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The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Societyby Frans de Waal
"De Waal makes an impassioned and eloquent case that understanding the role of empathy in nature can help us build a kinder and more compassionate society. His message will have considerable resonance for many readers." Joan Silk, American Scientist (Read the entire American Scientist review)
Synopses & Reviews
"An important and timely message about the biological roots of human kindness." — Desmond Morris, author of The Naked Ape
Are we our brothers' keepers? Do we have an instinct for compassion? Or are we, as is often assumed, only on earth to serve our own survival and interests? In this thought-provoking book, the acclaimed author of Our Inner Ape examines how empathy comes naturally to a great variety of animals, including humans.
By studying social behaviors in animals, such as bonding, the herd instinct, the forming of trusting alliances, expressions of consolation, and conflict resolution, Frans de Waal demonstrates that animals — and humans — are "preprogrammed to reach out." He has found that chimpanzees care for mates that are wounded by leopards, elephants offer "reassuring rumbles" to youngsters in distress, and dolphins support sick companions near the water's surface to prevent them from drowning. From day one humans have innate sensitivities to faces, bodies, and voices; we've been designed to feel for one another.
De Waal's theory runs counter to the assumption that humans are inherently selfish, which can be seen in the fields of politics, law, and finance, and which seems to be evidenced by the current greed-driven stock market collapse. But he cites the public's outrage at the U.S. government's lack of empathy in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as a significant shift in perspective — one that helped Barack Obama become elected and ushered in what may well become an Age of Empathy. Through a better understanding of empathy's survival value in evolution, de Waal suggests, we can work together toward a more just society based on a more generous and accurate view of human nature.
Written in layman's prose with a wealth of anecdotes, wry humor, and incisive intelligence, The Age of Empathy is essential reading for our embattled times.
"De Waal (Chimpanzee Politics), a renowned primatologist, culls an astounding volume of research that deflates the human assumption that animals lack the characteristics often referred to as 'humane.' He cites recent animal behavior studies that challenge the 'primacy of human logic' and put animals on a closer behavioral footing with humans. Based on the studies of mammals, from primates to mice, de Waal proposes that empathy is an instinctual behavior exhibited by both lab rats and elephants. But de Waal's aim isn't merely to show that apes are transactional creatures with a basic understanding of reciprocity — but to reveal that the idea that humans are naturally calculating, competitive and violent is grounded in a falsehood willfully and selfishly perpetuated. Throughout the book, de Waal illustrates how behaving more like our wild mammalian cousins may just save humanity. His contention, colored by philosophical musings and fascinating anecdotes of observed emotional connections between animals, argues persuasively that humans are not greedy or belligerent because animals are; such traits are far from organic or inevitable but patently manmade. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The lessons of the economic meltdown, Hurricane Katrina, and other disasters may not be what you think: Biologically, humans are not selfish animals. For that matter, neither are animals, writes the engaging Frans de Waal, a psychology professor with proof positive that, like other creatures who hang out in herds, we've evolved to be empathetic. We don't just hear a scream, it chills us to the bone; when we see a smile, we answer with one of our own. The Age of Empathy offers advice to cutthroat so-called realists: Listen to your inner ape." O, The Oprah Magazine
"De Waal...culls an astounding volume of research that deflates the human assumption that animals lack the characteristics often referred to as 'humane.' He cites recent animal behavior studies that challenge the 'primacy of human logic' and put animals on a closer behavioral footing with humans.....Throughout the book, de Waal illustrates how behaving more like our wild mammalian cousins may just save humanity. His contention, colored by philosophical musings and fascinating anecdotes of observed emotional connections between animals, argues persuasively that humans are not greedy or belligerent because animals are; such traits are far from organic or inevitable but patently manmade." Publisher's Weekly
"Addressing the question of whether it is possible to 'combine a thriving economy with a humane society' zoologist de Waal answers with a resounding yes....De Waal cites the 'evolutionary antiquity' of empathy to argue that 'society depends on a second invisible hand, one that reaches out to others.' An appealing celebration of our better nature." Kirkus
"[De Waal's] illuminating description and explanation of his research have made progressively more magnetic reading (and viewing of the exceptionally illustrative photos and drawings) of eight previous books and dont fail him now." Booklist
Book News Annotation:
De Waal (psychology and primatology, Emory U.) contends that animals--and humans--are hard-wired to reach out to others, to express empathy. The author's theory contradicts others who assume humans are basically selfish and use the examples of law, politics, and finance as examples. Instead, the author cites the American public's outrage at the federal government's lack of empathy and response following Hurricane Katrina and argues that it illustrates a shift in the national perspective for the better. It is an interesting book written for the lay reader with both humor and insight. Annotation ©2009 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From an internationally renowned authority on primatology and psychology comes a fascinating investigation of empathy in both humans and animals.
About the Author
Frans De Waal is a Dutch-born biologist who lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia. One of the world's best-known primatologists, de Waal is C. H. Candler professor of psychology and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University. He has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences. In 2007, Time selected him as one of the World's 100 Most Influential People.
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