"A science of sociobiology, if coupled with neurophysiology, might transform the insights of ancient religions into a precise account of the evolutionary origin of ethics and hence explain the reasons why we make certain moral choices instead of others at particular times." (p. 129)A big book gets even bigger. With over 700 jumbo sized pages of small, double columned print this is not a text that one can plow through in a week or two. Despite its size Sociobiology hasn't been expanded and updated in the past 25+ years (with the exception of Wilson's new 4 page introduction). Even with the vast amount of more recent research, Sociobiology is still worth reading. It will remain a timeless classic and constantly referred to work throughout the foreseeable future.
Example after example through the entire book of various species demonstrating certain behaviors make Sociobiology almost as entertaining as it is fascinating which is unusual for something that on the surface appears to be a textbook of sorts. If the facts of the social behaviors of these species aren't intriguing enough for you then the novel and clever ways in which scientists have discovered these traits via careful observation and/or ingenious experiment will.
The chapter on aggression is very interesting. It has been demonstrated that species far less conscious than humans are genetically programmed to be aggressive (via hormones like catecholamine) when crowded. Although the chapter isn't about homo sapiens, until the last page, Wilson ends the chapter with this advice:
If we wish to reduce our own aggressive behavior, and lower our catecholamine and corticosteroid titers to levels that make us all happier, we should design our population densities and social systems in such a way as to make aggression inappropriate in most conceivable daily circumstances and, hence, less adaptive.As one who is familiar with Wilson's primary interest would expect, there is much on the insect world and ants in particular.
Insects present the biologist with a rich array of social organizations for study and comparison. The full sweep of social evolution is displayed--repeatedly--by such groups as the halictid bees and sphecid and vespid wasps. (p. 397)In later chapters, beginning in Part III of the book, various organisms are grouped together (or contrasted) into various social categories. Even though I was familiar with sociobiology, some of the key aspects hadn't hit me so hard before. The caste systems of certain species, the altruism factor, and the group organism concepts were risen to a surface I had not previously examined or contemplated. The topic of species level evolution vs. selfish, individual selection is quite fascinating.
Sociobiology has not been without critics (mostly from the Marxist camp). The controversy is largely over whether or not social behavior has a biological foundation. Clearly such is the case to some degree in a great number of species. Wilson never says that this is the only factor. To insinuate that this is the position is to create a strawman and, more importantly, to miss out on the biological reality Wilson so accurately describes.
The final chapter on human sociobiology has frequently been misconstrued in my opinion. To me, Wilson seems to be providing stimulus for future research (which certainly has occurred thanks in large part to this book). He wasn't laying down any fixed dogma and certainly wasn't encouraging fascism, racism, sexism, imperialism, and a revival of eugenics as some critics claim. Wilson never states, or even implies, that biology fixes or completely determines human behavior. On the contrary, Wilson emphasizes the flexibility in humans both collectively (socially) and individually.
from the publisher:
Harvard University Press is proud to announce the re-release of the complete original version of Sociobiology: The New Synthesis--now available in paperback for the first time. When this classic work was first published in 1975, it created a new discipline and started a tumultuous round in the age-old nature versus nurture debate. Although voted by officers and fellows of the international Animal Behavior Society the most important book on animal behavior of all time, Sociobiology is probably more widely known as the object of bitter attacks by social scientists and other scholars who opposed its claim that human social behavior, indeed human nature, has a biological foundation. The controversy surrounding the publication of the book reverberates to the present day.
In the introduction to this Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition, Edward O. Wilson shows how research in human genetics and neuroscience has strengthened the case for a biological understanding of human nature. Human sociobiology, now often called evolutionary psychology, has in the last quarter of a century emerged as its own field of study, drawing on theory and data from both biology and the social sciences.
For its still fresh and beautifully illustrated descriptions of animal societies, and its importance as a crucial step forward in the understanding of human beings, this anniversary edition of Sociobiology: The New Synthesis will be welcomed by a new generation of students and scholars in all branches of learning.
Edward O. Wilson is Pellegrino University Professor at Harvard University. In addition to two Pulitzer Prizes, Wilson has won many scientific awards, including the National Medal of Science and the Crafoord Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
"This book enthralls and enchants...If you have this book...you can begin getting your mind ready for the illuminations about human society." --Lewis Thomas, Harper's
"Rarely has the world been provided with such a splendid stepping stone for an exciting future of a new science." --John Tyler Bonner, Scientific American
"Its contents do indeed provide a new synthesis, of wide perspective and great authority...Wilson's plain uncluttered prose is a treat to read, his logic is rigorous, his arguments are lucid." --V. C. Wymne-Edwards, Nature
"This book will stand as a landmark in the comparative study of social behavior." --Quarterly Review of Biology
"Sociobiology is an excellent book, full of extraordinary insights, and replete with the beauty and poetry of the animal kingdom." --Times Literary Supplement
"It is impossible to leave Wilson's book without having one's sense of life permanently and dramatically widened." --Fred Hapgood, Atlantic Monthly
"Sociobiology, a new concept, is one with extraordinary potential value for understanding and explaining human behavior." --Practical Psychology
"A towering theoretical achievement of exceptional elegance...Like most great books, Sociobiology is unpedantic, lucid, and eminently accessible." --Pierre L. van den Berghe, Contemporary Sociology