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Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct Hardcover – April 11, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0787977566 ISBN-10: 078797756X Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (April 11, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 078797756X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0787977566
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #353,341 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

McCullough, whose last three books were academic, targets a general audience in this exploration of the human capacity for both revenge and forgiveness. Schooling readers in the basics of natural selection, McCullough argues that despite popular belief that revenge is a disease, both revenge and forgiveness have been adaptive for our species. Acting as a chatty tour guide through a labyrinth of game theory and studies of human and animal behavior, McCullough delineates the neurological, psychological, social, cultural and religious mechanisms behind these choices. McCullough approaches stories of extraordinary forgiveness with clear-eyed inquiry. What conditions, he asks, are most likely to lead to forgiveness rather than revenge? How can we create those conditions at a societal, even global level? While acknowledging that cycles of revenge seem unbreakable as they play out in a number of current conflicts, McCullough sees evidence of humanity's collective will to break these cycles. Such innovations as restorative justice and truth and reconciliation commissions seem capable of provoking humanity's hardwired impulse to forgive. Accessible but unsentimental, this book will appeal to all who wish to better understand forgiveness and how to engender it. (Apr. 4)
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Review

McCullough, whose last three books were academic, targets a general audience in this exploration of the human capacity for both revenge and forgiveness. Schooling readers in the basics of natural selection, McCullough argues that despite popular belief that revenge is a disease, both revenge and forgiveness have been adaptive for our species. Acting as a chatty tour guide through a labyrinth of game theory and studies of human and animal behavior, McCullough explains not only why humans seek revenge in some cases and forgiveness in others, but also delineates the neurological, psychological, social, cultural, and religious mechanisms behind these choices. McCullough approaches stories of extraordinary forgiveness with clear-eyed inquiry rather than misty-eyed reverence. What conditions, he asks, are most likely to lead to forgiveness instead of revenge? How can we create those conditions at a societal, even global level? While acknowledging that cycles of revenge seem unbreakable as they play out in a number of current conflicts, McCullough sees evidence of humanity’s collective will to break these cycles. Such innovations as restorative justice and truth and reconciliation commissions seem capable of provoking humanity’s hardwired impulse to forgive. Accessible but unsentimental, this book will appeal to all who wish to better understand forgiveness and how to engender it. (Apr. 4) (Publishers Weekly, February 11, 2008)

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Customer Reviews

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What I like most about this new book by McCullough is that he takes these questions seriously.
Adam B. Cohen
The fact that humans are fundamentally social animals makes these behaviors critical to understand for the sake of our survival.
Giacomo Bono
Michael McCullough is one of the most prolific and influential thinkers on forgiveness and morality.
Todd B. Kashdan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Todd B. Kashdan VINE VOICE on March 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Compared to the vast number of books on the science of happiness published in the last few years, there is almost nothing on forgiveness. When you consider that every human being will be wronged, betrayed, aggressed against, and hurt by another person as well as witness wars, genocides, and atrocities at home and abroad, it's about time that an expert culled together all there is know about what leads people to forgive as opposed to executing revenge.

McCullough's book is incredibly refreshing because he provides a new lens to understanding forgiveness and in turn, how to successfully maintain harmonious relationships (whether it is between people or nations). Instead of mindlessly touting the beauty of forgiveness and the evils of vengefulness, McCullough captures the complexity of these topics. Essentially, we are hard-wired to be both forgiving and vengeful and we need to understand how these strategies developed over the course of evolution to be able to wield them effectively.

I am always impressed when a scientist can describe complex ideas in an extremely interesting and simple manner. McCullough walks the reader through fascinating research studies and provides an excellent presentation of how the brain evolved to add both a craving for revenge and desire to forgive to our toolbox for dealing with other people. Yet, the best chapters are when McCullough moves from this research to the real-world. References to the ongoing war in Iraq, the "code of the street" in volatile inner cities, and the distinguishing features of diverse cultures bring his theories and research to life.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Adam B. Cohen on April 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Searching for books on forgiveness in amazon gives you 127,000 results. From the ones I've seen, the message is almost always the same: forgive those who hurt you because god wants you to, and because it will make you happier and healthier. I've always found that message to be too simplistic. If forgiveness is so great, why is the temptation for revenge so deeply etched in our brains? Aren't there cases where a lack of forgiveness can be healthy or even moral?

What I like most about this new book by McCullough is that he takes these questions seriously. He doesn't take a tendency for revenge to be sick, immature, or theologically misguided. Instead, in a very balanced way, he considers both revenge and forgiveness to be part of human nature, and even reviews evidence in species ranging from guppies to chimpanzees to people showing that forgiveness can be most beneficial when it is coupled with a tendency to punish people who want try to take advantage of you. This very readable book does not preach, though it does express hope for a more forgiving world, offering suggestions based on solid science about how to bring this about.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By R. Kurzban on April 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover
It takes a subtle mind to ask the seemingly straightforward question, "Why forgive?" In the same way that sexual reproduction was taken for granted before it was recognized as a phenomenon in need of an explanation, the first step in understanding forgiveness was recognizing that there are plenty of good, functional reasons to take revenge. Identifying this as an important and interesting research area would have been itself a powerful contribution. McCullough goes beyond this, however, and provides elegant answers to the question which others had failed even to ask.

The importance of "Beyond Revenge" extends past its contribution to the specific question it asks and answers. In many ways, Mike McCullough represents the best of a newly emerging kind of social scientist: a major player and intellectual force steeped in the data-rich tradition of social psychology, bringing to bear the powerful lens of an evolutionary/functional analysis. This book does more than give a lively (and quite possibly correct) explanation for the function of forgiveness. It provides a blueprint for carefully applying principles of biology and evolution to understand the enormous amount of data generated by a century of social science research. In bringing together his deep knowledge of a research area, and combining it with a penetrating evolutionary analysis, McCullough has potentially inspired not just readers, but possibly the next generation of social scientist to make use, in serious and rigorous fashion, of the conceptual tools furnished by evolutionary approaches to behavior. This book ought to be read by anyone interested in revenge and forgiveness... and by anyone who wants to see the direction of the social sciences, with Mike McCullough in the vanguard.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Rhoads on April 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The "Nature" versus "Nurture" debate is a perennial topic. In Beyond Revenge, McCullough suggests that both revenge and forgiveness are hard-wired into us as social primates. In doing so, he manages to distinguish his claims that such human behaviors are natural from fatalistic conclusions, because "natural" does not connotate a justification for vengeful actions, nor does it suggest that natural behaviors are unavoidable.

It's a compelling argument that McCullough makes, and a difficult task to balance a presentation of the science with readability for reaching a broad audience. That is, his descriptions of behavioral studies in humans, primates, and game theory modeling seem to lose their potency in the course of the storytelling. Large parts of it come across as just what McCullough seeks to avoid: adaptationalist "just-so" stories. His argument is well-written and persuasive nonetheless.

For instance, his description of Robert Axelrod's work on game theory modeling and cooperation is extremely insightful and resounding proof that natural selection actually leads to a *nicer* world in the long run. Primate studies, as he describes them, also suggest that the standard response - and healthy - mechanism of closure to an act of aggression is forgiveness and reconciliation. Human psychology studies back this up, and identify the components of apologies that elicit forgiveness the best.

And in the next-to-last chapter, he debunks the notion that religion is the shortcut to forgiveness and compassion. True, as McCullough notes, religious individuals often forgive more readily - *if* the offender is part of the same social network, and particularly if the offender is part of the same religion.
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