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Beasts: What Animals Can Teach Us About the Origins of Good and Evil Hardcover – March 4, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Masson (Dogs Make Us Human, 2011) has written extensively about emotions in animals and what studying animals can teach us about being human. Here he examines the negative emotion, anger, and its manifestation as aggression. Humans often refer to each other as animals, meaning that the other person’s behavior is dangerous or cruel, but how true is this characterization? Masson argues that the comparison is not at all apt, that we display much more violence and cruelty against our own species than any other animal on the planet, and that we can actually learn to change by observing the purported “beasts” that share our world. Examining such human endeavors as war, exploitation, and hatred, Masson delineates the differences between humans and other animals and points out that we are the only species that ever shows these behaviors. Even the supposedly positive human traits of kindness and altruism, which we like to think separate us from the “beasts,” have been frequently demonstrated in other species. Heavily footnoted and with an extensive bibliography, this one will make you think about the definition of human. --Nancy Bent


“Most of us see humans as morally superior to animals, while describing our uniquely human bad behavior (war, torture, enslavement, extermination) as ‘brutish, animalistic, inhuman, sub-human.' Jeffrey Masson has made me aware that humans in fact are the only animals that exhibit this behavior, and do so frequently and massively. A groundbreaking book.” ―Daniel Ellsberg

“Masson reveals how we shortchange ourselves with our narrow view of community, by laying down an almost impassable and rocky road between ourselves and ‘others.' Beasts reminds us of the unforgivable things humans do to dominate animals.” ―Ingrid Newkirk, founder of PETA

Beasts is a tour de force that takes us on a journey of human nature, from the organized violence of war, to our individual cruelty toward solitary humans and animals, to the love, compassion, and altruism that we can show toward one another. After reading this book, you will never view human nature the same.” ―Con Slobodchikoff, author of Chasing Doctor Dolittle

Beasts is profoundly wise, deeply compassionate, and filled with insights and understanding that can reshape the way we think about ourselves and our relationship to life itself. Inspiring and a joy to read.” ―John Robbins, author of Diet for a New America

“Jeffrey Masson is a forward-thinking writer who's not afraid to take on some of the most entrenched ideas and revered thinkers of our age. A provocative book!” ―Jonathan Balcombe, author of Pleasurable Kingdom

“A gentle, thoughtful and remarkably wide-ranging book that explores the nature of humanity and the nature of violence and hatred, suggesting paths we humans might take to turn toward peace and kindness. Beasts deserves to be widely read and widely pondered.” ―Pat Shipman, author of The Animal Connection

“A noble pursuit . . . . intriguing.” ―New York Times Book Review

“This one will make you think about the definition of human.” ―Booklist

“Masson's writing is easily accessible to both a general audience and those already familiar with the subject. With a personal, passionate, and sympathetic style, Masson makes an imperative case . . . . Beasts implores us to rethink our long-entrenched beliefs regarding the nature of non-human animals, in hopes that by more accurately perceiving the world around us, we may learn to treat not only other species with greater kindness and compassion, but perhaps our own as well.” ―The Oregonian

“A compelling, unsettling, provocative examination of the relation of beast to man.” ―Kirkus Reviews


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (March 4, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608196151
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608196159
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #667,127 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Masson has had at least four lives: first as a boy raised to become a "spiritual leader" (see his denunciation of such a life in My Father's Guru). While in the middle of his disillusion, he became a professor of Sanskrit at the University of Toronto. At the same time he trained to become a Freudian analyst. Upon graduation he became Projects Director of the Freud Archives, and was scheduled to move into Freud's house in London when fate intervened: Masson found documents which seemed to show that Freud was right in believing that many women had been sexually abused as children, and that he was wrong to give up this belief, perhaps impelled by societal displeasure at his discoveries. Saying this publicly turned Masson into a psychoanalytic pariah, and he gave up both his professorship and his analytic career to delve into the far more fascinating world of animal emotions. Two of his books, WHEN ELEPHANTS WEEP and DOGS NEVER LIE ABOUT LOVE, were New York Times best-sellers. He became vegetarian as a result of his research, and later, when he looked into the feelings of farm animals, he became even stricter, and no longer eats or uses any animal product (vegan). Harpercollins published his most recent book: THE DOG WHO COULDN'T STOP LOVING: HOW DOGS HAVE CAPTURED OUR HEARTS FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS. He lives on a beach in New Zealand with his two sons, Ilan and Manu, and his German wife, Leila, a pediatrician who works with children on the autistic spectrum (using the bio-medical approach), Benjy, a golden lab, and three cats. They often travel to the States, Europe, and Australia. He is now fascinated in the "us/them" phenomenon, between humans but also between humans and animals.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Mick McAllister on May 21, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I've read and enjoyed Masson's previous books even as they descended deeper and deeper into special pleading and wishful thinking, but this one is the last straw. It's full of factual errors (or, more precisely, misrepresentations). A classic deception is his description of the goodthinkful and sad "Dersu Uzala," a Kurosawa film about an old Mongol hunter at peace with nature. "Kurosawa," Masson piously intones, "killed himself shortly after directing it." Most of us would not consider 23 years later "shortly," and we would be a little uncertain about writing off the last 23 years of Kurosawa's life, when he wrote and directed "Ran," "Kagemusha," "Dreams," "Rhapsody in August," and "Madadayo," as well as writing the screenplay for, among other films, "Runaway Train." We might also take into account that Kurosawa spent his last three years in a wheelchair after an accident, unable to direct. We might also be put off by the fact that he didn't "kill himself," he died of a stroke.

This kind of BS turns up on the average every 5-10 pages in this self-indulgent, poorly researched and downright dishonest book. I had the good fortune to read a library copy. Masson has seen his last nickel from me.

In the Comments, a complaintant argued that the Kurosawa error didn't relate to Masson's real point, so it was irrelevant. I answered the complaint, but I also offered to go back to the book and document some "relevant" errors. I got the book today at the library and opened it at random to the following pages:

104: "wherever you go in the world, you see people interacting with dogs in this affectionate manner" (referring to how much humans love dogs).
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Prufrock on March 7, 2014
Format: Hardcover
This book is not just another sentimental book about animals. Rather it is a meditation on a fundamental philosophical question: Why are humans more violent than other animals? He begins the book by comparing the two species who have no natural predators: Orcas and humans. He poses the point that orcas have never killed another orca in the wild (that we know of). But humans have killed over 200,000,000 humans in the 20th century alone. Why is that? Masson's attempt to answer this question brings him face to face with one of mankind's Big Questions: What is the origin of evil? This is a challenging and original book
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By eatplants on March 11, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book. Learned so much! Who knew that the stock market is named that because the earliest form of wealth was livestock? Who knew that humans are the only species that can choose its food? Or the only species that wages war? Well, okay, maybe some ants, too. I loved the author's story telling; sometimes gripping, other times heart warming. And he draws on animal experts and human experts to show us how flawed our thinking is when we believe that humans are superior to other animals. I stayed up way too late reading this one. Highly recommended.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Book Shark TOP 500 REVIEWER on April 21, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Beasts: What Animals Can Teach Us About the Origins of Good and Evil by Jefffrey Moussaieff Masson

“Beasts" is a fascinating look at human nature and what animals can teach us about living in harmony. The self-proclaimed man of at least four lives, including accomplished author Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, shares his current knowledge and love of the study of animal emotions. He takes us on wonderful ride that enlightens and challenges us to look at animals and eventually ourselves in a different light. This provocative 225-page book includes the following twelve chapters: 1. Crocodiles and Us, 2. “The Other”, 3. Conformity, 4. Cruelty, 5. War, 6. Killing, 7. Hatred, 8. Exploitation, 9. Indifference, 10. Wolves, 11. Kindness?, and 12. A Billion Acts of Kindness.

1. Engaging, passionate and well written book that is accessible to the masses.
2. A fascinating topic in the hands of someone who knows and has passion for the topic. There is warmth and a philosophical air about this book.
3. Perhaps the strongest positive of this book. Masson is not afraid to challenge intellectuals (Diamond and Pinker, to name a popular few), readers to think and argues quite convincingly that uncontrolled aggression or violence to our own kind is a uniquely human trait.
4. Interesting observations throughout the book. You may not agree with them all but it will make you think and that’s what produces conversations worth having.
5. Great facts to know and share with friends. “Crocodiles have the hardest known bite force on earth. Their jaw pressure is at least five times that of the largest lion. And whereas another alpha predator, the orca—the so-called killer whale—has never killed a human in the wild, crocodiles do, even if not often.”
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By animal lover on March 7, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Full of interesting anecdotes and moving stories about humans and other animals, this is a fascinating read. This book is entertaining, interesting and truly makes one think.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A.D. on March 9, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Jeffrey Masson has always been ahead of the times. From his early books on child sexual abuse, his understanding of the complexities and importance of the women's movement, the patient's rights movement, the animal rights movement and his recognition of the link between a plant-based diet and the health of the planet, he has had the foresight and courage to speak out when few in his position would. In this intelligent and far-reaching book, he once again explores one of the most important ethical issues of the day, asking the question - Why are humans the only species that commit violence, on an unprecedented scale, against their own? Compassionate and wise, "Beasts" points the way toward a kinder and gentler future. This book is a must for anyone wanting to understand our current dilemma and a way beyond it.
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