Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives

ISBN: 0385340214
ISBN 13: 9780385340212
By: David Sloan Wilson

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About this book

What is the biological reason for gossip?For laughter? For the creation of art?Why do dogs have curly tails?What can microbes tell us about morality?These and many other questions are tackled by renowned evolutionist David Sloan Wilson in this witty and groundbreaking new book. With stories that entertain as much as they inform, Wilson outlines the basic principles of evolution and shows how, properly understood, they can illuminate the length and breadth of creation, from the origin of life to the nature of religion. Now everyone can move beyond the sterile debates about creationism and intelligent design to share Darwin’s panoramic view of animal and human life, seamlessly connected to each other.Evolution, as Wilson explains, is not just about dinosaurs and human origins, but about why all species behave as they do—from beetles that devour their own young, to bees that function as a collective brain, to dogs that are smarter in some respects than our closest ape relatives. And basic evolutionary principles are also the foundation for humanity’s capacity for symbolic thought, culture, and morality.In example after example, Wilson sheds new light on Darwin’s grand theory and how it can be applied to daily life. By turns thoughtful, provocative, and daringly funny, Evolution for Everyone addresses some of the deepest philosophical and social issues of this or any age. In helping us come to a deeper understanding of human beings and our place in the world, it might also help us to improve that world.

Reader's Thoughts

Bookmarks Magazine

Evolution for Everyone is David Sloan Wilson's fifth book on the subject (including Darwin's Cathedral and The Literary Animal) and the most reader-friendly. Critics favorably compare the effort to Steven J. Levitt's and Stephen J. Dubner's runaway best seller Freakonomics. They claim that Wilson, professor of biology and anthropology at Britain's Binghamton University, does for evolution what those two authors did for economics__that is, draw interesting and unexpected connections between musty theory and its practical applications in our everyday lives. Although most of his observations are right on the mark, Wilson's desire to connect evolution and religion may strike some as overreaching or preachy.This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.


This is an "orphan" book from our library shelves. It's well-reviewed but has passed much time without human companionship. I hope to be able to pay attention to it.


I am writing this review while I am approximately halfway through Evolution for Everyone. Dr. Wilson has written an extremely compelling book about evolution. There are two aspects I find especially endearing: 1) Wilson does not use the standard, now-hackneyed strategy of writing a book on evolution that simply breaks up chapters into such topics as "why do we laugh?", "why do we blush?" "how is a bee colony an organism in its own right?" Instead, he begins with an overview of how evolutionary thinking can lead us to some startling (and startlingly accurate) predictions about the world. After a cogent overview of what he means by evolutionary thinking, he applies this unique brand of thinking to what we know about the world. [I have not yet reached the part of the book in which he discusses religion - which I look forward to.]2) Wilson backs up his lofty evolutionary theory with hard data and does not shy away from the knowledge that some things we think we know today will turn out to be wrong in the future. He reminds the reader that science is not a collection of facts, while simultaneously progresses by collecting facts. He does a great job of making this quasi-paradox disappear by referring repeatedly to the process of science and what science can and can't currently tell us about evolution. If you are the type of nonfiction reader who hates authors' interjecting their personal experiences and stories of their intellectual journeys into their nonfiction books, then you may be slightly put off by this book. I don't personally find the practice invasive. At times I wish nonfiction authors would actually inject more of themselves into their books; these are usually interesting people who have led a life of intellectual curiosity that would satisfy their readers' interest.


good for general audience. theres some interesting takes on academic strategies for teaching evolution. DS Wilson runs the EvoS program at Binghamton. If i was in HS right now i would definitely apply there.


Wilson write an accessible story of his efforts to expand the application of evolutionary theory in a multitude of useful applications across the entire spectrum of academia. I applaud his effort. William Meller is persuing the same efforts in medicine. Their efforts contain value beyond anyone's imagination. These days D. S. Wilson spends too much time chasing the dubious rabbit-trails of group selection and lamenting the failure of biologists to study Evolutionary Religions Studies (ERS).

Rachael Carmen

It was a pretty good introductory book that explains various applications of evolutionary theory. I recommend this book for anyone that would like a basic understanding of evolutionary theory. Particularly, Wilson has a lot of fantastic examples that make it easy for the reader to understand various every-day phenomena from an evolutionary viewpoint.


Plenty to ponder here, even for those who already have a solid grounding in evolutionary theory, and a refreshing reminder that generalists can still make contributions, given a sufficiently powerful theoretical framework within which to operate.

LaMar Parkin

A fascinating book! Helps you realize that evolutionary principles are more appicable to issues outside of hard-core biology than you think.Very Readable. Many of the insights are unique and incredible.A great read for anyone.

Janine Lund

This book is the best and most fun explanation of evolution and how the theory opens up new perspectives on a wide range of fields, such as psychology and morality and religion. It describes fascinating experiments and multiple resources. It is fun and I am reading it for a second time right now.


As seen on Origins.


I was quickly won over by this excitable biologist's presentation of evolutionary theory, mainly because of the fascinating studies he describes (though I'm not sure that they necessarily support the conclusions he wants them to support) and his cheerful, sometimes even dorky, but certainly humble, story of his own development as a scientist. His special take on the meaning of evolutionary theory for us humans at this time is interesting and perhaps heartening but not all that convincing. (He thinks that "survival of the fittest" no longer applies to individuals of our species but rather to groups, so cooperative group members are the fittest of our species; but is a group mind really a better mind, and are we willing to let go of even an inch of our sense of ourselves as individuals?) Also, standard evolutionary theory has some big problems which are commonly known but seldom publicly admitted to by scientists -- it is far from a finished theory, but we can't give Creationists any ammunition, it seems -- and Sloan too doesn't adequately address these weaknesses. Still, a stimulating read, especially for those who love science but aren't specialists.

Seth Wilpan

Evolution provides a framework for thinking about all aspects of the human condition. A significant teaching for me is the distinction between the proximate and ultimate cause of an adaptive change. The proximate cause is an immediate response to something in the environment that turns out to be useful for survival. Kids may gather to play because it's fun (the proximate cause), but it makes them safer to be in a group, so the behavior is reinforced (the ultimate cause).It was surprising to find out how limited the application of evolutionary principles are in academia. Surprising that each discipline is so cloistered that it is not even aware of such principles and scholars in different disciplines are parochially resistant to even considering the application of evolutionary thought to their studies.Most thought provoking are the application of evolutionary thinking to the study of culture.

Frank Roberts

Very interesting and very accessible to a general audience. The author introduced a bit too much of his own life and personality into the book, which might be a draw to someone else but for me was a distraction.


An absolutely fantastic book great for anyone interested in evolution. I'm particularly interested in the evolution of cooperative behavior, and this book is the best explanation I've seen. Though I enjoy reading Dawkins, his selfish gene hypothesis has given too much support to those who believe that people are driven only by self interest. Wilson has a far more sophisticated analysis with enormous implications for the design of economic systems that will be able to confront the biophysical crisis faced by society.

Hanje Richards

Although David Sloan Wilson tries to make this book accessible to non-scientists, there were parts of the book that were over my head. The parts that I was able to wrap my head around were interesting, and I certainly found it worth powering through, as I often do with science books that are just slightly above my level.This is another time where I wish half stars were available. I would certainly give this 3.5 stars, but probably due to my own limitations, I don't think I can give it 4 stars.

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