In a book sure to stir argument for years to come, Robert Wright challen+ges the conventional view that biological evolution and human history are aimless. Ingeniously employing game theory - the logic of 'zero-sum' and 'non-zero-sum' games - Wright isolates the impetus behind life's basic direction: the impetus that, via biological evolution, created complex, intelligent animals, and then via cultural evolution, pushed the human species towards deeper and vaster social complexity. In this view, the coming of today's independent global society was 'in the cards' - not quite inevitable, but, as Wright puts it, 'so probable as to inspire wonder'. In a narrative of breathtaking scope and erudition, yet pungent wit, Wright takes on some of the past century's most prominent thinkers, including Isaiah Berlin, Karl Popper, Stephen Jay Gould, and Richard Dawkins. Wright argues that a coolly specific appraisal of humanity's three-billion-year past can give new spiritual meaning to the present and even offer political guidance for the future. This book will change the way people think about the human prospect.
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(155mm x 198mm x 29mm)
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
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UK Kirkus Review »
Robert Wright has claimed his place amongst the world's podium of free thinkers by the simple device of tackling familiar, everyday subjects through the prism of learned analysis and past-to-present extrapolation. In Nonzero he uses the principle of game theory to examine world history and the inevitability of cultural evolution. Beginning with the statement that the oldest form of non-zero sum interaction (that is one that produces a win-win scenario) lies in the swapping of data, Wright, re-examines tribal dances, academic conferences and the internet culture to conclude that they embody the same principle. Knowing that once you divorce an act from its action you can then easily label the behavioural pattern it signifies, Wright finds correlation that supports non-zero sum behaviour in practically everything from the social structure of the Shoshone Indians to the bush communism of the Kung. In the process he examines how the drive for survival favours the emergence of traits such as reciprocal altruism to the point that it becomes genetically programmed! Separated into 22 manageable segments the book tackles a dizzying array of subjects ranging from Medieval capitalism to the form God will take in the future. The common thread through all these subjects is Wright's assertion that we are all out to form win-win scenarios, even in situations with inherent win-loss outcomes like war. 'Zero-sum games,' he writes, 'are full of non-zero sum components.' In view of the tragic events at New York's World Trade Centre, a zero-sum game if there ever was one, the worldwide cooperation against terrorism that followed in its aftermath is a beneficial 'non-zero sum component.' Wright's book may not be earth-shaking in its assertion, but it provides a fresh-take on history and the evolution of society and the moral imperatives which guide it, and as such it is eye-opening. (Kirkus UK)
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Author Biography - Robert Wright
Robert Wright has written extensively for THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY, THE NEW YORKER and TIME magazine, and currently works as a senior editor at THE NEW REPUBLIC.