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  • Published: 11 June 2024
  • ISBN: 9781529152234
  • Imprint: Hutchinson Heinemann
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 368
  • RRP: $36.99

Inheritance

The Evolutionary Origins of the Modern World




‘Insightful and breathtaking . . . Explains some of our species’ greatest successes and failures.’ Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens

How our evolved psychology has shaped the past, present and future of humanity.

Each of us is endowed with an inheritance. A set of ancient biases, forged through countless millennia of natural and cultural selection, which shape every facet of our behaviour. For generations, this inheritance has taken us to ever greater heights. But now, for the first time, it is failing us – with devastating implications for humanity.

In Inheritance, renowned anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse offers a sweeping account of how our evolved biases have shaped humanity’s past and imperil its future. Unveiling a pioneering new way of viewing our collective history – one that weaves together psychological experiments, on-the-ground fieldwork, and big data – Whitehouse introduces three biases that shape human behaviour everywhere: conformism, religiosity, and tribalism.

These biases have catalysed the greatest transformations in human history, from the birth of agriculture, to the rise and fall of human sacrifice, to the creation of the first multiethnic empires. Yet today, they are driving us to ruin. Taking us deep into New Guinea tribes, Libyan militias, and predatory ad agencies, Whitehouse shows how the tools we once used to manage our biases are breaking down, with disastrous consequences for us all.

By uncovering how human nature has shaped our collective history, Inheritance reveals a surprising new path to solving our most urgent problems. The result is a powerful reappraisal of the human journey; one that transforms our understanding of who we are, and who we could be.

  • Published: 11 June 2024
  • ISBN: 9781529152234
  • Imprint: Hutchinson Heinemann
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 368
  • RRP: $36.99

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.

Praise for Inheritance

A compelling, thoughtful, nuanced, and ultimately hopeful new perspective on our history, present crises, and future potential . . . This book is a masterpiece – important, thought-provoking, and great fun to read.

KATE FOX, author of Watching the English

This fascinating book combines ground-breaking research with compelling storytelling to reveal how humanity’s deepest tendencies towards conforming, believing and belonging have profoundly shaped our many histories and current realities . . . Profoundly thought-provoking – dive in.

KATE RAWORTH, author of Doughnut Economics

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

Remarkably readable . . . A powerful argument that the behaviour change we need is more likely to occur if we make use of our evolved human nature, rather than seek to transcend it.

PETER SINGER, author of Animal Liberation

A profoundly important book, of breathtaking scope. Whitehouse shows how evolution sculpted our psychological make-up, how we overcame its limitations over the course of world history, and how we can wield this knowledge to face the challenges of the future. Full of deep insights into human nature, this is a work of compelling conviction by a master in the field.

LEWIS DARTNELL, author of Being Human

An insightful and breathtaking exploration of humanity’s evolutionary baggage that explains some of our species’ greatest successes and failures.

YUVAL NOAH HARARI, author of Sapiens

This lucid and original book is important not only as a guide to underlying dynamics in contemporary society but also as an exemplary interweaving of approaches from the natural and social sciences.

RICHARD WRANGHAM, author of Catching Fire

A brilliant synthesis of insights from psychology, anthropology, and big historical data analytics that throws penetrating light on the evolutionary trajectories of human societies, and on how we collectively can shape a better future for humanity.

PETER TURCHIN, author of End Times

If you spend a lot of time thinking the world seems to have gone mad, bad and dangerous, this thoughtful and thought-provoking book won't just help you work out why that might be – it will also help you see a better path forward.

KRISHNAN GURU-MURTHY, Channel 4 News presenter

A very powerful, provocative and inspiring analysis of the human condition which seeks to explain where our societies are going wrong today - and how to put them right. Whitehouse bravely takes an ambitious interdisciplinary view that captures the sweep of history, tackling topics ranging from social media and modern political polarization to ancient religious cults, nomadic societies and more. His arguments about the three core features shaping humans - conformity, religiosity and tribalism - are thought-provoking, and offer an excellent lens to frame events today. Compelling and highly readable, this book shows why anthropology matters.

GILLIAN TETT, Provost of King's College, Cambridge

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

A compelling, thoughtful, nuanced and ultimately hopeful new perspective on our history, present crises and future potential . . . A masterpiece – important, thought-provoking and great fun to read.

KATE FOX, author of Watching the English

This fascinating book combines ground-breaking research with compelling storytelling to reveal how humanity’s deepest tendencies towards conforming, believing and belonging have profoundly shaped our many histories and current realities . . . Profoundly thought-provoking.

KATE RAWORTH, author of Doughnut Economics