About the Author
David Sloan Wilson sometimes describes himself as a novelist trapped inside the body of a scientist. His father was Sloan Wilson, who wrote two iconic novels of the 20th Century: The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, which described the corporate army that formed after World War II, and A Summer Place, which described changing sexual mores during the same period. David became a scientist rather than a novelist, in part to escape his father’s shadow, but also to indulge a love of nature acquired spending summers on the north end of Lake George and attending a boarding school in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State, much like the Village School described in Atlas Hugged. He also retained a love of writing and the novelistic urge to understand the human condition.
David received his undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Rochester in 1971 and his PhD in zoology from Michigan State University in 1975. This was a time when Darwin’s theory of evolution was unifying the study of all aspects of biology—but before it was being expanded to include all aspects of humanity. He was drawn to a question that can be asked about all social species: If natural selection favors individuals that survive and reproduce better than other individuals, then how can helping others to survive and reproduce evolve? This is the central theme of Atlas Hugged.
David made his first contribution to the subject while still a graduate student. It was a mathematical model that could be described in only eleven pages and became one of the shortest PhD theses ever written. He held faculty positions at the University of California at Davis (1977-1980), Michigan State University (1980-1988) and Binghamton University (1989 to the present), achieving the highest rank of SUNY Distinguished Professor in 2006.
Like Professor Howard Head in Atlas Hugged, David studied a menagerie of species and topics—from mites that ride on the backs of beetles to personality differences in fish—but was increasingly drawn to the proposition that Darwin’s theory of evolution can make as much sense of humanity as the rest of life. As a researcher, he has studied topics as diverse as altruism, religion, literature, psychology, anthropology, education, economics, and business. As a teacher at Binghamton, he expanded his “Evolution for Everyone” course into the first multi-course program that teaches evolution across the curriculum, which has been emulated by other colleges and universities. In 2010, he helped to create The Evolution Institute, which formulates public policy from an
evolutionary perspective. His newest venture is Prosocial World, a spinoff of the Evolution Institute. For more about David’s academic career, please visit DarwinianRevolution.com.
David met his wife, Anne B. Clark, when both were graduate students taking a course in tropical ecology in Costa Rica in 1973, a setting almost as romantic as the tropical garden of Eden in Atlas Hugged. They married in 1975 and Anne pursued her own career studying a menagerie of species and topics. They had two children, Katie and Toby, and now live in a beautiful country home in upstate New York with their dog Lizzie.
David’s love of writing has resulted in three nonfiction books for a general audience. Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives (2007) was described as “a book that manages a minor miracle, the near complete emulsifying of science and the real world”. The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time (2011) was described as “Unique, beautifully written, wide-ranging…will delight a universe of readers”. This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution (2019) was described as “Utterly fascinating and beautifully written…[Wilson] addresses deep questions about humanity”.
Two of David’s books published by university presses are still accessible to a broad audience of intellectual seekers. Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society (2002) revolutionized the study of religion and other meaning systems from an evolutionary perspective. Does Altruism Exist?: Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others (2015) is a concise (150pp) account of Multilevel Selection Theory, which provides the scientific underpinning for Atlas Hugged.
As someone who has made a career out of showing how giving to others can evolve, few people are in a better position to critique the worldview of Ayn Rand and the larger tradition of individualism that she represents. With Atlas Hugged, David at last sets the novelist within him free.