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Listen to Mary Ann Sieghart and Matt Ridley discuss the influence of leaders in shaping our world

On BBC Radio 4’s “Start the Week”, veteran journalist Mary Ann Sieghart explores how far leaders and governments have shaped our world. She is joined by historian Tom Holland, archaeologist Barry Cunliffe, curator Julia Farley, and best-selling author Matt Ridley.

Drawing from his new book, “The Evolution of Everything” (2015), Matt Ridley dismisses the assumption that history has been made by those on high, whether in government, business or religion, and argues for a system of evolution in which ideas and events develop from the bottom up.

He gives the example of how things like the English language or the economy emerged – nobody invented it, nobody is in charge of it. Matt explains that these sorts of phenomena are all around us, and points to Scottish philosopher Adam Ferguson who attributes these achievements to collective human action, rather than human design.

Another example can be seen with the evolution of technology, which goes through a process of trial and error; if Thomas Edison died of an electric shock, we know that there were at least another 23 people who were close to inventing the lightbulb.

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