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Book reviews for "Wilson,_Sloan" sorted by average review score:

Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior
Published in Hardcover by Harvard Univ Pr (1998)
Authors: Elliott Sober and David Sloan Wilson
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The Invisible [Helping] Hand?
Altruism has always been a problem for evolutionists. How does one explain a creature giving up something for another, sometimes its very life? Why, for example, will a monkey give a warning cry that alerts other members of the troop, but that gives away its own position? How could genes governing such behavior persist in the relentless competition for a place in the genome?

The kinds of reasoning used to explain behavior that is good for the group but perhaps not so good for the individual performing it is as old as Darwin. Until George Williams demolished whole classes of argument in his lovely 1966 book, "Adaptation and Natural Selection", it was common to invoke "group selection" as an analog to individual selection, and explain, in a vague, hand-waving sort of way, how altruistic behavior could arise by enhancing the survival of the herd, or school, or flock. And after Dawkins, both the individual and the group were banished from consideration, and the selfish gene reigned supreme.

Only one category of altruism has been taken as consonant with the unit of replication being the gene, namely "kin selection". This is the favoring of relatives: since relatives share genes, helping a gene-mate helps one's own genes, whether or not it benefits one's self. Yet much altruism in nature goes unexplained by kin selection. Think of the soldier who falls on the hand grenade so his (unrelated) buddies can live. There are many more examples from the lives of many creatures, most of whom never saw a war movie. How does one explain the clear patterns of altruistic behavior in animals at all levels of consciousness and cuddliness? Wilson, a biologist, and Sober, a philosopher, dare to think the unthinkable, or at least the unfashionable: is it possible that individuals or groups really do play a replicator role in evolution? They believe that group selection deserves another chance, but this time more rigorously specified.

I was very impressed with the first half of the book, in which they justify a group-selection model for adaptive evolution that can explain a persistent strain of altruism. What they show is that selection can take place at the level of a group of individuals in many more sorts of situations than were thought possible. (A nice bonus of this approach is that kin selection can be explained more simply using this more general context of the group.) Groups, however ephemeral, do have a role to play in selection.

The second half of the book is less convincing, as it involves psychological and philosophical arguments for "psychological altruism" in humans (that is, you not only behave unselfishly, but "want" to behave unselfishly), which, by its very nature, is hard (or very hard) to tease out in experiments, or to introspect to. However, the authors are reasonably convincing that nature would most likely not employ some Rube Goldberg-type of mental devices that depended on hedonism (pleasure-and-pain-driven behavior) to accomplish important tasks, such as child-rearing, but rather build in directly the mechanism to make a parent care to care for its child. In that way, the care of its child would be a primary motivation, rather than an intrumental one (sorry about the jargon!) on the way to getting pleasure or avoiding pain. Parents will find this convincing, as the desire to take care of one's children seems not to depend on how much we "enjoy" doing it.

This book is detailed, conscientious and well-written, but it covers a lot of ground and many of its arguments, especially in the second part, are subtle. So I recommend reading it more than once: this is contentious material. While the authors do not make anything of the political and social implications of their work, these are always waiting in the wings. Altruism, after all, is in direct opposition to selfishness. Many people see in this a political point, and a social point. Those issues are not properly a part of such a work, but do give great interest to its arguments and conclusions. And whether or not its conclusions finally survive intact, this book's arguments and approach seem exemplary and fruitful.

Evolutionary break through--why races are at war
This book is a continuation of those books that keep moving us closer to where we came from. After decades of wandering in the jungle of postmodernism, we are finally emerging to find our roots. This book is not for the casual reader. But it is an important contribution in understanding the evolution of groupism, why humans go to war, and why belonging to the human race is not enough to bring forth altruism. Altruism evolved as a means of group consolidation of the ingroup, and genocide towards all other groups. This book should be read along with "Demonic Males" to get a good understanding of how altruism evolved.

An antidote to what we've been taught about group selection
For more than a generation now, students of evolutionary biology have been taught that natural selection is a process that works on individuals. Where there is a conflict between the good of the individual and the good of the community, the selfish almost always prevails. There are good theoretical reasons to believe this should be so. Most of the work that has been done in the last century to turn Darwin's theory into a quantitative science seems to point in that direction. Individual selection should be fast and efficient; group selection slow and unreliable. Yet the biological world that we see seems to fly in the face of this conclusion. So much of the adaptation we see in the natural world looks like it benefits the community or the species, often at the expense of the individual. So the pure individual selectionists (99% of evolutionary biologists today) have had to concoct a series of excuses, kluges, and workarounds. There are a multitude of reasons! that what looks like a group adaptation is really an individual adaptation. Most of our community has unthinkingly adopted the view that the "selfish gene" perspective holds a key to understanding the "illusion" of group selection. Wilson has been working for 20 years to reform this situation, and to restore common sense. If it looks like a group adaptation, it probably is a group adaptation. No surprise here - except to that 99% of the academic community who has been raised to think that "group selection" is a dirty word - something like "Lamarckism" or "Creationism". Wilson's book is just the kick in the pants that the 99% of us need. It is readable, yet meticulously documented. He traces the history of our prejudice against group selection, and exposes the faulty logic in those kluges and workarounds. Group selection really is necessary to explain what we observe in nature. Then, he goes on to offer us the th! eoretical foundation we need to make group selection plausi! ble. There are mechanisms overlooked by the quantitative theorists that make group selection a far more viable process than they give it credit for. If you're a lay person, you may think "of course - what's the big deal." But if you're an academic evolutionist educated in the last 30 years, you need this book; your thinking about altruism and fitness of communities will be changed forever. All this is in the first half of the book. The second half, presumably contributed by Sober, is much less focused and scientific, more apt to dwell on definitions and philosophical distinctions. The attempt to connect the sound conclusions of the book's first half to attitudes about human cultures is both more speculative and somehow less ambitious and important than the book's first half.

Pacific Interlude
Published in Paperback by Kensington Pub Corp (Mass Market) (1983)
Author: Sloan Wilson
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great World War 2 story, and much more
Sloan Wilson will always be best known for The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, and that's a shame. Towards the end of his career he wrote two books, fiction yet clearly based on his own experiences, taking place during World War 2, which are his finest works. Pacific Interlude is the second one, and it is one of my favorite books. It tells the story of the latter part of the Pacific war seen from the unlikely location of a small gas tanker, and particularly the perspective of the young 24 year old captain who finds himself in command. The book manages to attain total credibility, giving the reader a true feeling of what it must have been like living aboard that tanker. The ups and downs, matters petty and great, tragic and comic, all are mixed in a completely believable way. The book gives an excellent feeling of time and place, and while reading the novel a reader can almost feel like a silent crewmember of the ship. Everything from fear of fire and explosions from the flammable cargo, to fear of enemy warplanes, to fear of each other, is captured at various points. Wilson builds an interesting crew of fellow officers, each with differing strengths -- and definitely weaknesses -- during their forced voyage together. What I think really puts this book into the top tier in addition to the fact that it is a natural adventure story is the portrayal of the captain, Sylvester Grant. He is always conscious of feeling that he must play the part of captain, though he is never exactly sure what that is. His adjustments, uncertainty, and, despite living in extremely crowded quarters, loneliness, is portrayed perfectly. The first and last parts of the book take place on land -- Brisbane, Australia and the Philippines, and add to our understanding of the personalities of the people involved. Interspersed with the action of the story is the thinking, and musings of the captain. At various points of the novel, particularly the parts taking place on shore, the Captain's ambivalent views about his future post-war life, and his marriage and civilian career are highlighted. In a very natural almost subtle way, the book weaves together a great adventure story with an equally fascinating story of personal growth of the generally appealing but very human captain of the gas tanker. Sloan Wilson is clearly a writer of unusual talent, and combined with his vivid ability to put us into the situation, his ability to portray people in an interesting and realistic way sets this book apart from many other "war" stories. My sole complaint with the book is the ending -- it stops before the end of the war, and we never find out answers to various questions about Captain Grant, his crew or his ship. It could have at least used a postscript. But that is a small complaint regarding one of the best stories that I have ever read. This book may be hard to find, but it is worth the effort.

Ice Brothers
Published in Hardcover by Arbor House Pub Co (1979)
Author: Sloan Wilson
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If You Have Found this Review, then Go Find this Book!
First the bottom line -- if you've somehow ended up here reading this review, don't blow it now -- find and read this great book! Of course Ice Brothers, written in 1979, is by now a difficult book to locate, but I assure you it is worth the effort. It is the story of how a young man of 22, drawn almost impetuously to the Coast Guard by the onset of war in December 1941, serves, first as executive officer, then as captain of the Arluk, a converted fishing trawler refitted to serve during World War 2 in the icy waters and coast of Greenland. Paul Schuman, the young hero, is shown at the beginning of the story as unsure in his life and marriage, and we watch him during the novel, while continuing to fight internal uncertainties, growing in confidence and competence. But the novel is much more than a story of personal growth -- it is a war novel, with battles and adventure I will not give away here; it is a true story of the sea, and the land (and native peoples) of Greenland; it is a story of memorable characters, including Paul's fellow officer Nathan Green, with his personal private suffering, and probably most of all, "Mad Mowrey," Captain of the Arluk, a character who deseves to be part of the fictional lexicon with the likes of Captain Queeg. There is even a love interest within the novel, as improbable as it may seem. It is a long novel, over 500 pages long, which gives the reader a chance to fully feel the place and time. And, true to the other best works of Sloan Wilson, Ice Brothers is an individual tale about facing enemies, from hostile weather and terrain, to enemy troops and at times even problems within the ship's own sailors, to fighting personal demons of loneliness and self-doubts. This is quite simply a terrific book -- as I started by saying, if you should happen upon this review and have the remotest interest in World War 2 or the sea -- and actually even if you don't -- then (trust me) go find this book. It will be well worth your while, and you will probably end up adding your own superlative review of this book. Come on, let's start a trend!

Must Read For Coasties
Excellent book for Coastguardsmen or for any Veteran for that matter. The realism keeps you reading on and on. I couldn't put it down.

A must read.
I read this book years ago and again recently. It is supurb. If you don't read it you're missing out.

Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society
Published in Hardcover by University of Chicago Press (Trd) (2002)
Authors: David Sloan Wilson and University of Chicago Press
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a thread of hope, however slender...
... I learned something extremely important and I'd like others to know about it.

If it is the case that mutually beneficial cooperation amongst group members will tend to defeat the survival strategy of competing groups who cannot get their cooperative act together, then we need to know about it. Those of us who feel overwhelmed by greed and dominance can take a great deal of solace from the fact that research is finding simple, good-natured cooperation amongst group members... self-selected by whatever criteria are mutually acceptable... create within their group a strategic competitive advantage.

In some cases the group in question is a religious group and in other cases the group is military or polical or economic. The specific purpose of the group matters less than the fact of orchestrated activity by rational means.

Religion is not the only issue, nor the most important issue. Dr. Wilson makes it clear early in the book that what's at stake here is the ultimate fate of the species. Can we learn this lesson of cooperation that natural selection teaches us in time to preserve the species as a whole, or not?

I have spent much of my adult life with the most pessimistic of conclusions on this question. For the first time I believe that the process of natural selection may itself be a model that can be learned from and turned to survival advantage for our species. Sure, the odds remain against our ultimate conquest of the obstacles before us, but David Sloan Wilson has given us good reason to hope... and to struggle ever more vigorously against the forces of deterioration that challenge us.

I read this book after coming away from "Do Unto Others" which Dr. Wilson co-wrote with philosopher of biology, Elliott Sober. The philosophical credentials Dr. Wilson brings to "Darwin's Cathedral" are impeccable. The two volumes together have transformed my conclusion about the future of the human species, and may well transform yours...

Group selection
This book is a well-written, highly entertaining conjecture on the possibility that group selection has played an important role in the emergence of religion in human societies. As an evolutionary biologist, I must dispute those who have suggested that group selection is fallacious and has been generally discarded by biologists. In fact I give a lecture on the subject in an undergraduate class on evolution. Evolutionary biologists as eminent as Stephen Jay Gould have supported the view that group selection has played an important role in evolution. Predictions based on mathematical models for group selection have been made and confirmed. Many biologists accept it as a given. In the words of University of Vermont geneticist Charles J. Goodnight, its "proven. A done deal. We know it works." Many biologists who came of age in the sixties were widely influenced by the excellent book, Adaptation and Natural Selection by George Williams, and are unable to give up their biases. But even Dr. William's views on group selection are more nuanced these days. Richard Dawkins is a brilliant man but he hardly speaks for all of those who study evolutionary biology. This book, and Dr. Wilson's previous book, Unto others, are excellent primers for those with open-minds who are iinterested in the possibility that there is more to life than the selfish gene.

Relgion in the Light of Evolution
If you have an opinion about religion, or belong to a religion, most people disagree with you; there is not a majority religion in the world. And surely not all religions can be factually correct, since there are fundamental disagreements between them. So, how is it that all those other, incorrect religions exist and seem to help their members and their societies? There must be something they offer beyond a factual representation of gods and the cosmos (and when it comes down to it, if you belong to a religion, yours must be offering something more as well). If religions do help their members and societies, then perhaps they are beneficial in a long term and evolutionary way, and maybe such evolutionary influences should be acknowledged and studied. This is what David Sloan Wilson convincingly declares he has done in _Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society_ (University of Chicago Press): "I will attempt to study religious groups the way I and other evolutionary biologists routinely study guppies, trees, bacteria, and the rest of life on earth, with the intention of making progress that even a reasonable skeptic must acknowledge."

To Wilson's credit, he has written carefully about both scientific and religious issues, and readers with an interest in either field will find that he has covered both fairly. His coverage of the science involved begins with an interesting history of "the wrong turn" evolutionary theory took fifty years ago, when it deliberately ignored the influence of group selection. Especially if one accepts that there is for our species not only an inheritance of genes, but also an inheritance of culture, evolutionary influence by and upon religious groups, especially in light of the examples Wilson discusses, now seems obvious. For instance, evolution often studies population changes due to gains and losses from births, deaths, and in the case of religion, conversion and apostasy. The early Christian church is shown to have made gains compared to Judaism and Roman mythology because of its promotion of proselytization, fertility, a welfare state, and women's participation. There is a temple system in Bali dedicated to the water goddess essential for the prosperity of the rice crops; "those who do not follow her laws may not possess her rice terraces." The religious system encompasses eminently practical procedures for promoting fair water use and even for pest control. Religious morality is shown to build upon the principles of the famously successful computer strategy Tit-for-Tat. There is a significant problem, of course, in religions' dealing with other groups; it is not at all uncommon for a religion to teach that murdering those who believe in other religions is different from murdering those inside one's own religion. There is a degree of amorality shown in such competition, no different from the amorality that governs the strivings of ferns, sparrows, and lions.

Wilson's many examples are fascinating and easy to take, but _Darwin's Cathedral_ is not light reading; although Wilson wanted to write a book for readers of all backgrounds, he has not "'dumbed down' the material for a popular audience," and admits that there is serious intellectual work to be done in getting through these pages. There is valuable and clear writing here, however, and a new way of looking at religion which may become a standard in scientific evaluation.

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit
Published in Audio Cassette by Books on Tape (1955)
Author: Sloan Wilson
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Solid, purposeful, successful
It's always a bit challenging reviewing a book which spawned a memorable, but altogether different in feel, movie, as this book did. One is more apt to run into the movie on cable than to run across the book. Although I like the movie, I liked the book much, much better. The movie features sweeping plot turns, while the book is a matter of simple, credible steps. The theme is the aftermath of World War II, and recovering one's civic sense after dealing with it. In modern terms, it might be called the sequel to Saving Private Ryan, in which the captain returns to civilian life.

We pick up the plot in medias res--the hero has stumbled, uninspired through a few years of peacetime which hold none of the promise that seemed evident prior to the war. The author does a good job of plugging us into this man-and-his-family plot without either the soap suds or a preachy tone taking over. Nothing in the book is a particular revelation--there are no real gasps in the plot. But the enterprise is carried off in a competent, undecorated style which keeps one hooked right through to the end. There's a world of metaphor here, but these characters feel real, and the metaphoric situations that the hero and his family must endure to find a place in a changed world come off more live than memorex. A domestic drama can indeed be written without losing the reader or drenching the reader in soap.

This is one of those good rainy afternoon reads. It won't save your soul, but it might help you slog through another cloudy day.

This A changing society
Tom Rath was a war veteran who lived in two different world, one before the war and another at the conclusion. I think that Sloan Wilson did an admirable job in creating a story that held together the readers train of thought, however, it was a book without a lot of depth. A major theme throughtout was to not be so cynical, beleive in yourself. On the issue of conformity, Tom Rath, the main character, finds that he is going to find happiness in things like family and time.., not fame and fortune. Overall, a good read.

Man in the Grey Flannel Suit
Published in Hardcover by Amereon Ltd (1991)
Author: Sloan Wilson
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the mid level executive crisis in mid 20th century America
Tom Rath represents the human being trapped within the financial, emotional and family restrictions that affected so many returning veterans of the Second World War. His struggle and quest for basic dignity and the resulting conclusions in the search for that reality make Sloan Wilsons novel enchanting and encompassing.

All the Best People
Published in Audio Cassette by Books on Tape (1970)
Author: Sloan Wilson
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Away from It All
Published in Audio Cassette by Books on Tape (1969)
Author: Sloan Wilson
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Comportamiento Altruista, El - Evolucion y Psicol
Published in Paperback by Siglo XXI (2001)
Authors: Elliot Sober and David Sloan Wilson
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Greatest Crime
Published in Paperback by Kensington Pub Corp (Mass Market) (1981)
Author: Sloan Wilson
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