Steve Fuller

Surviving Darwin

Wired for Culture: The Natural History of Human Cooperation

By

Allen Lane/The Penguin Press 416pp £25 order from our bookshop

Anyone who proposes a Darwinian account for any remotely human activity always needs to be reminded of the lost traveller who, upon asking the way to Dublin, was told, ‘I wouldn’t start here.’ Too late for Mark Pagel, though, who sets off in Wired for Culture to explain the beside-the-point by the just-so. Like all good Darwinists, Pagel wants to understand what it is that separates Homo sapiens from other primate species. As the book’s title suggests, the answer lies in making biological sense of ‘culture’, a god-of-the-gaps concept in evolutionary circles. Marcel Mauss, the original student of gift-giving societies, recognised the folly of posing the question this way a hundred years ago: what an investigator identifies as unique to someone else’s culture is usually no more than a recognition of difference from one’s own culture. While Mauss had in mind an anthropologist’s encounter with an alien tribe, the point can be extended to cover the evolutionist trying to say something interesting about humans, that most alien of biological species. 

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'The breadth of Clarke’s knowledge and experience, coupled to a conspicuous absence of pomposity, makes for easy an… ,
    • In this month's Silenced Voices, Lucy Popescu shines a light on Myanmar's persecution of writers and journalists, p… ,
    • Lecture on war and peace in 19th-century Europe by Professor Sir Richard Evans, Thurs 25 Oct, 6.30pm Europe House… ,
    • 'Why, throughout the world, are so many people fascinated by the fiction and reality of espionage? And why of all p… ,
    • . here on books, Muriel Spark and life's tangled dance ,
    • RT : There aren't enough aggressive subtitles these days: ,
    • Churchill's on the cover of the October edition of the magazine. Piers Brendon reviews two new books about the Brit… ,