<em>SuperCooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed</em>. By Martin Nowak & Roger Highfield

SuperCooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed. By Martin Nowak & Roger Highfield

SuperCooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed

SuperCooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed. By Martin Nowak & Roger Highfield. Free Press 2011. 352 pages. ISBN: 1439100187; 9781439100189


EVOLUTION IS OFTEN PRESENTED AS A STRICTLY COMPETITIVE ENDEAVOR. This point of view has had serious implications for the way we see the mechanics of both science and culture. But scientists have long wondered how societies could have evolved without some measure of cooperation. And if there was cooperation involved, how could it have arisen from nature “red in tooth and claw”?

Martin Nowak, one of the world’s experts on evolution and game theory, working here with bestselling science writer Roger Highfield, turns an important aspect of evolutionary theory on its head to explain why cooperation, not competition, has always been the key to the evolution of complexity. He offers a new explanation for the origin of life and a new theory for the origins of language, biology’s second greatest information revolution after the emergence of genes. SuperCooperators also brings to light his game-changing work on disease. Cancer is fundamentally a failure of the body’s cells to cooperate, Nowak has discovered, but organs are cleverly designed to foster cooperation, and he explains how this new understanding can be used in novel cancer treatments.

Nowak and Highfield examine the phenomena of reciprocity, reputation, and reward, explaining how selfless behavior arises naturally from competition; how forgiveness, generosity, and kindness have a mathematical rationale; how companies can be better designed to promote cooperation; and how there is remarkable overlap between the recipe for cooperation that arises from quantitative analysis and the codes of conduct seen in major religions, such as the Golden Rule.

In his first book written for a wide audience, this hugely influential scientist explains his cutting-edge research into the mysteries of cooperation, from the rise of multicellular life to Good Samaritans. With wit and clarity, Nowak and Highfield make the case that cooperation, not competition, is the defining human trait. SuperCooperators will expand our understanding of evolution and provoke debate for years to come.


MARTIN A. NOWAK is Professor of Biology and Mathematics at Harvard University. He is Director of the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics. In 1998 he moved to Princeton to establish the first center in Theoretical Biology at the Institute for Advanced Study. Nowak has won many prizes and has revolutionized the mathematical approach to biology. Nowak has made important contributions to the understanding of virus infections and cancer. He has pioneered the mathematical theory for the evolution of human language and altruistic behavior. Supercooperators will be Nowak’s first book for a general audience.

ROGER HIGHFIELD, Ph.D. is the Editor of New Scientist magazine, which is now the world’s biggest selling weekly science and technology magazine. He has written/coauthored six popular science books, two of which have been bestsellers, including After Dolly, The Science of Harry Potter, The Physics of Christmas, The Private Lives of Albert Einstein, and Frontiers of Complexity. His most recent work was as the outside editor on genomic researcher J. Craig Venter’s autobiography, A Life Decoded, published in November, 2007 (Viking, US; Allen Lane, UK) .


“Martin Nowak is one of the most creative scientists of our time, and Roger Highfield is a superb science writer. Their insights into the mystery of cooperation will change the way you think about everything. If you’re looking for the next Big Idea book, you’ve just found it.”
— Steven Strogatz, Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics, Cornell University, and New York Times contributor

SuperCooperators looks beyond The Selfish Gene and invites us to think afresh about evolution. Contrary to the simplistic idea that selfishness is the only strategy for survival, the brilliant Martin Nowak proves that cooperation is also vitally important. This rich and rewarding book teems with new ideas and insights, which co-author Roger Highfield makes wonderfully lucid and entertaining.”
— Graham Farmelo, author of The Strangest Man, winner of the Costa Biography Award

“A fantastic journey into the science of cooperation, with important implications for both individuals and society alike.”
— Richard Wiseman, author of Paranormality, 59 Seconds and Quirkology

“Martin Nowak is regarded as the foremost mathematical theorist working in evolutionary biology. His contributions on cooperation and altruism here augmented by the expertise of Roger Highfield, fall in one of the most important domains of present-day biology.”
— Edward O. Wilson, author of Consilience and Pellegrino University Research Professor, Harvard University

“Roger Highfield deftly weaves together a personal and informative account of the research of Harvard’s Martin Nowak to reveal five mechanisms that rule human behaviour. On the way, they explore the origins of life, language, cancer and much more, and highlight how evolution can lead to cooperation as well as competition.”
— Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal and recent President of the Royal Society

“A panoramic view of the role of cooperation in the evolution… [A] sweeping survey… Nowak is a mathematical biologist, and his enthusiasm for numbers is extremely useful in his discussions of evolutionary theory. However, thankfully for the mathematically disinclined, there is little hard math here…A fleshed-out, persuasive chronicle of the bright side-collective enterprise-of the evolutionary road.”
— Kirkus Reviews

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