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Publisher's Summary

Humans are a puzzling species. On the one hand, we struggle to survive on our own in the wild, often failing to overcome even basic challenges, like obtaining food, building shelters, or avoiding predators. On the other hand, human groups have produced ingenious technologies, sophisticated languages, and complex institutions that have permitted us to successfully expand into a vast range of diverse environments.

What has enabled us to dominate the globe, more than any other species, while remaining virtually helpless as lone individuals? This book shows that the secret of our success lies not in our innate intelligence, but in our collective brains - on the ability of human groups to socially interconnect and learn from one another over generations.

Drawing insights from lost European explorers, clever chimpanzees, mobile hunter-gatherers, neuroscientific findings, ancient bones, and the human genome, Joseph Henrich demonstrates how our collective brains have propelled our species' genetic evolution and shaped our biology.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2015 Princeton University Press (P)2018 Tantor

What listeners say about The Secret of Our Success

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One of the rare accessible, paradigm-shifting books!

I think this book will appeal to both academics and the general public. However, some of the evolutionary concepts *might* require a little extra work (e.g. Wikipedia) for some non-scientific folks.
For me this book significantly shifted my perspective and understanding of the “human story” in a major and permanent way. Other books that had that level of impact on me were “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman and Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and Steel”.


4 people found this helpful

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A bit long but rewarding

This is a very detailed book, and much of it doesn’t lend itself to the audio format - lists, diagrams etc. Nonetheless, the ideas were new and interesting to a layman such as myself.

1 person found this helpful

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Excellent book

Excellent book on culture-gene coevolution. It’s a must read for everyone who works in the domain of culture or simply wants to better understand culture. The audio performance is great too

1 person found this helpful

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Enjoyed it, but narration was lacking

Combination of a very dry narrator and some sections of the book that were very detailed and pedantic had me snoozing a bit at times, but the bulk of it laid out his thesis very well and gave me a new perspective on human nature and how it evolved

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An intellectual goldmine

This book is absolutely remarkable. Paired with *The Weirdest People in the World," an audio/book I also highly recommend, I believe this to be the most valuable contribution to the social scientific understanding of our world in my lifetime. (I'm a practicing social scientist and nearly 50.) Henrich uses a theory of cultural evolution, grounded in standard Darwinian evolution, to explain how humans and their societies work. I have long disliked socio-biological books that make assertions like "all men are horndogs who just want sex and don't care about taking care of kids," or what have you. Henrich's causal stories are rooted in a much more sophisticated application of Darwinian theory to human life. He is able to explain *variation* in outcomes using evolutionary theory, e.g., why some tribal societies are able to grow in size while others are not, or why men in monogamous societies experience a drop in testosterone after getting married and having kids, but men in polygamous societies don't.

Among Henrich's intellectual virtues: he's intellectually ambitious and gutsy as heck without being reckless, scrupulous and up-to-date in his techniques of causal explanation, very widely read, lucid and fun to read. He grapples with counterarguments without being ponderously academic, and he manages to make assertions that are both counterintuitive and viscerally plausible.

If you want to understand how our species and our societies have evolved, listen to this book. Then, once you're hooked, go listen to his next one, on the "WEIRDest People in the World," which uses the insights of this book to explain the origins of the modern world.

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Essential for understanding higher order evolution

This meticulously connected, solidly reasoned presentation of the theory that human evolution, and to a much lesser sense some other species, is shaped by cultural interaction. This fills in some gaps in explanation of human evolution specifics that have been taken on faith. For example, larger brains/heads lead to lower birth rate and do not add specific survival skills. Slower maturation of human young lead to greater vulnerability and increased burden on family. Adding a cultural learning environment over time this large brain does add a great deal to survival of the individual and the species. Long maturation is reinforced by leader/parental learning with social integration for much greater productivity of the group. Henrich covers a lot of ground with numerous of examples, much research, personal observation and field experience. It is impressive that he can see the forest and the trees so clearly and communicate the vision so well.

I recommend listening to chapter 17 first and last. While Henrich puts the pieces together very detailed chains of reason, backed by a great deal of well accepted scientific studies, the details are many. Reviewing the summary at the end will help pull together the pieces over the 17 hours of listening.

Although the narrator mispronounced a small number of words (eg. familial) the narration was still excellent. Very well paced and clearly understandable. This material would be extremely valuable to all sociology, anthropology, psychology students. Very applicable.

Perhaps the biggest statement in this book is the idea that humans/ homo sapiens are a transition species. This is a very exciting place to be. Proof of this theory will take some time :) but seems likely, especially in light of this explanation.

I thoroughly enjoyed this work and look forward to "The WEIRDest People in the World".

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So important -- especially now

It has been fascinating, informative and inspiring listening to this book. When I saw how long it was, I hesitated, but it was engaging the whole time. The reader was definitely a pro, but I would have preferred a softer tone.

To understand how we humans came to be the way we are -- as this book so clearly conveys -- is so very important as we enter an unprecedented shift in culture and society. The ideas in this book are vital knowledge as we navigate together what lies ahead.

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sapiens 2

if you liked sapiens you should read this book. an intriguing and entertaining take on genetic-social-technological co-evolution

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One teacher leads to degredation

Nice book. I loved it. Best idea I' ve got is - learn from many teachers not one, if You want to be the best in something.

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The power of sociality to supercharge evolution

This is an interesting book on cultural anthropology and how our very social brains influenced human evolution. We tend to think of evolution as a primarily biological process, but the authors do a good job of showing how social interaction had a profound impact on the transformation of our bodies and brains.

The authors are two very smart people and the book explains some of the most interesting research being done in evolutionary science.

Humanity’s killer app was not so much our big brains, it was the development of social systems that allowed important knowledge to be stored and shared within a tribe and over time. One person could come up with a game changing survival tactic. Sociality allowed that innovation to promulgate. Thus the tactic didn’t disappear when that person died. Physical evolution takes a very long time. Human cultural evolution can happen in a single generation.

Social and cultural evolution lead the way to important physical changes. Domestication of animals literally changed our human bodies. Adults quickly developed the ability to digest dairy. Social hunting techniques drove changes in our bodies that facilitated the ability to throw projectiles, run faster, and sweat.

The authors show how adherence to social norms was (and continues to be) a powerful driver that’s now hardwired into our brains. New research shows that infants will punish a wrongdoer and reward those who follow the rules.

This book needed to be edited a bit more astutely. Quite a few times it wandered off into the weeds. The authors have so much knowledge that it’s just hard for them not to reveal everything they know. It was a bit of a bipolar read - either delightfully engrossing or annoyingly tangential. Had the book been 25% shorter, it would have been stronger.

Still, I learned a lot. It revolutionized my opinion on the power of sociality to accelerate human evolution. Humanity’s ability to work as a team is our greatest superpower. We bicker, fight and kill each other, but underneath all that bluster are powerfully effective social systems that continue to allow homos sapiens to learn, survive catastrophes, and care for each other.

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  • Nigel Warburton
  • 08-07-20

I'd prefer Paris Hilton narrating

Why do publishers inflict this in audio? Especially on an audience like the UK, why not Jonathan Kebble, Simon Vance, Peter Noble, Derek Perkins, Stephen Fry, Jeremy Irons, Kate Winslet, Emma Thompson or any actor able to emote and speak in a clear variable intonation about a clearly interesting topic? For many books it's the same bottom line thought that it's cheaper to have one narrator so UK can just be shelled out the American one! But it makes it like getting through mud to me. The author speaking would be better even because normal people vary their voice which would be more interesting than Mr Roboto here and on other American 'academic' books such as How The Mind Works. Even in fiction, too, such as the Nabakov narrator for his stories is unbearable.

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  • Daniel.
  • 08-29-21

Great! Perhaps a tad long

Incredibly interesting, I'd definitely recommend if you're interested in the topic. I wouldn't recommend if you're looking for something a bit more casual; although interesting, I feel like the content could have been more concise and condensed, and would have still been effective below 12 hours. Narrator was great, do ignore any of the complains made here.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 05-12-21

Too much detail for a casual reader of the subject

The subject is interesting and seems well explained, but 17h of it were just too much for me a as a casual reader of the subject. At some point, I got the impression of being listening to the same idea over and over, with small differences in nuances and demonstrations. I didn't finish it.

I would have liked to come across a shorter version of the same content, perhaps max 6-7h

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  • iTinck
  • 12-01-20

A Must Read!

Interested in how and why we are the way we are? Then read this. I shall be reading it again ASAP. It’s that important.

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  • Aidan Goth
  • 07-06-20

fascinating and well-argued

fascinating and well-argued. well worth reading for insights into our evolutionary history and the vital role that culture has played

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  • VDAN
  • 08-16-18

Paradigm-shifting book, despite far-too-American..

The book certainly deserves to be a best seller and I'm very happy to have it in audiobook format. I just wish they had a bit less affected narrator...

1 person found this helpful

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  • Elina H.
  • 07-09-19

Amazing book on how humans have evolved

Loved it, good stories and robust scientific basis - but I'd expect that from someone who is one of the top experts in this topic. Great narrator too!

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  • Miguel L.
  • 05-28-21

recommended reading for cultural evolution

very good book and the narration as well. This is a must read for understanding human cultural evolution

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  • Anonymous User
  • 10-06-20

Needs chapter names

It's frustrating not having the names of the chapters. I bought this audible because I am currently studying this topic so I like to go back and forth with the content