The Evolutionary Origins of the Modern World


Brought to you by Penguin.

Homo sapiens is a maker of unnatural history. For countless millennia, evolution has shaped our behaviour. But over just a few millennia, that behaviour has reshaped the world: building sprawling cities, global faiths, states, and empires. Nature made humanity, and humanity remade nature.

Here, one of the world's leading anthropologists reveals how our evolutionary past informed the birth and rise of global civilisation. Unveiling a visionary new way of studying human history - one that stunningly weaves together experimental psychology, anthropology and quantitative social science - Harvey Whitehouse uncovers the three evolutionary biases that shape our social behaviour: conformism, religiosity and tribalism. And he reveals how these biases were harnessed and extended to produce the greatest revolutions in human history, from the transition to agriculture to the rise of the first bureaucracies and organised religions. Above all, he argues that only by understanding our natural biases can we hope to survive the challenges of our unnatural present - from violent criminality to environmental meltdown.

The result is a landmark study of the past and future of the world we made. It transforms our understanding of who we are and who we can be.

©2024 Harvey Whitehouse (P)2024 Penguin Audio


  • A bold and sweeping analysis that ranges widely through time, across geographies and through different kinds of human societies. A book of rare ambition and scope.
    PETER FRANKOPAN, author of The Silk Roads

About the author

Harvey Whitehouse

Professor Harvey Whitehouse is Chair of Social Anthropology at the University of Oxford and Director of the Centre for the Study of Social Cohesion.

One of the world’s leading experts on the evolutionary basis of human culture, Whitehouse has spent four decades studying some of the most extreme groups on earth: from the battlefields of the Arab Spring, via millenarian cults on Pacific islands, to violent football fans in South America. Along the way, he has undertaken research at some of the world’s most important archaeological sites, brain-scanning facilities, and child psychology labs – all with a view to pioneering a new, scientific approach to the study of human society.

Whitehouse’s work has featured in the Telegraph, Guardian, Scientific American and New Scientist, and he has delivered talks at the World Economic Forum and the United Nations. He lives in Oxford.
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