Review (Guest): The Penguin and the Leviathan – How Cooperation Triumphs over Self-Interest

4 Star, Civil Society, Culture, Research
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Yochai Benkler

Robert Steele: This review is so useful in its summary and links to other books that it is being cross-posted to Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog. Both this book and its virtual sidekick, Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive completely miss the point of Statecraft as Soulcraft, of The Exemplar: The Exemplary Performer in the Age of Productivity and Philosophy and the Social Problem: The Annotated Edition. It’s about education. How a society educates EVERYONE is the ultimate foundation for transparency, truth, and trust (the subtitle of my most recent book, THE OPEN SOURCE MANIFESTO. Education is the soul of a direct democracy, and the primary enabler of pervasive voluntary reciprocal trust.

4.0 out of 5 stars A Very Good Book on Cooperation,July 14, 2012

“The Penguin and the Leviathan” it’s the interesting book about the dynamics of cooperation and working in collaboration in the 21st Century. The main thesis of this book is to debunk the notion of a selfish human nature and how this knowledge can better serve our societies. Israeli-American author and professor of Law, Yochai Benkler, uses the latest in multiple converging scientific fields and a variety of examples to illustrate the power of cooperation. This 272-page is composed of the following ten chapters: 1. The Penguin vs. the Leviathan, 2. Nature vs. Culture, 3. Stubborn Children, New York City Doormen and Why Obesity Is Contagious: Psychological and Social Influences on Cooperation, 4. I/You, Us/Them: Empathy and Group Identity in Human Cooperation, 5. Why Don’t We Sit Down and Talk About It?, 6. Equal Halves: Fairness in Cooperation, 7. What’s Right Is Right — or at Least Normal: Morals and Norms in Cooperation, 8. For Love or Money: Rewards, Punishments, and Motivation, 9. The Business of Cooperation and 10. How to Raise a Penguin.


1. The very interesting and practical topic of cooperation applied to many facets of the human experience.
2. The author’s positive outlook is refreshing and his personality comes through in the narrative.
3. Despite making use of the latest in various scientific fields the book is very accessible.
4. The author does a wonderful job of describing the Leviathan approach to society and why there are better methods now.
5. The strongest strength of this book is the many practical examples of cooperation in the many endeavors of the human experience. Excellent examples that clearly show the advantages of a more progressive approach to cooperation in business, government and society as a whole.
6. The shift from an authoritarian to a more humane and collaborative approach.
7. The science behind our innate predisposition to cooperate. Good use of neuroscience and biology (evolution). “In practically, no human society examined under controlled conditions have the majority of people consistently behaved selfishly”. Good stuff.
8. Debunks the myth of self-interest. A look at why the myth persisted.
9. Collaboration in the animal kingdom.
10. Social influences on cooperation. What fosters cooperation. Fascinating studies.
11. Neuroscience and the biological foundations for empathy.
12. Communication, communication, communication. Mediation as a model of conflict resolution.
13. The importance of fairness in cooperation in economics, politics and social psychology.
14. The importance of morals and standards in establishing norms that lead to cooperation. Many great examples.
15. Debunking the notion that self-interest is the main driver behind our behavior. Very interesting and thought provoking.
16. The most important factors in determining compliance.
17. The success of free and open-source software. An interesting discussion.
18. Three major factors why executive compensation fails in enhancing company performance.
19. The business of cooperation is an interesting chapter that covers high-performance organizations that thrive on cooperation. Even military applications. The music industry.
20. The future of cooperation. Benkler provides a list of levers to be the key ingredients of successful, practical and cooperative systems.

1. Overall, the book is stuck on one theme: cooperation versus self-interest which is not necessarily bad but the transition between sub topics is executed poorly.
2. I would have liked to have seen the author support his arguments against stronger opposing views instead of less practical extreme views of Thomas Hobbes.
3. I think a better title would serve this book better. Ironically, the author provides examples on how framing certain studies have a direct impact on the results. The author’s lack of name recognition can’t overcome the book’s vague title. How many more book would have been sold with a better cover and title?
4. Some of the game theory will throw some readers off.
5. The author shows how open-source software works but never once mentions Apple that takes an opposing view.
6. A misspell here and there, commonweal instead of commonwealth. Nitpicky…
7. No bibliography, notes or source material.

In summary, I enjoyed reading this book. As an engineer and manager, I have been trained in the archaic robotic business philosophy of Just-In-Time(JIT)and other similar top-down approaches to the now more flexible and cooperative styles, so the book’s many practical examples resonated with me. Benkler succeeds in driving home his main thesis of cooperation over self interest by providing many interesting examples throughout the book. The lack of source material and references hurts those of us who would like to pursue some of the topics in more depth. That being said, Benkler provides a very useful and positive outlook on how to improve societies via a cooperative approach that does not necessarily disregard elements of self interest. If you want to learn more about the power of cooperation, this is a recommended book.

Further suggestions: “Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters” by Richard P. Rumelt, “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets” by Michael J. Sandel, “Human: The Science Behind What Makes Your Brain Unique” by Michael S. Gazzaniga, “50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True” by Guy P. Harrison, “Lying (Kindle Single)” by Sam Harris, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined” and “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature” by Steven Pinker, “The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good” David J. Linden, “Hardwired Behavior: What Neuroscience Reveals about Morality” by Laurence Tancredi and “Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts” by Carol Tavris.

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