Review of The Evolution of Everything

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The title of this book isn’t kidding or exaggerating. Science journalist Matt Ridley writes about the evolution of just about everything. He reviews the general theory of evolution and moves on to chapters on the evolution of the universe, life, culture, the economy, government, religion, the Internet and the mind. Name a major aspect of humanity or the physical universe, and Ridley discusses it. getAbstract finds that his lively intelligence produces a highly readable work. Though he focuses on the biggest topics in the world, Ridley delivers nice personal touches. Some of these asides, such as his encounter with the Roman atomist Lucretius, may seem less important at first appearance than they later turn out to be. In fact, Lucretius becomes one of the book’s unifying threads. Each chapter opens with a quotation from his seminal De Rerum Natura (Of the Nature of Things). Ridley makes the argument that everything evolves by extrapolating outward from the Darwinian theory of biological evolution – which is what you most likely think of when you hear the term. Ridley unpacks his argument by identifying the core principles in evolution and applying them to other realms. These principles include several distinct aspects of evolution. As Ridley applies them, broadly, they are sometimes controversial, but they’re always interesting.

About the Author

Matt Ridley writes popular books on science, the environment and economics, including The Rational Optimist, Genome and Nature via Nurture. A former chairman of Northern Rock, he is a member of the English House of Lords, and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the Academy of Medical Sciences.


The universe is not static; things change, and they emerge through change. This process of change is largely gradual – though change may come in sudden spikes, when a great deal that’s new emerges, or a great deal of the existing vanishes. Evolution has no direction. It is self-organizing and occurs from the bottom up, not the top down.

Because of this, Ridley finds no conceptual need for a creator in the religious sense. He says that often, people have little or no need for top-down guidance in other areas – like politics, economics or technological innovation. Not only do these areas not need top-down guidance, Ridley believes, but attempting to provide it in these fields turn out to be wasteful at best and, at worst, horrifically destructive.

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