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Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence Paperback – November 14, 1997


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 350 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (November 14, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395877431
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395877432
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #91,411 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

If you harbor a sneaking suspicion that men are a herd of ignoble savages, then this book is for you. Authors Wrangham and Peterson will confirm your instincts. It turns out that hyperviolent social behavior is deeply rooted in male human genes and common among our closest male primate relatives. Rapes, beatings and killings are as much a part of life among the great apes as they are among us. The authors try to conclude on some upbeat notes that ring hollow, but their science reveals much about the dark side of human nature. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Contradicting the common belief that chimpanzees in the wild are gentle creatures, Harvard anthropologist Wrangham and science writer Peterson have witnessed, since 1971, male African chimpanzees carry out rape, border raids, brutal beatings and warfare among rival territorial gangs. In a startling, beautifully written, riveting, provocative inquiry, they suggest that chimpanzee-like violence preceded and paved the way for human warfare?which would make modern humans the dazed survivors of a continuous, five-million-year habit of lethal aggression. They buttress their thesis with an examination of the ubiquitous rape among orangutans, gorilla infanticide and male-initiated violence and hyenas' territorial feuds, drawing parallels to the lethal raiding among the Yanomamo people of Brazil's Amazon forests and other so-called primitive tribes, as well as to modern "civilized" mass slaughter. In their analysis, patriotism ("stripped to its essence... male defense of the community") breeds aggression, yet, from an evolutionary standpoint, they reject the presumed inevitability of male violence and male dominance over women.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Demonic males explains this question well.
Shane Levine
I like this book because it helps us understand how much skill is necessary for people to transcend their animal nature.
Loretta G. Breuning
The book is very well-written and highly readable regardless of a reader's background on the topic.
M. Johnson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By M. Johnson on October 17, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is among the best books I have read. I originally heard Wrangham on an NPR show discussing some facets of this book & quickly sought it out. It provides an excellent evolutionary background and discussions of humans' closest relatives- especially our closest, the chimpanzee and bonobo, whose life patterns are distinctly different from one another and provide some insight into human behavior and possibilities. The book is very well-written and highly readable regardless of a reader's background on the topic.
I had to write after reading some of the negative reviews and misinformation on the book- especially the first editorial review. The book is hardly as dark and disillusioning as it leads one to believe- quite the contrary. I finished the book a few months ago and am still pondering it. Highly recommended!
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35 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Shane Levine on January 22, 2011
Format: Paperback
Fact: human males are extremely violent. Fact: our ape relatives are similarly extremely violent. Highly plausible: humans, along with our ape cousins, have a strong evolutionary disposition towards violence. This prospect is troubling, a tough pill for many people to swallow. Yet the data on ape behavior that are beautifully presented in this book, a simple consideration of the savagely violent nature of human history (and prehistory), as well as the many psychological studies that reveal how quickly humans form hostile coalitions (in some studies due to a coin toss), combine to make the idea that humans are evolutionarily violent difficult to ignore. The primate data also strongly challenge the notion that humans are violent because their culture has made them violent. If violence is based on "culture," then why are all the other apes so violent? And why has essentially every human culture ever documented exhibited patriarchy and male violence? The far more parsimonious explanation is that humans have a long evolutionary history of violence in which violent behavior led to reproductive benefits. The pacifists got killed or out-competed by their pugnacious peers.

OK, but why did evolution choose violence? Why was violence necessary? Demonic males explains this question well. There is a broad trend among mammals for males to be the more violent of the two sexes. This is because males can have a gigantic number of offspring. All a male needs to do is have sex. Women, on the other hand, need to grow the child inside them, so their reproductive prospects are much more limited. This leads to ferocious competition between males in the rat-race to reproduce as much as possible.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By hoboxia on April 4, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Critiquing this book from the vantage point of evolutionary psychology is like a present day aeronautical engineer critiquing the feasibility of DaVinci's helicopter specs. This is a popular book that makes a very important speculation about the possible origins of human violence. None of the negative reviewers mention the important and politically impartial hypothesis put forward by the authors that ape communities with abundant resources are less violent than those with limited resources. Also, there is nothing wrong with the feminist community rallying around this book. This book isn't about taking away male power, it is about mitigating all violence.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By yanipoo on August 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
Demonic People This book is part of the new anthropological topic: The study of maleness. Although part of the premise is based on evolutionary-biology, this book squarely places a foot in the cultural anthropology camp where the manifestation of violence has to do with the structure of society. This no doubt will get the hard line evolution biologists and the hard line cultural anthropologist in a collective huff. The first part of the book is a good overview of where humans fit into the evolution tree. For those who learnt about the great apes and our relation to them before genetics proved that chimps are more closely related to humans, than gorillas and chimpanzees. This section is a good way to catch up on the newest evolution theories. Mixed into this section is a comparison of the offensive warfare of humans and chimps. The second part of the book, takes us into the jungles of African and Indonesia, and discusses the different kinds of violence that manifest between Orangutans, Gorillas, and Chimps due to their social structure. For example: Orangutans practice rape, Gorillas practice infanticide, and Chimps on the most part practice battering, but a mixture of all three does prevail. Then the third part of the book, discusses the behavior of a ¡§recently¡¨ discovered fifth species of great apes, the Bonobos. This species formerly believed to be chimpanzees, are the only peaceful society among the five great apes. T he authors posits that because of the sexual nature of these beasts and the practice of lesbian relationships between the females create a special bond and female centered power structure.Read more ›
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37 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on April 21, 2004
Format: Paperback
What drives humanity to engage in its incessant wars? Why do men fight over apparent inconsequentials? Is rape a "natural" and "sex-driven" event, or merely the consequence of human cultural demands? These questions and a host of others are addressed in this superb survey of primate behaviour studies. Ever since Jane Goodall discovered chimpanzees sought colobus monkeys for dinner treats, new studies of primates have revealed arresting behaviour patterns. Like humans, other primates murder, rape and even make war. The authors have scoured a wealth of primate studies to derive a picture of our heritage. They suggest we learn what our cousins do in order to better understand what we do. Otherwise, we will continue to make bad decisions based on flawed assumptions.
Our fellow primates are avid territorialists, argue the authors. Borders unseen by us are clearly delineated by chimpanzees, orangutans and monkeys. These defined areas are hotly defended. The other side of the coin produces invasions. Opportunism, failing resources, or just spite, drives chimpanzee groups to stealthily scout and enter another band's range. Rarely, an individual will stage a foray, but only if he thinks success likely. Too often, the raids appear to have no particular purpose. A sally may lead to injuries or even death, but the attacking troop is just as likely to withdraw to its original range with neither captives nor booty. What prompts these seemingly mindless assaults? Are they inevitable among primates?
The latter question was answered, according to the authors, with the discovery of the "pygmy chimpanzee" or bonobo. This species contrasts sharply with its common chimpanzee cousins, who live in bands beset by tension.
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