The last book I read in 2016 was “This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works” where leading thinkers share their favourite deep and elegant theory. An overwhelming number of them cited Darwin’s theory of natural selection, and though I have not been asked, I’d say rightly so. As someone rightly pointed out, the beauty and elegance is when one theory explains a lot of diverse phenomena, and is almost a gift that keeps on giving.
Robert Wright uses Darwin’s theory to explain exactly what the book’s title says – why we are the way we are, using Darwin’s own life to illustrate several facets of classic human behaviour. I have thus far viewed the brain as a product of evolution, and feelings and emotions as a vague result of biochemistry triggered by the environment and the brain. My views have been shaped by some excellent and diverse books – Sapiens, Scarcity, Finite and Infinite Games – to name a significant few. This book, in many ways, is an amalgamation of the best insights that those have to offer. But the brilliance of the book is in how it goes beyond, and draws the connection between mental organs and behaviour in the modern world.
The book throws light on the various behaviours we exhibit in our day to day life, many of which have their origins in the hunter-gatherer stage of our species and before. In fact, we even share some traits with our nearest relatives- chimpanzees and bonobos. Almost all facets of our life are addressed – relationship with parents, siblings, spouse, and society in general, politics, sex, friendship, religion etc.