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A cutting-edge exploration of the ancient roots of goodness in civilization, arguing that our genes have shaped societies for our welfare and that, in a feedback loop stretching back many thousands of years, societies have shaped, and are still shaping, our genes today. For too long, the scientific community has been overly focused on the dark side of our biological heritage: our capacity for violence, cruelty, prejudice, and self-interest. And in a world of increasing political and economic polarization, it's tempting to ignore the positive role of our evolutionary past. But natural selection has given us a suite of beneficial social features, including our capacity for love, friendship, cooperation, and learning. Beneath all our inventions -- our tools, agriculture, cities, nations -- we carry with us innate proclivities to make good societies.

About the Author

Nicholas A. Christakis

Nicholas A. Christakis is a physician and social scientist, and a Professor in the Departments of Medicine, Health Care Policy, and Sociology at Harvard University. For more than ten years, along with his buddy, James Fowler, he has been obsessed with how social networks form and how they function.

Prior to this obsession, Christakis had another one, namely, to improve the care of the dying in our society. As a hospice doctor and researcher, he studied ways to improve the care of the terminally ill, and he advocated for their interests. In fact, it was his research into the "widower effect" (or "dying of a broken heart") , a topic that has concerned scientists for over 150 years, that first kindled his interest in social networks. If the death of one spouse can increase the risk of death of the other, than surely other things can also spread between pairs of people, and between larger numbers of connected human beings, he thought.

Dr. Christakis' lab at Harvard currently studies the mathematical, biological, and social underpinnings of social networks.

Christakis was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 2006, and he was named by Time magazine to their annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2009.

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