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Humanity on a Tightrope: Thoughts on Empathy, Family, and Big Changes for a Viable Future Hardcover – November 16, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 210 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (November 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1442206489
  • ISBN-13: 978-1442206489
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.8 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #305,933 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The authors' hearts are in the right place with this earnest plea to all mankind to develop empathy and embrace the interdependency that connects us all. Ehrlich (The Population Bomb) and Ornstein (The Healing Brain) argue that human behavior is the biggest threat to our collective future and strongly suggest we create less "us" vs. "them" binaries. From environmental conservation to ending consumerism to the pervasive ignorance that feeds xenophobia, they approach their focus through the lenses of anthropology, neuropsychology, and history. The message is repetitive and, while the book promises to offer practical ideas, it often instead provides obvious claims: "There are a lot of big changes needed…" As with all ideas for peace and justice that rightfully stem from understanding that human beings want to be happy, the real challenges come after the preaching to the choir is done. Most readers will already agree with the authors' thesis, and it's hard to imagine that those who might benefit most from what the authors have to say—corporate America, NeoCons, the Taliban, for starters—will listen. (Oct.)
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From Booklist

Ehrlich, the author of numerous influential environmental books, and award-winning psychologist Ornstein address the need for empathy to maintain the health of civilization. While drawing on a long line of psychological experiments to show the inherent development of family ties and persistent “us vs. them” mentality in human society, the authors also examine the development of the perfect Leave It To Beaver family stereotype and its enduring impact that has extended far beyond pop culture. A focus on family values that never actually existed, this has created a myth that justifies the concept of a different “them” that thwarts attempts at transcending differences. With stark examples such as Rwanda to serve as warnings, Ehrlich and Ornstein segue into chapters on “building the global family.” While political watchers may find it impossible to believe we could ever see beyond the smallest of differences, the authors remain hopeful and offer plenty of evidence that change will come, simply because the twenty-first century requires it. Thoughtful and sincere, this is a solid evidentiary presentation of an all-too-often emotional topic. --Colleen Mondor

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Daniel T. Blumstein on November 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is an extremely integrative and very thoughtful book that riffs off an important and neglected theme--empathy and, by increasing our collective empathy we can create a global 'family' and cooperate to solve our collective problems.

Addressing the idea from perspectives that include (but are not limited to) neuroscience (via a lucid description of mirror neurons), motherhood (humans are cooperative breeders), and religion, the authors note the importance of empathy in human history. They highlight how increasing empathy may help us solve our environmental and social problems and back away from our impending ecological and environmental collapse.

They repeatedly show how we can re-frame and re-focus contentious situations by encouraging empathy. And, they discuss the horrors that emerge when we lose our empathy--including the major genocides of the mid and late-20th centuries.

The book, while brief, is rich on ideas. Buy one and give one to a friend.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Joan M. Diamond on December 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Few books have inspired me to "read out loud" and share passages on the first page. Even fewer have inspired a heartfelt drive to share--in the moment--right to the last page. It is a book to read aloud to a friend or privately in a comfortable chair from which you can be transported into a world that has retreated from its current destructive path, escaped the precarious tightrope upon which each of us and Earth balance. Ehrlich and Ornstein have written 120 pages that do just that, a book that tells a story, a story based on science and knowledge, a book that unites humanity.
Global problems, interconnected threats to human security, and complexity theory dominate 21st century writing. These books all begin with the knotty entanglement of the effects of poverty, fundamentalism, nuclear proliferation, climate change, inequity, population, terrorism, ignorance and consumerism and then move toward possible solutions for coping with or managing the complexity. Ehrlich and Ornstein have turned this upside down by beginning with what unites humanity--from our first minutes outside the womb--and argue that if we can return to that natural instinctual empathy , we can find our way out of the morass of threats to humanity and human welfare. By beginning with what unites us and then exploring the threats, they cast new light on what divides us and create hope for retreating from the brink of destruction.
I wish this book had been written a year ago, when my father was alive. He would have greatly enjoyed having this book read to him; it would have connected him with the values and hope for a better world upon which he built his life. By bringing hope for the future, it would have brought peace: he would have insisted that we send copies to all 16 of his grandchildren.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Robert Brulle on December 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Ehrlich and Ornstein explore the human emotion of empathy and its possible application to the crisis of global ecological degradation. This book traces the development of notions of us and them as key components of human identity and social structure, and shows how the human capacity to empathize with other humans underlies our collective identification. For me, the most interesting part of this book comes in the discussion of how to transcend the ideological limitations of our community identifications based on nation-states, race or ethnic identities, or religious affiliations. The empirical descriptions of ways to facilitate the creation of a common global humanity in chapters 7 and 8 show that this approach is not just an idealistic plan, but based on real, concrete practices. This book makes a valuable and substantial contribution toward the collective project of humanity to reverse ecological degradation and create a just and sustainable world.
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