* A TIMES BEST SCIENCE BOOK OF THE YEAR *
From the prize-winning author of Adventures in the Anthropocene, the astonishing story of how culture enabled us to become the most successful species on Earth
'A wondrous, visionary work' Tim Flannery, author of The Weather Makers
Humans are a planet-altering force. Gaia Vince argues that our unique ability - compared with other species - to determine the course of our own destiny rests on a special relationship between our genes, environment and culture going back into deep time. It is our collective culture, rather than our individual intelligence, that makes humans unique. Vince shows how four evolutionary drivers - Fire, Language, Beauty and Time - are further transforming our species into a transcendent superorganism: a hyper-cooperative mass of humanity that she calls Homo omnis. Drawing on leading-edge advances in population genetics, archaeology, palaeontology and neuroscience, Transcendence compels us to reimagine ourselves, showing us to be on the brink of something grander - and potentially more destructive.
'Richly informed by the latest research, Gaia Vince's colourful survey fizzes like a zip-wire as it tours our species' story from the Big Bang to the coming age of hypercooperation' Richard Wrangham, author of The Goodness Paradox
'Wonderful ... enlightening' Robin Ince, The Infinite Monkey Cage
Science writer Vince (Adventures in the Anthropocene) looks at human evolution in terms of four elements dubbed Fire, Word, Beauty, and Time in this stimulating account. She begins with humans' literal and figurative quest for fire and other forms of energy in order "to escape our biological limitations and exceed our physical capabilities." Word, meanwhile, covers how language and storytelling contributed to humanity's evolutionary success. The final two elements are connected more tenuously to their titles, with Beautyreferring to "the importance of meaning in our activities," and Timeto the human drive to understand and explain nature. Throughout, she uses up-to-date scholarship, such as on how Neanderthal and Denisovan genetic material expresses itself in current human populations. Vince's fascinating examples draw from cultures as diverse as Ice Age humans, ancient Greeks and Romans, and contemporary hunter-gatherer societies including one in which, anthropologists report, the "best storytellers have the most children" as well as modern urban dwellers. While warning that the "norms" fostering "large and multicultural societies" have weakened recently, she urges readers to take a long view and remember that humanity has often effected "great social improvements in a very short time." Even those broadly familiar with humanity's story will find new information and insights in Vince's fascinating study.