Why are people nice to each other? What are the reasons for altrusim? Matt Ridley explains how the human mind has evolved a special instinct for social exchange, offering a lucid and persuasive argument about the paradox of human benevolence.
Are humans inherently nasty and untrustworthy, as proposed by 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes, or are they more like the noble savages described by 18th-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau? Ridley (The Red Queen) addresses this question in this comprehensive work, published last year in Britain to wide acclaim. Ridley doesn't provide a simple answer, but he does provide a magnificent tour of the animal kingdom in search of his resolution. We learn of both cooperation and treachery in some of our close relatives, fellow primates such as chimpanzees, baboons and macaques, as well as in our most distant relations--ants, naked mole rats, stickleback fish and lions. In an engaging fashion, Ridley successfully integrates the fields of evolutionary biology, anthropology, economics, game theory, political science, psychology and philosophy without being either too arcane or too superficial. Along the way he discusses such phenomena as the selfish gene, trust and the source of war. The author's conclusion to his thought-provoking and enjoyable book is best caught in one quote: "persuasive calls to be good are themselves a powerful human instinct; obeying them is not."