Our chimpish ancestors were superbly adapted to a life of leaping through the trees. To survive on the savannah, they had to make a social leap — a change that drives us still today.
Human psychology is rife with contradictions: We work hard to achieve our goals, but when we succeed, our happiness is fleeting compared with our efforts. We hope our friends will do well in life, but can’t help feeling jealous if they do too well. We’re aghast at the thought of people we know being murdered, even if we despise them, but are unconcerned when our armed forces kill enemies who are strangers to us. We complain about difficult bosses, but are often behave just as badly when we're in charge.
These inconsistencies may seem irrational, but each of them has evolved to serve a vital function in our lives. Indeed, the most fundamental aspects of our psychology were permanently shaped by the ‘social leap’ our ancestors made from the rainforest to the savannah. In their struggle to survive on the open grasslands, our ancestors prioritised teamwork and sociality over physical prowess, creating an entirely new kind of intelligence that forever altered our place on this planet.
In The Social Leap, leading psychologist William von Hippel traces our evolutionary history to show how events in our distant past continue to shape our lives today. From the everyday, such as why we exaggerate, to the exotic, such as why we believe our own lies, the implications are far-reaching and extraordinary.
Blending anthropology, biology, history, and psychology with evolutionary science, The Social Leap is a fresh, provocative look at our species. It provides new clues about who we are, why we do what we do, and how to live the good life.
‘The Social Leap is a rollicking tour through humanity’s evolutionary past, and William von Hippel is the consummate tour guide. With equal parts wisdom, humor, authority, and charm, von Hippel shows how our past explains the present and why our well-being rests on an understanding of how our minds evolved.’
Roy Baumeister, New York Times bestselling author of Willpower
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‘The Social Leap is one of the best books I have read in years. Its examination of the evolutionary roots of modern human behavior is both profound and revelatory. Seamlessly weaving captivating stories, rich science, and beautiful prose, von Hippel offers an unparalleled glimpse into the lives of our ancestors and, thereby, into our selves.’
Sonja Lyubomirsky, New York Times bestselling author of The How of Happiness
‘This book is for everybody. Everybody, that is, who has a shred of curiosity about how we came to become human. von Hippel’s panoramic view prompts us to ask ourselves: what do we wish to do with the miracle that we are now here?’
Mahzarin R. Banaji, Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics, Department of Psychology, Harvard University