Mark Moffett is a maverick...The Human Swarm is a book of wonders.
New Statesman

An Amazon Editors’ Pick for a best history book

Imagine an airport filled with strangers peacefully going about their business. Fill that airport with chimpanzees instead of humans, however, and panic is certain, carnage likely. How do we humans coexist harmoniously with people we don't know?

Anthropologists studying the origins of human behavior have long turned to the chimpanzee for answers. The Human Swarm, however, goes where King Solomon once recommended: to the ant. The book suggests a simple explanation. In most species, the chimp included, every animal has to know every other member individually for a society to function. In ant societies, every worker is anonymous, a stranger, yet together they achieve extraordinary feats. Using ants and other species as a basis for comparison, Moffett distills the principles animating the anonymous societies of humans, revealing how friends and strangers alike interact based on signals given by such things as clothing, gestures, accents, beliefs—that mark their identity.

Moffett shows that just a few other vertebrate species, such as the sperm whale and pinyon jay, employ such markers for identifying with a society. He turns to hunter-gatherers and archaeology to find out how and why anonymous societies evolved in humans. Combined with current findings from anthropology, psychology, sociology, and history, the principles he describes explain how, despite our fear of outsiders, human societies can be as grand as the Mayan empires or the United States. And why, regardless of our ability to board airplanes to other countries and even have foreign friends overseas, the societies of humans, like those of other creatures, remain separate—and in time weaken and fall apart.

Moffett provides a new perspective on societies across nature and in humans right up to the present day. At a time when xenophobia is escalating into crises of group identity, The Human Swarm presents an urgently needed account of the forces that create and break human societies.

The Human Swarm


Errors in the first printing

Page 341

March 29, 2019

The year when Gabby Douglas didn’t place a hand over her heart while the American national anthem played was 2016.

Page 71

March 29, 2019

The spider described is Cosmophasis bitaeniata, and not Myrmaplata plataleoides. An odd mistake, since I know both species very well!