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Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals Paperback – October 16, 2007


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (October 16, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374270937
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374270933
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #100,934 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Humans think they are free, conscious beings, when in truth they are deluded animals, writes London University economics professor Gray (Black Mass) in a series of brief and intriguing mini-essays. His themes include the similarities between hypnotism and financial markets and uncomfortable truths behind drug use and its prohibition. In a chapter called Deception, Gray traces Humanism from Plato through Postmodernism. He critiques both science and religion: Science can advance human knowledge, it cannot make humanity cherish truth. Like the Christians of former times, scientists are caught up in the web of power; they struggle for survival and success; their view of the world is a patchwork of conventional beliefs. At a certain point, it can be difficult to see where Gray's allegiances lie. He tears down institutions, especially consciousness, self, free will and morality, and questions our ability to solve the problems of overpopulation and overconsumption: Only a breed of ex-humans can thrive in the world that unchecked human expansion has created. So what's left? Gray recommends a devaluation of progress, mastery, and immortality, and a return to contemplation and acceptance: Other animals do not need a purpose in life. Can we not think of the aim of life as being simply to see? This comforting question punctuates an otherwise profoundly disturbing meditation on humankind's real place in the world. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In a work of thoroughgoing iconoclasm, British philosopher Gray attacks the belief that humans are different from and superior to animals. Invoking pure Darwinism, he savages every perspective from which humans appear as anything more than a genetic accident that has produced a highly destructive species (homo rapiens)--a species that exterminates other species at a phenomenal rate as our swelling numbers despoil the global environment. Gray explains the human refusal to confront the darker realities of our nature largely as the result of how we have consoled ourselves with the myths of Christianity and its secular offspring, humanism and utopianism. Human vanity, he complains, has even converted science (which should teach us of our insignificant place in nature) into an ideology of progress. But neither hope for progress nor confidence in human morality passes muster with Gray, who envisions a future in which the human population finally contracts as a world politics that grows ever more predatory and brutal shatters all such illusions. As a work of ruthless rigor, this provocative book will force readers to reexamine their own convictions. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

JOHN GRAY is Emeritus Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics. He is a regular contributor to the Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement and the author of over a dozen books, including Heresies and the bestselling Straw Dogs. False Dawn has been translated into sixteen languages.

Customer Reviews

Does this mean I do not recommend reading this book ?
Ward Schelfhout
I suspect that Gray actually dislikes humanism for its intellectual and moral force, particularly in relation to Gray's moral nihilism, not its claimed lack of force.
Laon
Although I can and do agree with many of Gray's conclusions, the logic that gets him to those is, well, simply not logic.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

130 of 148 people found the following review helpful By Autonomeus on February 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover
John Gray was once upon a time an optimistic liberal. He fell under the spell of the Gospel of the Free Market in the Thatcherite 1980s, and thus made a transition to conservatism. When he discovered that Thatcherism/Reaganism wasn't really conservative at all, but rather a dogmatic radicalism, he became an old-school conservative. He proceeded to reject the Enlightenment tout court, and embraced post-modernist relativism. Now, he has taken a further step into simple misanthropy. Gray has written a jeremiad against Christianity, the Enlightenment, science, and any hope of bettering people or the planet we live on. This is a performative contradiction, of course, because if there is no cause for hope, why write a book? What's the point? Fame and money are the only reasons left, one must suppose, and that supposition is perfectly consistent with Gray's line of argument -- all lofty ideals and dreams are illusions.

Despite all that, I enjoyed the book and recommend it. It's a quick, easy read, quite entertaining, and I'm sure you can find it in the library. There are many useful citations in the back to more substantial books you might want to read to pursue Gray's points, many made in the form of sound-bite one-liners. Depending on what you bring to it, you may or may not find it shocking -- STRAW DOGS is mainly based on the growing knowledge from the field variously known as sociobiology or evolutionary psychology or biological anthropology. Humans are animals, not demigods. Gray's second main point I think is less appreciated and more important, and that is the evidence that the human species is embarked on a neomalthusian experiment -- overshoot the ecosystem and see what happens.
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60 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Bruno on October 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
It is over a hundred years since Darwin revealed to us our animal lineage, and yet the human primate is still having difficulty coming to terms with its animal origins. All bar creationists may indeed now accept that we are descended from apes, but most of us still cling to the belief that we have somehow become different to the rest of the animal kingdom. Our ability to use language and reason, to see ourselves as selves, selves that move forward in time and, with other selves, progress by building a culture based on moral rules and a technology that seems to give us ever increasing control over our environment. Surely this is enough to set us apart from the rest of nature? No. Thankfully, a British philosopher who lives and breathes today but who speaks with the depth and clarity of a modern day Schopenhauer is here to rid you of this delusion.

Human beings are still animals claims Gray, but the more profound insight that he delivers, and that his critics seem unable to grasp or admit, is that humans, and even whatever intelligence that might emerge in a 'posthuman' future, will always be inescapably rooted in the natural world as much as the lowliest of slime molds.

We believe that language and reason are what differentiates us, forgetting that we acquired these abilities through the blind mechanisms of evolution. This means that they are, as Hume, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche declared long before Darwin, mere tools in the brutish struggle for survival. These same tools enabled the human animal to create the illusions of free will, self and morality and the delusion to think that with these, man has the ability to stand apart from the animal world and choose his own fate. But the fundamental import of Darwinism is that it tells us that 'we' were 'made' for the world.
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33 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on November 6, 2003
Format: Hardcover
John Gray concludes his book with a tragic entreaty: "Can we not think of the aim of life as simply to see?" His plea for awareness reveals the cloak of obscuratism our mythology has draped over all nature. Reading Straw Dogs is like being abruptly roused from a pleasant dream. "Wake and shake!", he cries. Wake up to the falsity of the dogmas under which you live. Shake them off and recognize that we live within reality's domain, not that of phantasms and fables. These ideas disturb the comfortable, yet offer little comfort to those seeking an easy answer to life's challenges. Gray understands our need for solace, but he knows reality isn't a tourist resort. Nature is a harsh realm and he wishes us to confront enduring questions honestly. Writing this book means he thinks we can do that.
Gray's thesis relies on aknowledging our place in the realm of nature. We are, he reminds us, merely a part of the animal kingdom. We are neither a special creation nor particularly unique. Writing alone, with the continuity it provides, sets us apart while granting significant powers. The "continuity" led to the notion of human "progress" and "perfectability". In an evolutionary sense both ideas are false, and we are evolution's product. Even humanism, supposedly rational and secular, has fallen into the trap of seeking "perfectability". Gray finds this misleading and self-serving. He examines the work of Western philosophers, the guides to our thinking, finding them mistaken or misleading. In today's milieu, Lovelock's Gaia concept of the whole planet acting like a single organism, should be reconsidered. Whether the details of this idea are valid is irrelevant.
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