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Inheritance by Harvey Whitehouse
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Inheritance

The Evolutionary Origins of the Modern World
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Narrator Harvey Whitehouse

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Length 10 hours 54 minutes
Language English
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Brought to you by Penguin

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, driving the rise of more sophisticated technologies, more organized religions, more expansive empires. But now, for the first time, it is failing us. We find ourselves careering towards a future of unprecedented political polarization, deadlier wars, and environmental destruction.

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 and arrival of the first kings to the rise and fall of human sacrifice and creation of 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 devastating implications 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.

‘Insightful and breathtaking.’ Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens
‘Bold and sweeping.’ Peter Frankopan, author of The Silk Roads
‘Profoundly thought-provoking.’ Kate Raworth, author of Doughnut Economics


©2024 Harvey Whitehouse (P)2024 Penguin Audio

Professor Harvey Whitehouse is Chair in Social Anthropology at the University of Oxford.

He is Director of Oxford’s world renowned Centre for the Study of Social Cohesion, which studies the social glue that binds societies together. In his work for the Centre, Whitehouse draws on insights from anthropology, neuroscience, history and psychology to explore why some societies come together and others fall apart.

Whitehouse has worked in regions as diverse as Asia, Africa, South America, Australasia and Melanesia. It has taken him to some of the world's most important archaeological sites, brain-scanning facilities, and child psychology labs - as well as to the heart of some of the world's most embittered conflicts and extremist groups.

He is also a founding director of Seshat, a vast database on human history enabling scholars and scientists to test different hypotheses about the rise and fall of large-scale societies across the globe in a more even-handed way than has ever been possible before..

In academic circles, Whitehouse is best known as one of the founders of the Cognitive Science of Religion, a highly influential approach to the study of religion. His theory of 'modes of religiosity' has been the subject of extensive discussion among anthropologists, historians, archaeologists, cognitive scientists and evolutionary theorists.

Whitehouse's research has featured in Scientific American, New Scientist, Aeon, Pacific Standard, The Telegraph and The Guardian. He has delivered talks at the World Economic Forum and served as the Chief Consultant for a BBC Two documentary series, Extraordinary Rituals. He lives in Oxford.

Professor Harvey Whitehouse is Chair in Social Anthropology at the University of Oxford.

He is Director of Oxford’s world renowned Centre for the Study of Social Cohesion, which studies the social glue that binds societies together. In his work for the Centre, Whitehouse draws on insights from anthropology, neuroscience, history and psychology to explore why some societies come together and others fall apart.

Whitehouse has worked in regions as diverse as Asia, Africa, South America, Australasia and Melanesia. It has taken him to some of the world's most important archaeological sites, brain-scanning facilities, and child psychology labs - as well as to the heart of some of the world's most embittered conflicts and extremist groups.

He is also a founding director of Seshat, a vast database on human history enabling scholars and scientists to test different hypotheses about the rise and fall of large-scale societies across the globe in a more even-handed way than has ever been possible before..

In academic circles, Whitehouse is best known as one of the founders of the Cognitive Science of Religion, a highly influential approach to the study of religion. His theory of 'modes of religiosity' has been the subject of extensive discussion among anthropologists, historians, archaeologists, cognitive scientists and evolutionary theorists.

Whitehouse's research has featured in Scientific American, New Scientist, Aeon, Pacific Standard, The Telegraph and The Guardian. He has delivered talks at the World Economic Forum and served as the Chief Consultant for a BBC Two documentary series, Extraordinary Rituals. He lives in Oxford.

Buy one get one free

This month only!

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Reviews

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. 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. 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. 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. 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. Expand reviews
Celebrate our 10th Anniversary with giveaways, merch, and more! Learn more