Over the years there have been dozens of books that seek to apply Charles Darwin’s ideas about evolution beyond the natural world of flora and fauna. There’s even one by Mark Sumner, published in 2010, with the title The Evolution of Everything: How Selection Shapes Culture, Commerce, and Nature. I have not read Sumner’s book, but I like to entertain the idea that it may be almost identical to Matt Ridley’s similarly titled work, different only as a result of a few random mutations or transcription errors. Which will prove better adapted to the current bookselling environment? Well, I note that Sumner’s publisher, a tiny outfit called PoliPointPress, based in Sausalito, California, has failed in the red-in-tooth-and-claw struggle for survival, having closed down in 2011. Ridley’s book, by contrast, appears under one of the imprints of HarperCollins, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, so irrespective of its intrinsic merits (which are many) it is sure to survive.
One common problem with the Darwin-extrapolation genre is the brutal, Procrustean lengths to which writers seem forced to go to make the real world of culture, politics or whatever is being addressed fit the theory of evolution by natural selection. Another is the way you are frequently left uncertain as to whether the author means you to understand ‘evolution’ figuratively or literally.