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The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society

Little, Brown US,

15 min read
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8 take-aways
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What's inside?

Humans thrive by living in societies connected by cooperation and kindness.

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  • Analytical
  • Innovative
  • Scientific


Bitter grievances mark human history. But though people are hard-wired for aggression and violence, their dominant traits remain love and cooperation. In this engaging study, Yale scientist Nicholas Christakis argues that human societies are largely benevolent due to genetic programming. While survival of the fittest leads to selfishness in many species, humans adapted to build societies based on kindness and collaboration. Christakis’s compelling examples, thorough history and intellectual speculation will appeal to academics and anyone interested in the interplay of genetics and society.


Over hundreds of thousands of years, humans thrived by living in societies glued together by cooperation and kindness.

Humans dominate the Earth not because of their intelligence or muscle, but due to an overlooked innate skill: the ability to create societies. Few animal species band together like humans. For humans, social groups have been the most powerful evolutionary force. The uniquely social human species is hard-wired for social interaction and friendliness, a propensity that grows more important as economies become more complex and societies become more dependent on shared knowledge.

Evolution programmed humans to develop societies that rest upon a social suite of characteristics.

Evolution leads people to build societies founded on a social suite of eight traits: individual identity; love for partners and offspring; friendship; social networks; cooperation; in-group bias (a preference for racial, religious or other types of cliques); mild hierarchy (a system that combines authority and structure with egalitarianism); and social learning and teaching.

Shipwrecks, common occurrences in the 18th...

About the Author

Physician and sociologist Nicholas A. Christakis directs the Human Nature Lab at Yale University and teaches social and natural science.

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