How do organisms whose behavior is apparently determined by ``selfish genes'' become social beings, let alone altruists and saints? Ridley, former science editor of the Economist, looks to the growing field of evolutionary psychology for answers. This new discipline draws on insights from anthropology, economics, and politics, as well as on the evolutionary trends the author explored in The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature (1994). Other organisms besides humans have learned to cooperate. The social insects have long been taken as models for human society; the division of labor they exhibit is one of the key advantages of social living. Vampire bats nest in large groups, and it is common for a successful hunter to share its meal with a neighbor, in hopes that the favor will be returned at a later date. This discovery leads to a digression on the famous ``prisoner's dilemma'' of game theory; the first studies seemed to show that the selfish player invariably wins. It now appears that a cooperative player with a ``tit for tat'' strategy will outlast the purely selfish one. Communal hunting raises interesting issues, too. Surplus meat is often traded for sex with an attractive female neighbor. Early modern humans so effectively hunted large animals that many—the mammoth, for example—became extinct. Another negative effect of large-scale cooperation is war. It is evidently difficult even for highly sophisticated social beings to abandon the notion that only their own tribe is really human and that others must be exterminated. The other side of the coin is trade, which depends on mutual trust. ``Trust is as vital a form of social capital as money is a form of actual capital,'' Ridley argues in a concluding chapter in which he attempts to draw lessons for the modern political arena. A provocative look at some of the central questions about what makes us human; strongly recommended.

Pub Date: April 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-670-86357-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1997

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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