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Our Inner Ape Hardcover – October 6, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Power, sex, violence and kindness: these four broad-spectrum categories encompass much of human behavior, so it's only fitting that they're also the primary subject material for Frans de Waal's (The Ape and The Sushi Master) book Our Inner Ape. The few (but deeply detailed) chapters are a mesmerizing read that spans biology, child psychology, postmodern theorists and fundamental morality, using tales of stern chimps, and sexy bonobos to examine humans' place between them. In the process, he examines why we need to know our place in the world, how our body language communicates feelings, and where the roots of empathy lie in mammalian life.

De Waal's respect for both his readers and his research subjects come shining through in the simple clarity he uses when describing both the endless sex of bonobo apes and the heartrending violence occasionally present in chimp hierarchal structure. By illustrating his points with a mixture of straight-from-research experiences and jokes at the expense of modern politicians, he keeps his ideas compelling for anyone with a basic understanding of evolutionary science without drifting towards the academic drone that could be expected of by a researcher of his experience.

You won't find specific conclusions concerning human nature, but instead a gentle, almost rambling look at two primate species with vastly different social networks and how, perhaps, humanity can learn from each to our benefit. A few of de Waal's lovely duotone photos (My Family Album: 30 Years of Primate Photography grace the end of the book, featuring close-up shots of the folks he's been writing about--chimps like Yeroen, Nikkie and Mama, and bonobo Kuif and adopted daughter Roosje are downright thrilling to see after reading such interesting stories about their lives. Jill Lightner

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Noted primatologist de Waal (Chimpanzee Politics) thinks human behavior cannot be fully explained by selfish genes and Darwinian competition. Drawing on his own primate research on chimpanzees and bonobos—our closest animal relatives—he shows how much we can learn from them about ourselves: our qualities of "fellow feeling and empathy" as well as our power-obsessed, violent side. We are "bipolar apes," de Waal says, as much like bonobos as like chimps. The latter are known for their viciousness and "red in tooth and claw" social politics, but bonobos offer a radically different social model, one of peace and hedonistic orgies; de Waal offers vivid, often delightful stories of politics, sex, violence and kindness in the ape communities he has studied to illustrate such questions as why we are irreverent toward the powerful and whether men or women are better at conflict resolution. Readers might be surprised at how much these apes and their stories resonate with their own lives, and may well be left with an urge to spend a few hours watching primates themselves at the local zoo.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 274 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; 1st edition (October 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573223123
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573223126
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #511,574 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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65 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on November 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Primatology, the study of our ape cousins, must at once be the most rewarding and thankless jobs in science. On the one hand, these investigations can tell us more about ourselves than any philosophy or psychology curriculum can hope to impart. We learn of their friendships, conflicts, desires, social manipulations and group politics. The resemblances to humans make compelling reading. On the other hand, the long history of our culture has conditioned us to avoid recognising our evolutionary roots. There are "the animals" and there is "us".

With thirty years' experience in the Netherlands and the United States, de Waal wants us to understand how human values derive from primate origins. His careful studies have revealed things unexpected even to himself. His chief aim with this synopsis is to dispense with the many myths that have emerged over the past few years - chimpanzees as "murderers" or "war-makers"; bonobos as over-sexed and gender indifferent, both as "simply wild animals living at the command of "instinct". Diversity and individuality are a major facet of ape societies which, in de Waal's assessment, not only makes them worthy of study, but worthy of sound comparison with our own species.

At first glance, de Waal's condensation of ape behaviour into four topical chapters seems over-distillation. The material in those chapters, however, shows the complexity of primate personalities. Chimpanzee society is male-dominated, with young males taking every opportunity to displace the "alpha" group leader. They live in a strongly hierarchical society where the males hunt and dispense meat for sexual and other favours. Female chimpanzees form few alliances, although brief excursions with males other than the alpha occur.
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47 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In our explanations of human behavior, there is sometimes a tendency to attribute the brutish and nasty examples to our animal nature, but to claim acts of kindness, altruism and compassion as distinctly human proclivities. This view goes hand in hand with what De Waal calls the veneer theory of civilization -- the idea that morality is a recent acquisition (perhaps aided by religious texts) and that lurking beneath this thin veil of decency is a cauldron of seething, antisocial impulses. Anyone who endorses this Hobbesian view of human nature would do well to consult this book.

In "Our Inner Ape", Frans De Waal seeks to ground both our darkest and most sublime tendencies in a continuous, evolutionary history. He chooses two of our closest primate relatives to prove his point -- the chimpanzee and the bonobo. De Waal assumes absolutely no background knowledge on the part of the reader (in fact, he takes some time to spell out the difference between a monkey and an ape). Sandwiched in between an opening and a concluding chapter, the meat of this book concentrates on the topics of `Power', `Sex', `Violence' and `Kindness'. De Waal's accounts of the highly intricate social networks formed by the ape species and their complex forms of interaction within those networks are extremely interesting.

However, what some might view as the strong point of the book, to me seems like precisely its weakness. I am referring to the book's purely anecdotal tone. Having read it, one comes away less with factual information on the social life of the higher primates than with a somewhat random series of stories. Though these stories are intriguing, there are so many of them that it makes one wonder how much of what has been read will be retained.
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53 of 62 people found the following review helpful By J. A Magill VINE VOICE on October 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Proving that all social science remains cyclical, Frans De Waal offers readers a new trip around in the never ending debate of the biological roots of human culture and behavior. For decades, as any student who sat in on an intro anthropology class will tell you, the reigning comparison stood between Homo sapiens and chimpanzees. Thus these aggressive, territorial, and -- to anthropomorphize a bit -- brutal primates, with their hierarchical and male dominated social structure stood as the explanation for all of humankind's worst impulses. Such analysis fit well into the several millennium old dichotomy between our "animal" (evil) and "human" (good) impulses.

Through his fascinating and often amusing analysis of the bonobo, another primate with whom, like chimps, humans share 98.5% of genetics'. Where the chimp is brutal the bonobo is peaceful. Where chimps are territorial and hierarchical, the bonobos share and maintain a female dominate structure. Where chimps jealously guard sexual privileges, bonobos mate, well like animals, sharing partners in all conceivable combinations (De Waal pays this great attention, suggesting that such "loose" sexual relationships prevent aggression).

De Waal writes well, and offers an interesting thesis that in fact both sides of human nature may well come from our animal roots. He even presents interesting evidence for empathy among bonobs and more startling still, the elusive notion of consciousness, that an individual can project themselves into an alien form, such as bonobos caring for birds. All of this makes for a fun and thought provoking read.

De Waal falls short, however, in not going deep enough. While he demonstrates evidence for the emotional hardiness of chimps vs.
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