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So What Does It All Mean? Book Review by Gillian and the Girls 📚

So What Does It All Mean? wraps up the quartet in the Secrets of Life Series. I’ve read these through from start to finish, and I can honestly say I’ve learned a lot! From the big bang to cell structure, gene mutation, the evolution of mankind, how we humans tick, to global warming and AI inventions. Yet that is only the tip of the iceberg.

Thank you LiterallyPR and SS O'Connor for my copies of the Secrets of Life series in exchange for my honest review.


SS O’Connor spent over twenty years as an advertising executive before becoming a serial entrepreneur, assembler of private equity projects, investor and corporate strategist. He has been chairman/director of numerous public and private companies. His acclaimed novel, The Prisoner’s Dilemma, was his first novel and was published in 2013. He lives in London and Somerset.


In this, the last book in The Secrets of Life quartet, SS O'Connor pulls together the threads of genetic and cultural evolution and then adds to these the conclusions of evolutionary game theory. As he does this, he ends with an intertwined narrative that explains why so many of the phenomena of our existence may not be the mysteries we think they are but could, in fact have the same underlying logic to them.

By examining the great currents at work in our collective story, the role that competition and cooperation have always played in the development of the world, and why each behavioural strategy is rational in what it's attempting to achieve, the book shows that the same cycles of collaboration and destruction have been present since time began. But while the success of these strategies may ebb and flow, it is their interaction that results in the balance and order we see around us.

This current is also the consistent vector of our human history. Although we may have animal origins and are also driven by the same need to respond to the profound Laws of Thermodynamics, we have developed our culture to the point where we can now choose to overrule so many of the instructions of our genes.

Why do we do this? What are the problems that arise from our free will? How have we come to realise that self-interest is quite different from selfishness? Why have we become obsessed with the need for fairness and trust in our societies? And how have these forces resulted in us making the world a better place?

Few of us believe this can be the case. But as the evidence of our progress becomes ever clearer, the series concludes by showing us why we are often wrong in our view of each other, and why we're so frequently mistaken in our pessimism about the future.


So What Does It All Mean? not only addresses new questions but also wraps the other books up tidily. Basically, it's the perfect ending to what is a fascinating series.

The Secrets of Life cover a vast array of subjects; those in particular which I found fascinating was how we humans tick. The one main thread I’ve noticed appears throughout all four books is the importance and rewards of cooperation.

We are products of cooperation, just as cells work as a team. The essence of success is teamwork. Humans result from an evolutionary process over billions of years – we’re a survival vehicle.

In So What Does It All Mean? S S O’Connor quotes such greats as Sigmund Freud, Robert Axelrod, Karl Sigmund and Liz Ostron. Together, this makes a wholly satisfying and enlightening read. He uses modern-day examples, such as Putin and Trump, and by doing so, the reader gets an even clearer understanding - how things develop, and why. To use the analogy in this book: Hawks and Doves.

Overall, I found this, the concluding episode in the series, a positive one. Yes, there are negative elements which we’re all too aware of and are concerned about, such as greenhouse gases, plastics, weather, and terrorism. Yet there is also the Great Cycle, which O’Connor illustrates. With this comes the Retaliator Doves, which brings action. O’Connor believes we have only scratched the surface of improvement.

Despite pessimism which is so easy to feel when reading the latest news reports, O’Connor tells us about Professor Daniel Gilbert's research on the subject and his book, Stumbling Upon Happiness. To quote from So What Does It All Mean?:

Daniel Gilbert suggests that pessimism is frequently an error-strewn thought process. His point is that we won't actually be destroyed if things go wrong. Instead, we'll generally cope, and act to find ways of preventing them from happening again.

In the words of Liz Ostron, ‘Man is able to change…’

I could go on and on about the subjects discussed in this book, but the best thing to do is go buy it and see for yourself! So What Does It All Mean? and the rest of the Secrets of Life series is fascinating and has made me stop and think.

S S O’Connor, thank you for writing such a brilliant and thoroughly researched series. All four books were a joy to read.


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NEXT REVIEW: 31st July: Becky Bexley the Child Genius. Trying to Make the World a Better Place. By, Diana Holbourn.

Even from the moment she was born, it was clear that Becky Bexley was not like other children. Her family were shocked by her behaviour!
Just a few years later, and she's in secondary school, often seeming wiser than her teachers. She does her best to help people, whether they like it or not. She has advice for her teachers when they want to give up smoking, gives a boy advice he uses to stop himself from being teased, and even gives the headmaster some advice on improving the school's anti-bullying strategy.
She helps people outside school too, including rescuing her mum from a con artist. She even gets to go to the White House, where she ends up giving the president advice about his behaviour!
He invites her to help some politicians with the depression they have. But will a few tactless remarks she makes and their own fierce disagreements unwittingly stirred up by some of the insights she tries to pass on ruin her efforts?
Becky's advice is based on genuine therapy techniques and psychological research, and the books in this series combine humour with handy information.

I'm really looking forward to getting to know more about Becky Bexley. She sounds like a wonderful character!

I hope you enjoyed reading my latest review and that you'll join me back on the 31st July for my review of Becky Bexley, the Child Genius.

Stay safe and happy reading 📚

Gill x


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