From Publishers Weekly
In a wide-ranging tour of human behavior, Barber (The Science of Romance
) attempts to explain why, in a Darwinian world, altruism is alive and well. Indeed, he takes an unreservedly optimistic tone. He argues that a spirit of cooperation is in fact a result of our evolutionary history. But Barber sees altruism in virtually every behavior and form of social cooperation and thus does little to advance our knowledge of the subject. His broad definition of altruism (quite distinct from that of most evolutionary biologists, who declare that an altruistic act must have a cost greater than the benefit) permits him to lump together the feeding of young by their parents and a soldier falling on an active grenade to save his fellow soldiers as examples of the same phenomenon. Although his framework is flawed, Barber uses it as a springboard for intriguing discussions of celibacy (and pedophilia) in priests, adoption, criminology, environmentalism and karoshi
(the Japanese word for death from overwork). Throughout, the author, an independent researcher and writer, presents a cross-cultural and cross-species perspective, looking for ways to generalize. Unfortunately, this leads him to oversimplify complex issues, such as the reasons for the failure of the 1997 Kyoto agreement to limit the emission of greenhouse gases and the apparent venality of the executives of Enron.
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Altruism, that capacity to do unto others whether or not they would similarly do unto you, is examined from wide-ranging anthropological and philosophical viewpoints by an author who brings fresh perspectives and thought-provoking insights to this frequently misinterpreted human, and nonhuman, imperative. Positioning human altruism in the context of evolutionary precepts that illustrate similar behaviors in other species, Barber analyzes the motivations behind our most selfless actions to reveal their genetic, cultural, and sociological origins. Discussing such diverse aspects of altruism as its role in parental influences, religions, and politics, Barber clearly outlines altruism's impact on the individual, then extrapolates his findings to encompass the world at large. Carol HaggasCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved