In this stunning exploration of human adaptation, Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd argue that only a Darwinian theory of cultural evolution can explain these unique characteristics. Not by Genes Aloneoffers a radical interpretation of human evolution, arguing that our ecological dominance and our singular social systems stem from a psychology uniquely adapted to create complex culture.
Richerson and Boyd illustrate here that culture is neither superorganic nor the handmaiden of the genes. Rather, it is essential to human adaptation, as much a part of human biology as bipedal locomotion.
In Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution, Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd explore the issue of the interplay of nature (genes) and nurture (culture) in determining the evolution of the human species. One may ask whether another book that deals with the nature vs. nurture controversy can add anything to our understanding of human evolution. The answer to this question is a resounding “Yes!” This is because the authors of the book do not focus their attention, as so many others have so tirelessly done, on separating the contributions of nature and nurture to human action. On the contrary, they rely on the metaphor that nature is very much like a recipe whose ingredients are determined by nurture. They treat culture as the glue that combines heredity and learning, and focus on natural selection as a guiding factor for human evolution.
The authors build their claim of the critical role of culture in human evolution by observing that culture is what makes the human species different from other species. This rather predictable way of setting the foundation for a discussion on human evolution may shatter readers’ expectations of a groundbreaking and original approach and thus may discourage further reading. However, those who venture through the pages of this tightly written volume are sure to be pleasantly surprised by the originality of the authors’ discourse and their captivating analyses. This is indeed the case of a book that should not be judged by its opening remarks!