The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society
"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 whichseems 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.
From the Hardcover edition.
By Erich V. Vieth - October 17, 2009
Primatologist Frans de Waal has produced another book full of lively writing and thoughtful analysis, reminding us of our exquisite animal roots. In "The Age of Empathy," De Waal is out to set the record straight: too many people invoke "evolution" to justify treating each other in contemptuous ways. This has got to stop, because this modern version of "Social Darwinism" is a highly selective and distorted version of the kind of animals we humans are, as well as a wildly inaccurate interpretation of way natural selection works.
In short, we are NOT condemned by nature to treat each other badly. Rather, there is a much different and much pervasive aspect regarding the kind of animal we humans have evolved to be. We are highly groupish, often peace-loving beings who are well-tuned to look out for each other. Not that we always do this well, but there is plenty of reason to conclude that we are highly social in an empathetic way. In this book, De Waal accomplishes his... read more
A Manifesto For Our Time
By Herbert Gintis - November 16, 2009
In this highly entertaining, lovingly written, and amply documented book, de Waal reverses his usual direction of argumentation, using the fact that primates exhibit rudimentary forms of human prosociality to assert that human sociality is fundamentally empathetic and altruistic. Indeed, de Waal suggests that chimpanzees exhibit a mix of hierarchical and egalitarian sensitivities, and empathetic and ruthlessly aggressive sensitivities similar to that of humans. De Waal does not even entertain the Romantic idea that humans are inherently benevolent but corrupted by an evil society, but he returns repeatedly to a critique of the American conservative tendency to view human nature as basically selfish. The bottom line is that de Waal develops a concept of human nature block by block, chapter by chapter, and then uses this concept to build a novel and very attractive political economy for our time.
The evidence for de Waal's model of human, monkey, and ape nature is a... read more
The Possibility of Human Empathy
By M. Fankhauser - October 10, 2009
What a timely book. I heard Frans De Waal give an interview on NRP's Diane Rehm show discussing his new book and immediately bought and read it. It was thought-provoking and makes you realize the similarities in human and animal behaviors. Cooperation, negotiation, kindness, and empathy are needed more than ever in families, organizations, and in politics. I hope we can learn some important lessons about our species from his extensive primate research. I enjoyed reading about Frans De Waal's work and past publications on the website: [...]
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