At the beginning of Nonzero, Robert Wright sets out to "define the arrow of the history of life, from the primordial soup to the World Wide Web." Twenty-two chapters later, after a sweeping and vivid narrative of the human past, he has succeeded and has mounted a powerful challenge to the conventional view that 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 toward deeper and vaster social complexity. In this view, the coming of today's interdependent global society was "in the cards" - not quite inevitable, perhaps, but, as Wright puts it, "so probable as to inspire wonder." So probable, indeed, as to invite speculation about higher purpose, especially in light of "the phase of history that seems to lie immediately ahead: a social, political, and even moral culmination of sorts."
In a work of vast erudition and 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. He finds evidence for his position in unexpected corners, from native American hunter-gatherer societies and Polynesian chiefdoms to medieval Islamic commerce and precocious Chinese technology; from conflicts of interest among a cell's genes to discord at the World Trade Organization.
Wright argues that a coolly scientific appraisal of humanity's three-billion-year past can give new spiritual meaning to the present and even offer political guidance for the future. Nonzero will change the way people think about the human prospect.
"Wright supports his view by drawing on an impressive breadth of knowledge that happily doesn't lord over the text but rather buoys it with interesting connections. Ending with a push of his thesis of progressiveness into biology, of all things, Wright caps a spritely, opinionated big-picture history of human civilization." (Booklist)
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