100 books like The Origins of Virtue

By Matt Ridley,

Here are 100 books that The Origins of Virtue fans have personally recommended if you like The Origins of Virtue. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Selfish Gene

Dennis L. Krebs Author Of Survival of the Virtuous: How We Became a Moral Animal

From my list on how we became a moral animal.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I was younger, I got into a lot of trouble. Many good-hearted people helped me. In part, this inspired me to become a clinical psychologist. When I was in graduate school at Harvard, I became disillusioned with clinical psychology and inspired to figure out why people are motivated to help others. During this process, a lecturer from the Biology Department, Robert Trivers, approached me and we exchanged drafts of papers we were writing. Trivers’ ideas caused me to see altruism and morality in an entirely different, and much more valid, way. In Survival of the Virtuous I demonstrate how psychological findings on altruism and morality can be gainfully interpreted from an evolutionary perspective.  

Dennis' book list on how we became a moral animal

Dennis L. Krebs Why did Dennis love this book?

More than thirty years ago, when I was conducting research on the psychology of altruism and moral development, a biologist recommended that I read The Selfish Gene

Reading Dawkins’ book caused me to change my theoretical orientation completely.  It enabled me to see that if I wanted to understand altruism and morality, I needed to understand how the genes that guide the construction of the mental mechanisms that cause us to help others evolved. 

Although the title of the book implies that we are selfish by nature, the contents explain how selfish genes can guide the development of unselfish animals.  

By Richard Dawkins,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Selfish Gene as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The million copy international bestseller, critically acclaimed and translated into over 25 languages.

As influential today as when it was first published, The Selfish Gene has become a classic exposition of evolutionary thought. Professor Dawkins articulates a gene's eye view of evolution - a view giving centre stage to these persistent units of information, and in which organisms can be seen as vehicles for their replication. This imaginative, powerful, and stylistically brilliant work not only brought the insights of Neo-Darwinism to a wide audience, but galvanized the biology
community, generating much debate and stimulating whole new areas of research. Forty…


Book cover of Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior

Dennis L. Krebs Author Of Survival of the Virtuous: How We Became a Moral Animal

From my list on how we became a moral animal.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I was younger, I got into a lot of trouble. Many good-hearted people helped me. In part, this inspired me to become a clinical psychologist. When I was in graduate school at Harvard, I became disillusioned with clinical psychology and inspired to figure out why people are motivated to help others. During this process, a lecturer from the Biology Department, Robert Trivers, approached me and we exchanged drafts of papers we were writing. Trivers’ ideas caused me to see altruism and morality in an entirely different, and much more valid, way. In Survival of the Virtuous I demonstrate how psychological findings on altruism and morality can be gainfully interpreted from an evolutionary perspective.  

Dennis' book list on how we became a moral animal

Dennis L. Krebs Why did Dennis love this book?

As a psychologist, I marveled at the integration of ideas from psychology and evolutionary biology (with some philosophy thrown in) about the evolution of morality presented by the biologist D.S. Wilson and the philosopher Elliott Sober. 
Unto Others is a bold book that challenges the pervasive position in biology that moral traits cannot evolve through group selection. Using examples from several species, these authors explain how competitions in which altruistic groups defeat selfish groups can select for altruistic traits even though selfish individuals within these groups fare better than altruistic individuals. 

I admired the courage of these authors to go against the grain and withstand the vilification that their iconoclastic ideas evoked.   

By Elliot Sober, David Sloan Wilson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Unto Others as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

No matter what we do, however kind or generous our deeds may seem, a hidden motive of selfishness lurks--or so science has claimed for years. This book, whose publication promises to be a major scientific event, tells us differently. In Unto Others philosopher Elliott Sober and biologist David Sloan Wilson demonstrate once and for all that unselfish behavior is in fact an important feature of both biological and human nature. Their book provides a panoramic view of altruism throughout the animal kingdom--from self-sacrificing parasites to insects that subsume themselves in the superorganism of a colony to the human capacity for…


Book cover of The Biology of Moral Systems

Dennis L. Krebs Author Of Survival of the Virtuous: How We Became a Moral Animal

From my list on how we became a moral animal.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I was younger, I got into a lot of trouble. Many good-hearted people helped me. In part, this inspired me to become a clinical psychologist. When I was in graduate school at Harvard, I became disillusioned with clinical psychology and inspired to figure out why people are motivated to help others. During this process, a lecturer from the Biology Department, Robert Trivers, approached me and we exchanged drafts of papers we were writing. Trivers’ ideas caused me to see altruism and morality in an entirely different, and much more valid, way. In Survival of the Virtuous I demonstrate how psychological findings on altruism and morality can be gainfully interpreted from an evolutionary perspective.  

Dennis' book list on how we became a moral animal

Dennis L. Krebs Why did Dennis love this book?

My introduction to Richard Alexander was a set of compelling words that he wrote in the margin of a draft of one of my early papers on the evolution of altruism: “no, no, no, no.” I had gotten it wrong. 

In The Biology of Moral Systems, Richard Alexander presents an account of how morality evolved in the human species that has proven almost exactly right. The key to understanding morality, he argues, is to view it as a system that evolved to enable individuals who can benefit from cooperating with one another to resolve their conflicts of interest in mutually beneficial ways. 

Alexander explains how the moral systems that have evolved in human societies are structured in ways that enable people to reap the benefits of increasingly indirect systems of reciprocity.  

By Richard Alexander,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Biology of Moral Systems as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Despite wide acceptance that the attributes of living creatures have appeared through a cumulative evolutionary process guided chiefly by natural selection, many human activities have seemed analytically inaccessible through such an approach. Prominent evolutionary biologists, for example, have described morality as contrary to the direction of biological evolution, and moral philosophers rarely regard evolution as relevant to their discussions.The Biology of Moral Systems adopts the position that moral questions arise out of conflicts of interest, and that moral systems are ways of using confluences of interest at lower levels of social organization to deal with conflicts of interest at higher…


Book cover of The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology

Dennis L. Krebs Author Of Survival of the Virtuous: How We Became a Moral Animal

From my list on how we became a moral animal.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I was younger, I got into a lot of trouble. Many good-hearted people helped me. In part, this inspired me to become a clinical psychologist. When I was in graduate school at Harvard, I became disillusioned with clinical psychology and inspired to figure out why people are motivated to help others. During this process, a lecturer from the Biology Department, Robert Trivers, approached me and we exchanged drafts of papers we were writing. Trivers’ ideas caused me to see altruism and morality in an entirely different, and much more valid, way. In Survival of the Virtuous I demonstrate how psychological findings on altruism and morality can be gainfully interpreted from an evolutionary perspective.  

Dennis' book list on how we became a moral animal

Dennis L. Krebs Why did Dennis love this book?

As an award-winning journalist and science writer, Robert Wright, the author of The Moral Animal, presents a lively, thought-provoking presentation of the theoretical framework of evolutionary psychology interwoven with tidbits about Charles Darwin’s life. 

I was impressed by his ability to provide compelling explanations for how moral sentiments and other important aspects of human psychology such as marriage, family, friendship, racism, deception, and self-deception evolved.  

By Robert Wright,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Moral Animal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE MORAL ANIMAL examines the significance of this extraordinary shift in our perception of morality and what it means to be human.

Taking the life of Charles Darwin as his context, Robert Wright brilliantly demonstrates how Darwin's ideas have stood the test of time, drawing startling conclusions about the structure of some of our most basic preoccupations. Why do we commit adultery, express suicidal tendencies and have the capacity for self-deception? Wright not only provides the answers to such fundamental moral questions from the perspective of evolutionary psychology but challenges us to see ourselves anew through the clarifying lens of…


Book cover of A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster

Daniel P. Aldrich Author Of Building Resilience: Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recovery

From my list on the importance of community during disasters.

Why am I passionate about this?

We moved to New Orleans in July 2005. We had six weeks in our first home, filling it with furniture, buying a new car, and taking advantage of my first job. When Hurricane Katrina collapsed the levees holding back the nearby lakes, our home – and those of 80% of the city – filled with water. As I waited for FEMA and insurance to help us, I saw instead it was our friends, friends of friends, and faith-based organizations that helped us get back on our feet. Using our own experiences as a start, I traveled to India and Japan to study how communities around the world survived and thrived during shocks. 

Daniel's book list on the importance of community during disasters

Daniel P. Aldrich Why did Daniel love this book?

We have all seen disaster movies and TV shows with people screaming and running around as the earthquake, tsunami, or Godzilla strikes. But Rebecca Solnit argues instead that normal people don’t panic during disasters – it is the elite, the wealthy, and the decision-makers who lose their minds. For normal people, altruism and mutual aid help all of us get through shocks, whether fire, car accident or COVID19. Her writing is excellent and she uses examples across time and space, ranging from the San Francisco earthquake at the start of the 20th century to the Mexico City earthquake at its end.

By Rebecca Solnit,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Paradise Built in Hell as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The freshest, deepest, most optimistic account of human nature I've come across in years."
-Bill McKibben

The most startling thing about disasters, according to award-winning author Rebecca Solnit, is not merely that so many people rise to the occasion, but that they do so with joy. That joy reveals an ordinarily unmet yearning for community, purposefulness, and meaningful work that disaster often provides. A Paradise Built in Hell is an investigation of the moments of altruism, resourcefulness, and generosity that arise amid disaster's grief and disruption and considers their implications for everyday life. It points to a new vision of…


Book cover of Passions Within Reason: The Strategic Role of the Emotions

Ananish Chaudhuri Author Of Experiments in Economics: Playing Fair with Money

From my list on emotions and economic decisions.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am Professor of Experimental Economics at the University of Auckland where my work lies at the interface of economics and psychology. In a discipline (and a world) that tends to emphasize human self-interest, I have always been interested in our willingness to engage in unselfish behavior. Incentivized decision-making experiments with human participants where payments depend on the nature of their decisions are a powerful way of analyzing behavior. Are people willing to put their money where their mouth is? My background running experiments made me well-positioned to study some of these questions; a lot of them in collaboration with other social scientists including psychologists and political scientists. 

Ananish's book list on emotions and economic decisions

Ananish Chaudhuri Why did Ananish love this book?

I am tempted to say: Because Frank is a delightful writer and leave it at that.

This book reiterates similar themes in discussing how a variety of supposedly non-economic factors affect economic decisions.

In this book Frank discusses how noble human tendencies (moral sentiments) may have not only survived the pressures of the material world, but actually have been nurtured by them. The title is a play on the David Hume quote that “Reason is, and ought to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.”

To those interested, I also recommend any of Frank’s other books including Choosing the Right Pond, The Winner Take All Society, and The Darwin Economy

By Robert H. Frank,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Passions Within Reason as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The idea rests on a simple paradox, namely, that in many situations the conscious pursuit of self-interest is incompatible with its attainment. We are all comfortable with the notion that someone who strives to be spontaneous can never succeed. So too, on brief reflection, will it become apparent that someone who always pursues self-interest is doomed to fail.


Book cover of Compassion in Action: Setting Out on the Path of Service

Kara-Leah Grant Author Of Forty Days of Yoga

From my list on support your home yoga practice.

Why am I passionate about this?

My journey into home yoga practice began in 2004 when I moved to a small mountain town with no yoga classes. I started practicing for the health of my mind and body and kept practicing because it became an integral part of my identity. In 2006, when I began teaching yoga, I committed to practicing yoga every day so that I could be the best possible teacher for my students. These were the books that helped me keep that commitment. Many of them I’ve read multiple times, and all of them helped me show up to the mat, and understand both my bodily and psychological experience of home yoga practice.

Kara-Leah's book list on support your home yoga practice

Kara-Leah Grant Why did Kara-Leah love this book?

Compassion, for self and others, can be an overlooked aspect of practicing at home. I found this book when I was awash with judgmental thoughts about people, and feeling spiritually more evolved or spiritually superior to people. And then I was judgmental against myself for having judgmental thoughts about other people all the time!

This book helped me understand and move through this phase in the spiritual journey. In the first half of the book, Ram Dass talks about his journey. In the second half, Mirabai Bush talks about practical steps for being of service in the world. It was Ram Dass’s journey that really spoke to me initially – especially when he tells the story of having to return to his family home at the age of 55 and take care of his aging father. It is a must-read for those wishing to develop more compassion on the yogic…

By Ram Dass, Ram Dass, Mirabai Bush

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Compassion in Action as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Featuring an eye-catching new cover, this classic guide is for those ready to commit time and energy to relieving suffering in the world. No two people are better qualified to help us along this path than Ram Dass, who has spent more than 25 years teaching and writing on the subject of living consciously, and Mirabi Bush, who succeeded him as chairperson of the Seva Foundation.


Book cover of Exodus

Phil Gilvin Author Of Truth Sister

From my list on post-civilisation futures.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a teenager I loved the post-apocalyptic genre, especially John Wyndham and H G Wells, and as a scientist I’ve become increasingly aware of the threats to society, especially from climate change and pandemics. But it seems to me that any collapse will be gradual: yes, the weather will worsen, and the seas will rise; but those won’t happen overnight. We’re unlikely to see a pandemic that kills everyone, but we could well see a train of smaller ones. This is the world of Truth Sister: it’s changed, but we’ve had time to adapt. The books in my list have different takes on how a post-civilisation world might look. Enjoy!

Phil's book list on post-civilisation futures

Phil Gilvin Why did Phil love this book?

This early-21st-century novel takes rising sea levels as its starting point, and tracks young Mara as she leaves her home island and heads south, towards supposed safety.

I liked that not only does Mara encounter the starving people of the Netherworld, but also the privileged elite who live in “sky cities”. The growing gap between rich and poor, powerful and powerless, has resonances for our own societies today.

By Julie Bertagna,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Exodus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

The fifteenth anniversary edition of Exodus, a startling, thrilling novel set in a dystopian future ravaged by global warming

It is 2099 - and the world is gradually drowning, as mighty Arctic ice floes melt, the seas rise and land disappears forever beneath storm-tossed waves. For fifteen-year-old Mara, her family and community, huddled on the fast-disappearing island of Wing, the new century brings flight. Packed into tiny boats, a terrifying journey begins to a bizarre city that rises into the sky, built on the drowned remains of the ancient city of Glasgow. But even here there is no safety and,…


Book cover of Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Help Others, Do Work That Matters, and Make Smarter Choices about Giving Back

Benjamin Todd Author Of 80,000 Hours: Find a Fulfilling Career That Does Good

From my list on how to have a positive social impact with careers.

Why are we passionate about this?

We’re a nonprofit that aims to help people have a positive social impact with their careers. Since you have, on average, 80,000 hours in your career, what you decide to do with that time might be your biggest opportunity to make a difference. Over the past ten years, we’ve conducted careful research into high-impact careers, and have helped thousands of people plan a career that has a high positive impact. 

Benjamin's book list on how to have a positive social impact with careers

Benjamin Todd Why did Benjamin love this book?

For those of us who want to live an ‘ethical life’ and help others, it’s not always easy to know what to do. Will gives one answer: the principles of effective altruism. The book sets out a practical guide to increasing your impact through your charity, volunteering, purchases, and choice of cause. We think it’s a really valuable tool to understand how you can have a positive impact.

By William MacAskill,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Doing Good Better as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A radical reassessment of how we can most effectively help others by a rising star of philosophy and leading social entrepreneur.

'A surprising and often counterintuitive look at the best ways to make a difference . . . MacAskill is that rarest of beasts: a do-gooder who uses his head more than his heart.'
SUNDAY TIMES

Most of us want to make a difference. We donate to charity, buy Fairtrade coffee, or try to cut down on our carbon emissions. Rarely do we know if we're really helping, and despite our best intentions, our actions can have ineffective - and…


Book cover of Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon's Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart

Beth Kurland, Ph.D. Author Of You Don't Have to Change to Change Everything: Six Ways to Shift Your Vantage Point, Stop Striving for Happy, and Find True Well-Being

From my list on helping you change the way you see the world for well-being and transformation.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a youth, I longed to understand life and its meaning and purpose, and I sought books that opened me up to a world that transcended the more rational, tangible aspects of my life. I also became fascinated with psychology in high school and knew that would be my life’s path. In college and beyond, I was drawn to meditation and mind-body practices that became transformative in my life. This journey continues to this day, calling me to bridge the scientific and psychological with the more contemplative and spiritual traditions to find and help others find healing and wholeness. 

Beth's book list on helping you change the way you see the world for well-being and transformation

Beth Kurland, Ph.D. Why did Beth love this book?

I fell in love with this book and couldn’t put it down until completion. It had such a unique blend of neuroscience and psychology woven into the fabric of brilliant storytelling.

I found the storyline quite fascinating:  the author’s chance encounter as a young boy with a woman named Ruth at a magic shop, which forever changes the trajectory of his life. As someone who has always loved magic and been drawn to the spiritual, as well as someone drawn to mindfulness practices for decades, this book resonated so deeply with me.

Besides having a fantastic craft for writing, James Doty’s personal story was so poignant, touching, and inspiring. I walked away with a sense of the power of compassion and connecting with heart as the true ingredients for transformation, healing, and creating a meaningful life.

By James R. Doty,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Into the Magic Shop as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The award-winning New York Times bestseller that inspired BTS's K-pop song 'Magic Shop'.

The day that 12-year-old James Doty walked in to his local magic shop is the day that changed his life.

Once the neglected son of an alcoholic father and a mother with chronic depression, he has gone on to become a leading neurosurgeon, based at Stanford University. He credits Ruth for this incredible turnaround: the remarkable woman he met at the Cactus Rabbit Magic Shop, who devoted the summer to transforming his mind and opening his heart.

In this uplifting memoir, Jim explains the visualisation techniques Ruth…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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