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


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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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 350 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (November 14, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395877431
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395877432
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #55,212 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 35 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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24 of 28 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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36 of 45 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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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Peter Jenkins on February 14, 2002
Format: Paperback
Excellent and scholarly book, parts of which will annoy the politically correct no end. Takes the myth of cultural relativism, examines it in the light of known facts and data, and then comprehensively stomps on it...
Has 30 pages of notes and another 30 odd of references, plus is strewn with footnotes - but dont worry, it is nothing like as dry and academic as that implies, this is a surprisingly easy read. It is just that it is also very thoroughly researched, and provides ample data to support the authors hypotheses and suggested solutiuons which are at times of a controversial nature. Not all of it is controversial by any means, there is as much here to delight the politically correct as there is to offend :-) Thats the joy of it, you know that these guys (and yes, both authors are male) are taking a balanced and fearless look into the depths of the problem of violence.
The field of sociobiology that this book delves into is an exciting and growing area of science that promises some real and lasting solutions to some of our more pressing problems. And when combined with these authors' insights from primatology and anthropology, then we have some powerful tools to enhance the world for all.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By William McKeeman on October 16, 1998
Format: Paperback
Wrangham presents some fundamental insights. Why do female gorillas stay close to their reigning silverback? Because only he can protect their babies from being killed by other silverbacks. Why do adolescent male chimpanzees intimidate every female in their group? So the youngersters will not be refused when it comes time for sex. Why do bonobos, physically similar to chimpanzees, behave in a much less violent manner? Because they evolved in a place where there were no gorillas to preempt an important food source. There are two kinds of male orang-utans, small ones that must rape to reproduce and large one that have no such need. These, and other insights, are carefully reasoned from the most recent field data. Perhaps not all of his explanations of ape behavior will stand the test of time but each of them is interesting and worth further research. The reader, male and female, is challenged into introspection: how much of the modern apes lies within our modern selves?
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