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Did Darwin Get it right Essays on Games sex and evolution. By John Maynard Smith. New York Routledge Chapman and Hall. 1989. vi + 264 pp. figures index. $22

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We all have our buttons that occasionally
By John Maynard get pushed, and as most readers of Nature
Smith. New York: Routledge, Chapman are fully aware, John Maynard Smith’s
and Hall. 1989. vi + 264 pp,, figures, in- button is labeled “punctuated equilibria.”
Aside, however, from that reflex, the book
dex. $22.95 (cloth).
abounds with insightful opinions and critiPardon the recursion, but this is a book cisms. Maynard Smith takes a sage, cautious
review of a book of book reviews, and I simply approach to the various human sociobiolohad to say so. John Maynard Smith, a lead- gies in several essays; he has some observaing English biologist whose work is charac- tions about the science media, about Marxterized by uncommon clarity of word and ism, and about the origins of life; and deals at
thought, has three fairly new books out: a some length with evolutionary modes and
genetics text, an evolution-of-sexbook, and rates and behavioral decision-making strategies. Obviously the included reviews are
the resent collection of essaysheviews.
Tlis is a fun, and not terribly taxing, read. quite broad in scope.
Though in general Maynard Smith is alIt has many insights, both into the world at
lar e and into Maynard Smith‘s views of it, most intimidating in the level of his erudian the work abounds with quotable, epi- tion, the few discussions of cultural evolugrammatic observations. Most impressive is tion come out a little lame. He reviews
that Maynard Smiths st le doesn’t get very several works of the “meme” school, which
self-indulgent or descen into self-conscious tend to argue that since biological evolution
pedagogy, as science essays and reviews so is the spread of genes in a gene pool, cultural
evolution can be modeled as the spread of
often do.
The book, however, is marred by a lack of cultural units. (Dawkins [1976) actually
conscientious editing. Now, 16 of the books gave these cultural monads a name28 “essays” are book reviews. A list of ac- “memes”; and Lumsden and Wilson [19811
knowledgments appears on pp. 258-260, and advanced our civilization even further by
that is the place to which the reader must calling them “culturgens”.)
constantly refer in order t o learn what was
Yet it is not altogether clear that biological
being reviewed in each “essay.” There is no evolution can adequately be defined as the
excuse whatsoever for this. When we read at spread of genes in a gene pool. Ernst Mayr
the beginning of essay 5, “This book contains derisive$ labelled this approach “beanba
a collection of essays about biology,. . .” genetics in 1959, and has consistently (an
(p. 30), why should the reader have to flip t o in my opinion, rightly) argued that this appage 258 t o find out what bloody book is proach misses the critical element of how a
being referred to? Or, when we read, at the new allele becomes incorporated and intebeginning of essay 9, “This, the authors tell grated into the ene pool. Sewall Wright
us, is ‘not a work of science . . .’ ”
tried to deal wit this a little, but it was
should we have to flip to the end of the boo
sufficiently daunting mathematically that
to learn not only what work he is referring to, nobody could ever figure out what he was
but what authors he is referring to? This trying t o say.
could have been handled by something as
In anthropology those who tried to model
trivial as a footnote at the beginning of each cultural change as the s read of culture
essay, or by something more ambitious, like traits belonged to the di usionist school,
which enjoyed a vogue in the 1920s but
a minor rewrite.
If the form of the work is somewhat frus- ultimately gave way under the growing aptrating, the substance is nevertheless fully preciation of parallel evolution in major feagratifying. Maynard Smith not only explains tures of cultural evolution such as food prothe essentials of game theory more lucidly duction. Diffusion obviously occurs-it’s not
than I have previously seen it done, but has a as if there isn’t a copious literature on accullot to say about general evolution and evolu- turation-but what is interesting about it is
tionists as well. Stephen Jay Gould “holds the parallel between something anthropolosadly misguided views about the mechasts have long recognized about cultural
nisms of evolution,” poor fellow, and Elisaiffusion and Mayr’s criticism of “beanbag
beth Vrba is “a good woman fallen among genetics.” It turns out that the culture trait is
thieves.” The pattern, obviously, is that both either accepted or rejected for various reaare outspoken macroevolutionists and punc- sons ranging from utilitarianism to simple
esthetics, and if accepted, it is always modi-
fied by the receiving culture.
For example, consider the “meme”for tobacco, which spread with extraordinary
s eed all over the world following the initial
Ikuropean encounters with New World aboriginals. How does one incorporate the si nificant fact that the spread from New Wor d
to Old World also involved a transition from
sacred to profane contexts-from rituals and
treaties to boardrooms and bedrooms? It
seems to me that this is precisely analogous
t o the argument taken by Mayr against the
atomistic view of biological evolution (which
Maynard Smith defends, in the footsteps of
his mentor Haldane in essay 21, but is simply
more obvious for culture traits. It’s not just
the “spread of tobacco”that is of significance
in the cultural evolutionary story, but how it
becomes symbolically transformed as it becomes incorporated in European society. The
“beanbag” approach t o cultural evolution
misses this completely, and thereby strikes
me as retro essive.
As I sai , we all have our buttons. Did
Darwin Get It Right? is an enjoyable collection, well worth a look. And the answer is, of
course, yes.
Departments of Anthropology and Biology
Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut
Dawkins R (1976) The Selfish Gene. New York: Oxford
University Press.
Lumsden C, and Wilson EO (1981) Genes, Mind, and
Culture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
M a y E (1959) Where are we? Cold Spring Harbor Symp.
Quant. Biol. 24:l-9.
Alberts, BM (ed.) (1989) Science as a Way o f
Knowing VI-Cell and Molecular Biology.
Thousand Oaks, CA: American Society of
Zoologists, 334 pp. (paper). Single copies
Albritton, CC, J r (1989) Catastrophic Episodes in Earth History. New York: Chapman and Hall, 221 pp. $29.95 (cloth).
Archer, JA, and K Browne (1989) Human
Aggression. Naturalistic Approaches. New
York: Routledge, 284 p. $16.95 (paper).
Bricker, VR, and GH ossen (eds.) (1989)
Ethnographic Encounters i n Southern Mesoamerica. Austin, TX: University of
Texas Press, 356 pp. $25.00 (pa er).
Clark, G (1989)Prehistory at Cam ridge and
Beyond. New York: Cambridge University
Press, 176 pp. $39.50 (cloth).
Grafen, A (ed.) (1989) Evolution and Its In-
fluence. New York: Oxford University
Press, 130 pp. $35.00 (cloth).
Mange, AP,and EJ Mange (1989) Genetics:
Human Aspects. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer
Associates Inc., 591 pp. $38.95 (cloth).
Reader, J (1988)Missing Links: The Hunt for
Earliest Man. 2nd edition. London: Penguin Books, 270 pp. $7.95 (paper).
Ruse, M (1989) The Darwinian Paradigm.
New York: Routledge, 299 pp. $25.00
Shackleton, JC (1989)Marine Molluscan Remains From Franchthi Cave. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 198 pi.
$27.50 ipaper).
1989) Recent Vertebrate Carcasses and Their Paleobiological Imwlications. Chicago: Universitf of Chicago
Press, 188 pp. $19.95 (paper).
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