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


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.


I am always hungry for anything involving evolution and this book sated the hunger. It is an easy read but full of great information.

Shawn Smith

"Evolution for Everyone" includes a fine enough and simple description of natural selection early in the book, but it becomes increasingly laden with ideology after the first few chapters. The author clearly has a socio-political point that he's trying to advance, which would be fine if he had openly disclosed that. As is, the title and description of the book are quite misleading. He should have titled it something like "How the Theory of Natural Selection Can Be Used to Advance My Ideology." He works so hard at it that his logic becomes rather muddled, and his data is selective to say the least.For example, he dismisses a lengthy and thorough body of research discrediting the group problem-solving process known as brainstorming by asserting that previous experiments have simply made the mistake of applying brainstorming to the wrong kinds of problems. He constructed his own experiments in support of brainstorming, in which he asked groups to recall previously-learned information. (Previous brainstorming experiments have ask groups to solve creative problems, not list-generating problems, because brainstorming was originally designed for creative problem-solving.) It seems “intuitively obvious,” as professors like to say, that groups will outperform individuals at generating laundry lists, but there is a great deal of research demonstrating that brainstorming fails miserably as a tool for creative problem-solving. In this book, Wilson does an end-run around that fact, essentially saying that existing research findings are wrong if you redact a lot of history. The book is peppered with similar problems in logic.As an author myself, it pains me to write a harsh book review (and in the interest of full disclosure, I only made it about halfway through before skimming the rest and putting it down), but writers need to tread very, very carefully when using science to advance ideology.On the plus side, the first few chapters offer a nice, simple overview of the theory of natural selection.


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.

Fahy Bygate

Interesting little book about how to think like an evolutionist...how evolution is inherent in our every day life, etc.


Took me longer than a thought to get through, but I think worth it in the end. Some fascinating concepts that were new to me, but I wanted more. I think this book has inspired me to look into some other areas of life and how they relate to evolution. It was meant to target a non-scientific audience and I think he did a decent job. He had a habit of throwing out terms that he didn't define and that made it a little difficult to read at times. Sometimes it was over my head.

Shea Mastison

This is a good book that explains the essential, and beneficial nature of applying the theory of evolution to every branch of the sciences. Not only that, but it also explains how evolution applies to the "softer" sciences; like sociology and psychology. This book has one considerable flaw, in my opinion. The author goes through considerable trouble and rather tedious gymnastic-style contortions to give religion a seal of approval. "Nevermind facts," he seems to say, "religion has been evolutionarily beneficial in our development as a species. So we must just allow it to function without being too critical of it." And then he goes further to explain the sinister nature of "secret" religions like Objectivism!He goes a bit too far in trying to portray human existence as akin to living in a large hive-like community, and the book could do entirely without the autobiographical sketch of the author that makes up the bulk of the final chapter. If you're into science, and have a reasonable amount of patience, read this book.

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.

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.


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.


Amazing book, chock-full of fascinating information! It was so good I devoured it, and then as soon as I was done, I went back and read it all the way through again. Excellent and highly reccommended!

Cheryl in CC NV

Yes everyone should read this. Shows how the concepts apply to everyday life in a clear manner for anyone with middle-school science.

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.


I read this a few years ago while traveling to Ecuador and Galapagos. The author did a good job of making some of Darwin's most famous observations relevant to modern life and used terms the average high school student could understand. A nice fluffy way to freshen up on evolution, a little bit bland for daily entertainment reading.

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.

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