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The Social Instinct

Why cooperate? This may be the most important scientific question we have ever, and will ever, face.

The science of cooperation tells us not only how we got here, but also where we might end up. Cooperation explains how strands of DNA gave rise to modern-day nation states. It defines our extraordinary ecological success as well as many of the most surprising features of what make us human: not only why we live in families, why we have grandmothers and why women experience the menopause, but also why we become paranoid and jealous, and why we cheat.

Nichola Raihani also introduces us to other species who, like us, live and work together. From the pied babblers of the Kalahari to the cleaner fish of the Great Barrier Reef, they happen to be some of the most fascinating and extraordinarily successful species on this planet. What do we have in common with these other species, and what is it that sets us apart?

Written at a time of global pandemic, when the challenges and importance of cooperation have never been greater, The Social Instinct is an exhilarating, far-reaching and thought-provoking journey through all life on Earth, with profound insights into what makes us human and how our societies work.


The Social Instinct will be out in paperback on October 6th in the UK (and other overseas territories).



  • A phenomenally important book. The story of why we humans evolved to become such a wonderfully cooperative, social species, and what that means for the world today. Nichola Raihani will change the way we think about ourselves.
    Lewis Dartnell, author of Origins: How the Earth Shaped Human History
  • Vibrant science about a topic that could not be more important: How did our superpower of cooperation evolve against the odds? This engaging book wears its strong scientific credentials lightly. I could not put it down.

    Uta Frith, Professor Emeritus of Cognitive Development, University College London
  • A fascinating exploration of the ties that bind us from our smallest cell to our grandest society. Raihani reveals the deep evolutionary roots of cooperation, drawing on her own extensive scholarship in an entertaining and insightful new look at the risks and rewards of collaborating.

    Gaia Vince, author of Transcendence: How Humans Evolved Through Fire, Language, Beauty, and Time
  • In this captivating book, Nichola Raihani … provides a compelling argument that cooperation is the secret of human success and yet has never been as crucial as it is now, during a global pandemic and with the threat of the climate crisis. I found this intriguing and beautifully written book hard to put down.

    Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, author of Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain
  • The Social Instinct is surprising, thoughtful and, best of all, endlessly entertaining, examining the puzzle and power of co-operation from the decks of the HMS Bounty to the babbling birds of the Kalahari. Absolutely loved it.

    Will Storr, author of The Science of Storytelling
  • This is a glorious book, with an insight on every page. Above all it taught me that while our individual bodies and brains might reward comparison with our primate relatives, in understanding our social relations we would be much better off comparing the meerkat. And the naked mole-rat. And the bower bird. And the cleaner-fish.

    Rory Sutherland, author of Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas that Don’t Make Sense
  • If you’ve ever wondered why people aren’t as cooperative as they ought to be, you’ll find the answer right here – mapped out in detail that is full of surprises at every page-turn.

    Robin Dunbar, Emeritus Professor of Evolutionary Psychology, University of Oxford
  • A well informed, pithy, provocative overview of the evidence that cooperation is the key to success – for microbes and animals as well as for humans.

    Tim Clutton-Brock, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Cambridge
  • Raihani weaves a captivating tale through the tree of life, to show how our own societies are shaped by the same evolutionary games as other animals. A beautiful, compelling and unstoppable read… This book will change the way you view your own behaviour.

    Seirian Sumner, Professor of Behavioural Ecology, University College London
  • With colourful examples from ants to meerkats and cleaner fish to chimps, Raihani expertly explores the biology and dynamics of social interactions that underpin human cooperation and competition… Essential reading for everyone from ecologists to economists. Kept setting off idea fireworks in my brain!

    Kevin Mitchell, author of Innate: How the Wiring of Our Brains Shapes Who We Are