Contemporary Ecological-Evolutionary Books:

The following books each espouse a variant of ecological-evolutionary theory.  While they may differ in the details, each demonstrates the power of the ecological-evolutionary theory in furthering our understanding of sociocultural systems and change.

Guns, Germs, and Steel

Jared Diamond, 1997, New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Book Description:
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. In this "artful, informative, and delightful" (William H. McNeill, New York Review of Books) book, Jared Diamond convincingly argues that geographical and environmental factors shaped the modern world. Societies that had had a head start in food production advanced beyond the hunter-gatherer stage, and then developed religion --as well as nasty germs and potent weapons of war --and adventured on sea and land to conquer and decimate preliterate cultures. A major advance in our understanding of human societies, Guns, Germs, and Steel chronicles the way that the modern world came to be and stunningly dismantles racially based theories of human history. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science, the Rhone-Poulenc Prize, and the Commonwealth club of California's Gold Medal. 

Editorial Reviews: 
"An ambitious, highly important book." 
--James Shreeve, New York Times Book Review

"The scope and explanatory power of this book are astounding." 
--The New Yorker 

Jared broadly erudite, writes in a style that pleasantly expresses scientific concepts in vernacular American English and deals almost exclusively in questions that should interest everyone concerned about how humanity developed. . . .Reading Diamond is like watching someone riding a unicycle, balancing an eel on his nose and juggling five squealing piglets. You may or may not agree with him (I usually do), but he rivets your attention. 
--Alfred W. Crosby, Los Angeles Times 

"A fascinating and extremely important book. That its insights seem so fresh, its facts so novel and arresting, is evidence of how little Americans --and, I suspect, most well-educated citizens of the most important forces of human history." 
--David Brown, Washington Post Book Word 

"Guns, Germs and Steel is an artful, informative and delightful book...there is nothing like a radically new angle of vision for bringing out unsuspected dimensions of subject and that is what Jared Diamond has done." 
--William H. McNeil, The New York Review of Books 

"No scientist brings more experience from the laboratory and field, none thinks more deeply about social issues or addresses them with greater clarity, than Jared Diamond as illustrated by Guns, Germs, and Steel. In this remarkably readable book he shows how history and biology can enrich one another to produce a deeper understanding of the human condition." 
--Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University 

Industrializing America: Understanding Contemporary Society through Classical Sociological Analysis 

Frank W. Elwell, 1999, Westport Connecticut: Praeger Press 

From the Publisher:
"It deserves to be read and used as a textbook in a wide variety of introductory courses in sociology, anthropology and sociocultural theory.  It can also serve as a text for American studies courses since it contains in-depth descriptions of basic trends in American society and culture, shedding new light on the core institutions of government, global corporations, health care bureaucracies, food production, manufacturing and many other features of what is often but erroneously called 'post-industrialism.'  Against the main current of the social sciences, here is a book that returns us to the classical view that societies and cultures can best be understood as entities whose parts fit together to form systems." 
--Marvin Harris, Graduate Research Professor 
Department of Anthropology University of Florida 

An analysis of any part of the social system must be firmly rooted in a framework that outlines the whole system and the interrelationships of the various parts.  Building on classical sociological theory, this volume proposes an original and comprehensive systems theory of sociocultural stability and change, which combines fundamental ecological relationships with social structures and culture.  Relationships and concepts developed by Marx, Weber, Malthus, Spencer, and Durkheim are explained and synthesized into a coherent perspective, which is used to examine multiple phenomena in modern industrial societies. 

The author argues that recent changes in social structures (for example corporations, education, or the family) and culture (our socially created and shared symbolic understanding of our world) are interrelated and rooted in massive changes in population size and industrial growth.  By systematically relating the analysis of these sociocultural phenomena to the whole and to one another this volume presents a framework that can serve to organize and integrate many diverse theories, insights, and much empirical information into a comprehensive world view. 


  • Cultural Materialism 
  • Structure of Power 
  • Hyper-industrialism 
  • Bureaucracy  
  • Irrationality factor  
  • Globalization  
  • Economic Rationalization  
  • Workplace Turmoil  
  • Family and Community  
  • Industrial Agriculture  
  • Managed Care  
  • Higher Education 
  • Political Campaigns  
  • Ideology of Technology
  • Possibilities for the Future  

Cultural Materialism: The Struggle for a Science of Culture

Marvin Harris, 1979, (Reissued 2001) New York: Random House. 

From the Publisher:
" of the most coherent and most provocative pieces of academic anthropology to appear in years.  Harris provides a comprehensive strategy for research in a field best characterized by the fragmentation of its research...the ensuing arguments promise to be fountainheads of intellectual progress." 
--Library Journal

What are the proper aims and methods of anthropology, and what does it mean to call this discipline the science of culture?  Why are such theories of culture as those of Claude Levi-Strauss, Edward O. Wilson, Carlos Castaneda, and Marvin Harris so widely read and debated? What do these theories reveal about the people who hold them? How do cultures really originate and develop? 

Marvin Harris, the distinguished American anthropologist, addresses these questions directly in this important, controversial, and comprehensive study of the theory and practice of his science.  The foremost authority on cultural materialism, Harris suggests that this strategy is the best approach to the many puzzles of anthropology and demonstrates how cultural materialism explains the endless variety of cultural behavior--from female infanticide to to the sacred cow, from North American Indian myths of the coyote tot he marital customs of the aboriginal Australians--as the adaptations of societies to their particular environments. Harris's aim is to account for cultural evolution by the same objective and scientific methods that Darwin used to explain biological evolution and that Marx attempted to apply to social evolution. 

In formulating the principles of cultural materialism, Harris analyzes and exposes the errors of his fellow anthropologists, directing his argument at their unscientific-- and often anti-scientific methods.  These alternative approaches, some merely faddish and others intellectually fashionable, include Levi-Strauss's structuralism, Freudian psychodynamics, humanistic idealism, Wilson's sociobiology, dialectical materialism, structural Marxism, Castaneda's mysticism, and aimless eclecticism--all of which, according to Harris, deny in their own ways and to varying degrees the foundations necessary for a science of culture. 

What Harris upholds is the scientific tradition, in which cultural theory is balanced with a body of specific facts so that theory and research inform--rather than determine-- each other.  One one level a compelling examination of contemporary anthropology, this brilliant and original work is also an essay on knowledge and the search for verifiable truth.  At a time when the Western tradition of empiricism is widely denounced as bankrupt and the enormous contributions of science disallowed, Harris argues convincingly that these methods and achievements are far more viable and constructive than the contemporary retreat into radical relativism, escapist mysticism, and the despair of knowledge itself. And whether one agrees or disagrees with Harris, the fact is that this book will take its place at the center of the most important intellectual controversy in decades. 

From the new (2001) edition:
Cultural Materialism, published in 1979, was Marvin Harris's first full-length explication of the theory with which his work has been associated. While Harris has developed and modified some of his ideas over the past two decades, generations of professors have looked to this volume as the essential starting point for explaining the science of culture to students. Now available again after a hiatus, this edition of "Cultural Materialism" contains the complete text of the original book plus a new introduction by Harris (with B.J. Brown) that updates his ideas and examines the impact that the book and theory have had on anthropological theorizing. 


Part I: Cultural Materialism as a Research Strategy

  • Introduction to Part I 
  • Research Strategies and the Structure of Science 
  • The Epistemology of Cultural Materialism 
  • Theoretical Principles of Cultural Materialism 
  • The Scope of Cultural Materialist Theories 
Part II: The Alternatives
  • Introduction to Part II 
  • Sociobiology and Biological Reductionism 
  • Dialectical Materialism 
  • Structuralism 
  • Structural Marxism 
  • Psychological and Cognitive Idealism 
  • Eclecticism 
  • Obscurantism 
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Theories of Culture in Postmodern Times

Marvin Harris, 1998, California: AltaMira Press. 

From the Publisher:
Marvin Harris is arguably the most influential, prolific anthropological theorist of our time. This book brings together many of the strands of his work of the past two decades into a unified, contemporary statement on anthropological theory and practice. In this book, he presents his current views on the nature of culture addressing such issues as the mental/behavioral debate, emics and etics, and anthropological holism. He resoundly critiques many current theoretical trends--from sociobiology to postmodernism to Afrocentrism. And he offers a cultural materialist perspective on diverse contemporary issues such as the IQ question and the fall of communism. Harris' thought-provoking and controversial theoretical views will be required reading for all anthropologists, social theorists, and their students. 


Part I: Conceptualizing Culture

  • What Is (Are) Culture(s)? 
  • Emics and Etics 
  • The Nature of Cultural Things 
  • Science, Objectivity, Morality 
Part II: Biology and Culture
  • De-Biologizing Culture: The Boasians 
  • Biologizing Inequality 
  • IQ Is Not Forever 
  • Neo-Darwinism 
  • Confronting Ethnomania 
Part III: Explanatory Principles
  • Holism 
  • Cultural Materialism 
  • Postmodernism 
Part IV: Macroevolution
  • Origins of Capitalism 
  • The Soviet Collapse 
  • References
  • Index 

Science, Materialism, and the Study of Culture

Martin F. Murphy and Maxine L. Margolis (eds.), 1995, Gainesville: University Press of Florida. 

From the Publisher:
"Well-argued, clearly written essays by anthropologists committed to understanding culture through theoretically grounded analysis of its material underpinnings. The authors' impassioned call for an anthropology that addresses pressing social problems--exploitation, inequality, violence, hunger, and underdevelopment--is a welcome counterweight to studies that view power primarily as discourse or poetics." 
--Marc Edelman, Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY 

The social sciences, especially cultural anthropology, are mired in contentious arguments about the desirability --even the applicability--of scientific and causal principles in the study of culture and society.  The authors of these essays come down clearly on the side and significance of these principles, claiming that a cultural materialist approach is the most productive way of explaining cultural differences and similarities and of understanding many "unexplainable" aspects of culture. 


  • An Introduction to Cultural Materialism (Martin F. Murphy and Maxine L. Margolis) 
Part 1: Theoretical Perspectives
  • Explanation and Ground Truth: The Place of Cultural Materialism in Scientific Anthropology (Allen Johnson) 
  • Infrastructural Determinism (R. Brian Feguson) 
  • Politics, Theory, and the Nature of Cultural Things (Roger Sanjek) 
  • Anthropology and Postmodernism (Marvin Harris) 
Part 2: Applications
  • Hunting Patterns and Village Fissioning among the Yanomami: A Cultural Materialist Perspective (Kenneth Good) 
  • Water Theft in Egypt's Fayoum Oasis: Emics, Etics, and the Illegal (David H. Price) 
  • A Cultural Materialist Approach to the Causes of Hunger and Homelessness in New York City (Anna Lou Dehavenon) 
  • "We Are All Chickens for the Colonel": A Cultural Materialist View of Prisons (Jagna Wojcicka Sharff) 
  • Peasants, Projects, and Anthropological Models: Fragile Causal Chains and Crooked Causal Arrows (Gerald F. Murray) 
  • Bibliography 
  • Contributors 
  • Index 

Macrosociology: An Introduction to Human Societies

Stephen K. Sanderson, 1988, New York: Harper & Row, Publishers (Currenlty in 4th editioin, 1998).

From Book News, Inc.:
A general sociology text written from a comparative, historical, and evolutionary perspective. The most important changes in this updated edition are a reworked discussion of the rise of modern capitalism and revised and extended discussions of the recent economic and political changes in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Annotation copyright Book News, Inc. Portland, Or. 

Table of Contents 
1 Sociology and the Scientific Study of Human Societies. 
2 Biological Evolution and the Emergence of Human Society and Culture. 
3 Sociocultural Systems and the Nature of Sociolocultural Evolution. 
4 Preindustrial Societies. 
5 Precapitalist Economic Systems. 
6 The Origin and Evolution of Social Stratification. 
7 The Origins of Modern Capitalism. 
8 Capitalism and Socialism Since the Industrial Revolution. 
9 Capitalism and Economic Underdevelopment. 
10 Social Stratification in Industrial Societies. 
11 Political Evolution and the Origin of the State. 
12 Capitalism, Socialism, and the Evolution of the State. 
13 Comparative Patterns of Racial and Ethnic Stratification. 
14 The Gender Division of Labor and Gender Inequality. 
15 Marriage, Family, and Kinship in Comparative and Evolutionary Perspective. 
16 The Rise and Expansion of Mass Education. 
17 The Forms and Functions of Religious Belief and Action. 
18 Retospect and Prospect: The Past 10,000 Years and the Next 100. 

Social Transformations

Stephen K. Sanderson, 1999, New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. 

From the Publisher:
In "Social Transformations: A General Theory of Historical Development" Stephen K. Sanderson develops a general theory of social evolution and uses it to explain the most important evolutionary transformations in human history and prehistory. In this expanded edition Sanderson has added a discussion of the biological constraints acting on humans that have helped to push social evolution along strikingly similar lines throughout the world. The new discussion places the theoretical arguments of "Social Transformations" in the context of an even more comprehensive theory of human social behavior. 

Table of Contents:
Preface to the Expanded Edition 
1 Evolutionary Materialism: A General Theory of Historical Development 
The Theoretical Strategy of Evolutionary 
Evolutionary Materialism and World History 
2 The Neolithic Revolution 
Hunter--Gatherer Societies Before 10,000 BP 
The Worldwide Transition to Agriculture 
Explaining the Worldwide Transition to Agriculture 
3 The Origin of Civilization and the State 
A Typology of Sociopolitical Evolution 
The Origin of Civilization and the State as a Process of Parallel Evolution 
Explaining the Origin of Civilization and the State 
The Pace of State Evolution 
Coda:Reconstructing Social Evolution Using 
the Comparative Method 
4 Agrarian States and their Evolutionary 
Social Change in Agrarian States 
Agrarian States as Precapitalist World-Systems 
Social Devolution and the Collapse of Agrarian States 
Conclusion: The Evolutionary Dynamics of Agrarian States 
5 The Capitalist Revolution and the Beginnings of the Modern World 
Feudalism in World History 
The Nature of Capitalism 
The Origins of European Capitalism 
The Japanese Transition from Feudalism to 
Theories of the Transition to Capitalism 
A New Interpretation 
6 The Evolution of the Modern World, I: The Expanding and Evolving Modern World-System
The Structure and Dynamics of the Modern World-System 
The Evolution of the Capitalist 
Hegemony in the World-Economy 
Development and Underdevelopment in the World-System 
Some Test Cases 
The Interstate System: The Political Side 
of the Modern World-System 
7 The Evolution of the Modern World, II: The Emergence of the Institutions of Modernity 
Industrialization in the West and Japan 
The Rise and Demise of State Socialism 
Stratification and Mobility in the Age of 
The Evolution of the Modern State 
The Emergence and Expansion of Mass Education 
The Scientific Revolution and the 
Development of Modern Science 
The Emergence of a Postindustrial Society? 
8 The Question of Progress 
Before the Rise of Modern Capitalism 
After the Rise of Modern Capitalism 
9 The Evolving Future 
A Futuristic Scenario: W. Warren Wagar 
The Challenges: Population Growth and 
Ecological Degradation 
The Challenges: Nuclear War 
The Challenges: A World State 
The Challenges: Capitalism, Socialism, or Barbarism? 
The Crisis and Collapse of  Capitalist-Sensate Culture 
10 Theoretical Reprise
Afterword to the Expanded Edition: Biological Constraints on Social Evolution 

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