species: “Without the invention of language we would have remained animals. Without metaphors we would still be savages.” Early Homo sapiens had a larger brain than their ancestors, providing “larger memory, leading to the construction of internal storytelling” and “true language,” which in turn gave rise to “our unprecedented creativity and culture.” That rapid transformation “was driven by a unique mode of evolution, called gene-culture coevolution,” in which cultural innovation and genes favoring intelligence and cooperation occurred “in reciprocity.” Wilson’s writing is at its most luminous when describing the “chitinous armor” and glistening bodies of ants—“one of the most beautiful animals in the world”—to which he has devoted much of his career. His more abstract analysis, though sometimes repetitious, is nevertheless salient.

A concise, thoughtful exploration of how human understanding will be enhanced by “a humanistic science and a scientific humanities.”

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63149-318-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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