The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter

Joseph Henrich

My review 2019-12-04

The evolution of Homo sapiens and its predecessors was fundamentally based on the intimate and complex interplay of culture and biology. Human intelligence is not the single key to man's dominion over nature; without a social and cultural context, intelligence is insufficient. This book persuasively makes the case for this bold and controversial thesis. The author Joseph Henrich, a researcher in the field of human evolutionary biology, has written a brilliant exposition of the basic questions and possible solutions in this vibrant research field. My views on the subject have been substantially modified by his arguments.

In particular, I find his emphasis on the complexity of the process to be inspiring. In contrast to the general idea that there must be some single factor that is fundamentally responsible for the difference between the species Homo sapiens and its closest relatives, Henrich builds a case that many different factors are important, and that their interplay was essential in driving human evolution. Once the first tentative steps into man's cultural addiction were taken, the playing field tilted, as it were, to favor even more culture, including social and political norms, eventually giving rise to the modern human society. Current human biology and society is the result of co-evolution between culture and biology since at least 2 million years.