• by Robert Wright
  • Narrated by Kevin T. Collins
  • 16 hrs and 12 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

At the beginning of Nonzero, Robert Wright sets out to "define the arrow of the history of life, from the primordial soup to the World Wide Web." Twenty-two chapters later, after a sweeping and vivid narrative of the human past, he has succeeded and has mounted a powerful challenge to the conventional view that evolution and human history are aimless.
Ingeniously employing game theory the logic of "zero-sum" and "non-zero-sum" games, Wright isolates the impetus behind life's basic direction: the impetus that, via biological evolution, created complex, intelligent animals and then, via cultural evolution, pushed the human species toward deeper and vaster 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, as to invite speculation about higher purpose, especially in light of "the phase of history that seems to lie immediately ahead: a social, political, and even moral culmination of sorts."
In a work of vast erudition and pungent wit, Wright takes on some of the past century's most prominent thinkers, including Isaiah Berlin, Karl Popper, Stephen Jay Gould, and Richard Dawkins. He finds evidence for his position 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 will change the way people think about the human prospect.


What the Critics Say

"Wright supports his view by drawing on an impressive breadth of knowledge that happily doesn't lord over the text but rather buoys it with interesting connections. Ending with a push of his thesis of progressiveness into biology, of all things, Wright caps a spritely, opinionated big-picture history of human civilization." (Booklist)
“The Smartest Books We Know” (Fortune Magazine)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Hard not to learn something by reading this book

The author's survey on early civilizations is worth the cost of the book alone. Societies tend toward more complex organization as they spread their cultural memes. The arc of history tends towards working together by utilizing win-win situations. Constructive coordination defeats the second law of thermodynamics (entropy) for the coordinators. Yes, that's a mouthful, but the author is expert at clearly explaining it all.

The two items needed for economic development, cheap transportation and effective communication, are facilitated by higher population density leading to more growth and technological developments hence an evolving of civilizations.

The book was originally copyrighted over 10 years ago (today is 2012). The book only lost my interest when he was topical and futuristic during about 2 hours of the second half. I was ready to give up and I'm glad I didn't. The book then got really interesting by tying together his major theme on the organization of organic processes. He got into the second law of thermodynamics, and how information and the processing of that information at its core is physical.

His real theme is that cultures evolve by constructive coordination (win-win situations) but he supports that by educating the listener through historical narratives, fine points on economic theory and the importance of information processing for growth.

I enjoyed this book so much I've downloaded his next book, "The Evolution of God".

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- Gary "l'enfer c'est les autres"

A Nice Follow-Up...

to The Moral Animal, though it smiles just a tad too much. One HOPES that Wright's optimistic "destiny" of human evolution is true, though there is plenty of real life mess to prove otherwise. Wright does make some wonderfully insightful observations about what drives the complexity and symbolic nature of human society, it is just the underlying eutopic hints that cause one to cringe a bit. Overall, a fine book with lots of insight and things to ponder...just don't take it's subtitle too much to heart--humans simply don't yet deserve it.
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- Douglas "College English professor who loves classic literature, psychology, neurology and hates pop trash like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey."

Book Details

  • Release Date: 06-29-2010
  • Publisher: Audible Studios