December 20, 1999
In a book sure to stir argument for years to come, Robert Wright challenges the conventional view that biological evolution and human history are aimless. Ingeniously employing game theory – the logic of ‘zero sum’ games – Wright isolates the impetus behind life’s basic direction: the impetus that created complex intelligent animals via biological evolution and then, via cultural evolution, pushed the human species towards deeper and faster 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, is to suggest a higher purpose.
In a narrative of breathtaking scope and erudition, yet pungent wit, Wright takes on some of the century’s most prominent thinkers, including Isaiah Berlin, Karl Popper, Stephen J. Gould, and Richard Dawkins. He finds support for his theory 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 is a powerful, profound book that will change the way people think about the human prospect.
Robert Wright has written extensively for The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, Time and The New Republic. Previous writings on science, technology and philosophy have won him the National Magazine Award for Essay and Criticism. His first book The Three Scientists and Their Gods: Looking for Meaning in an Age of Information, was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award. His most recent work, The Moral Animal, was named by the New York Times Book Review as one of the twelve best books of the year. He lives in Washington, DC.