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The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society Hardcover – September 22, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0307407764 ISBN-10: 0307407764 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (September 22, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307407764
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307407764
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #497,215 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

De Waal (Chimpanzee Politics), a renowned primatologist, culls an astounding volume of research that deflates the human assumption that animals lack the characteristics often referred to as humane. He cites recent animal behavior studies that challenge the primacy of human logic and put animals on a closer behavioral footing with humans. Based on the studies of mammals, from primates to mice, de Waal proposes that empathy is an instinctual behavior exhibited by both lab rats and elephants. But de Waal's aim isn't merely to show that apes are transactional creatures with a basic understanding of reciprocity—but to reveal that the idea that humans are naturally calculating, competitive and violent is grounded in a falsehood willfully and selfishly perpetuated. Throughout the book, de Waal illustrates how behaving more like our wild mammalian cousins may just save humanity. His contention, colored by philosophical musings and fascinating anecdotes of observed emotional connections between animals, argues persuasively that humans are not greedy or belligerent because animals are; such traits are far from organic or inevitable but patently manmade. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"A pioneer in primate studies, Frans de Waal sees our better side in chimps, especially our capacity for empathy. In his research, Dr. de Waal has gathered ample evidence that our ability to identify with another's distress -- a catalyst for compassion and charity -- has deep roots in the origin of our species. It is a view independently reinforced by recent biomedical studies showing that our brains are built to feel another's pain."
—Robert Lee Hotz, The Wall Street Journal
 
“It’s hard to feel the pain of the next guy.    First, you have to notice that he exists…then realize that he has different thoughts than you…and different emotions…and that he needs help…and that you should help because you’d like the same done for you…and, wait, did I remember to lock the car?…and…  Empathy is often viewed as requiring cognitive capacities for things like theory of mind, perspective taking and the golden rule, implying that empathy is pretty much limited to humans, and is a fairly fragile phenomenon in us.  For decades, Frans de Waal has generated elegant data and thinking that show that this is wrong.   In this superb book, he shows how we are not the only species with elements of those cognitive capacities, empathy is as much about affect as cognition, and our empathic humanity has roots far deeper than our human-ness.”
—Robert Sapolsky, author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers and A Primate’s Memoir
 
"The lessons of the economic meltdown, Hurricane Katrina, and other disasters may not be what you think: Biologically, humans are not selfish animals. For that matter, neither are animals, writes the engaging Frans de Waal, a psychology professor with proof positive that, like other creatures who hang out in herds, we've evolved to be empathetic. We don't just hear a scream, it chills us to the bone; when we see a smile, we answer with one of our own. THE AGE OF EMPATHY offers advice to cutthroat so-called realists: Listen to your inner ape."
—O, The Oprah Magazine
 
"Freshly topical….a corrective to the idea that all animals—human and otherwise—are selfish and unfeeling to the core."
—The Economist
 
"Without question, de Waal’s essential findings should become part of mainstream conversation. But we need to go further by joining them with a radical political analysis, one that spells out the cultural mechanisms that give rise to an empathy-deficient society. Only then can we reclaim the continuity of morality that emerges so eloquently from these pages."
—Gary Olson, The Baltimore Chronicle
 
"De Waal, a renowned primatologist, knows the territory firsthand. He writes clearly and plays fair; he takes on the strongest arguments against him and is quick to acknowledge complexity. His book is popular science as it should be, far superior to the recent spate of “Darwin made me do it” books that purport to explain (or explain away) our behavior."
—Edward Dolnick, Bookforum
 
"De Waal is an excellent tour guide, refreshingly literate outside his field, deft at stitching bits of philosophy and anthropology into the narrative. He is also pleasingly opinionated; he seems to have columnist aspirations of his own, and his frequent – usually thoughtful and balanced, occasionally facile – digressions on morality and U.S. politics read like boilerplate New York Times editorials.
Empathy, de Waal says, is one of our most innate capacities, one that likely evolved from mammalian parental care. It begins in the body, a deep unconscious synchrony between mother and child that sets the tone for so many mammalian interactions. When someone smiles, we smile; when they yawn, we yawn; emotion is contagious."
—Jeff Warren, Globe & Mail
 
"Given the nature of business survival in a competitive world, de Waal's clarion call that greed is out and empathy is in, may be a call we should all hear."
—Ray Wlliams, Psychology Today
 
"If Dawkins is Huxley’s intellectual descendant, de Waal is certainly Kropotkin’s. Whereas Dawkins holds that biology will be of little help in building a just society, de Waal is less convinced that we are at war with our nature. Rather, he finds it odd that those instances of spontaneous altruism shown in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks or during the Katrina disaster could somehow be considered unnatural."
—Eric Michael Johnson, SEED
 
"The endeavor has majesty. It also affirms a very unmajestic human experience: Our emotions are a mess. Of course they are—they are accumulated bits of psychic life thrown together over millions of years by evolution with no oversight or quality control about what they actually feel like. Just because we have a single word for a feeling or trait now doesn't mean that it is homogenous or discrete.
Developing an appreciation of this complexity, de Waal suggests, could actually combat one of the least helpful of human tendencies: the impulse—not innate but socially very contagious—to reductively assume our biology is bad."
—Christine Kenneally, Slate

"De Waal...culls an astounding volume of research that deflates the human assumption that animals lack the characteristics often referred to as 'humane.' He cites recent animal behavior studies that challenge the 'primacy of human logic' and put animals on a closer behavioral footing with humans.....Throughout the book, de Waal illustrates how behaving more like our wild mammalian cousins may just save humanity. His contention, colored by philosophical musings and fascinating anecdotes of observed emotional connections between animals, argues persuasively that humans are not greedy or belligerent because animals are; such traits are far from organic or inevitable but patently manmade."
Publisher's Weekly

"Addressing the question of whether it is possible to 'combine a thriving economy with a humane society' zoologist de Waal answers with a resounding yes....De Waal cites the 'evolutionary antiquity' of empathy to argue that 'society depends on a second invisible hand, one that reaches out to others.' An appealing celebration of our better nature."
Kirkus

"[De Waal's] illuminating description and explanation of his research have made progressively more magnetic reading (and viewing of the exceptionally illustrative photos and drawings) of eight previous books and don't fail him now."
Booklist

Praise for Our Inner Ape by Frans de Waal

"This important and illuminating book should help our own species take that lesson in civility to heart."
—Temple Grandin, New York Times

"Frans de Waal's work . . . has helped lift Darwin's conjectures about the evolution of morality to a new level."
—Jonathan Weiner, author of The Beak of the Finch

"Frans de Waal has achieved that state of grace for a scientist–doing research that is both rigorous and wildly creative, and in the process has redefined how we think about the most interesting realms of behavior among nonhuman primates–cooperation, reconciliation, a sense of fairness, and even the rudiments of morality."
—Robert M. Sapolsky, author of Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers and A Primate's Memoir

"Frans de Waal is uniquely placed to write a book on the duality of human nature and on its biological origins in other primate species. No other book has attempted to cover this ground. Few topics are as timely to the understanding of the human mind and behavior."
—Antonio Damasio, author of Descartes' Error

"On the basis of a fascinating and provocative account of the remarkable continuities between the social emotions of humans and of nonhuman primates, de Waal develops a compelling case for the evolutionary roots of human morality."
—Harry G. Frankfurt, author of On Bullshit

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Customer Reviews

The book is well-written.
Ruben Kleiman
If it's true that some travelers want to read something that will make them feel pretty good about being humans, this book ought to do it!
C. L. Vash
Frans de Waal has produced another excellent book with `The Age of Empathy.'
David Hillstrom

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

55 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Erich V. Vieth on October 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Primatologist Frans de Waal has produced another book full of lively writing and thoughtful analysis, reminding us of our exquisite animal roots. In "The Age of Empathy," De Waal is out to set the record straight: too many people invoke "evolution" to justify treating each other in contemptuous ways. This has got to stop, because this modern version of "Social Darwinism" is a highly selective and distorted version of the kind of animals we humans are, as well as a wildly inaccurate interpretation of way natural selection works.

In short, we are NOT condemned by nature to treat each other badly. Rather, there is a much different and much pervasive aspect regarding the kind of animal we humans have evolved to be. We are highly groupish, often peace-loving beings who are well-tuned to look out for each other. Not that we always do this well, but there is plenty of reason to conclude that we are highly social in an empathetic way. In this book, De Waal accomplishes his goals with reference to ample evidence from human history and with meticulous observations and social experiments regarding our primate cousins.

Keep this book handy for the next time someone claims that they don't need to care about people who are struggling to make it "because that's the way of nature." This approach to life is a cop-out; it is certainly not justified by Darwin's work.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Gintis on November 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In this highly entertaining, lovingly written, and amply documented book, de Waal reverses his usual direction of argumentation, using the fact that primates exhibit rudimentary forms of human prosociality to assert that human sociality is fundamentally empathetic and altruistic. Indeed, de Waal suggests that chimpanzees exhibit a mix of hierarchical and egalitarian sensitivities, and empathetic and ruthlessly aggressive sensitivities similar to that of humans. De Waal does not even entertain the Romantic idea that humans are inherently benevolent but corrupted by an evil society, but he returns repeatedly to a critique of the American conservative tendency to view human nature as basically selfish. The bottom line is that de Waal develops a concept of human nature block by block, chapter by chapter, and then uses this concept to build a novel and very attractive political economy for our time.

The evidence for de Waal's model of human, monkey, and ape nature is a combination of anecdote (as in other de Waal books) and controlled laboratory experiment. The latter element is of course central, because people have been speculating about human and animal nature for centuries without even approaching a consensus. The major implication of this research for humans, which uses behavioral game theory and experimental economics, is that we now know with almost perfect certainty that humans are not the selfish sociopaths of traditional economics and sociobiology, but rather are motivated by a complex mix of self-regarding, other-regarding and fundamentally moral objectives. De Waal goes through this evidence enough to make his point, without becoming bogged down in the sort of detail that is of critical importance for experts in the field, but boring for the general reader.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By M. Fankhauser on October 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a timely book. I heard Frans De Waal give an interview on NRP's Diane Rehm show discussing his new book and immediately bought and read it. It was thought-provoking and makes you realize the similarities in human and animal behaviors. Cooperation, negotiation, kindness, and empathy are needed more than ever in families, organizations, and in politics. I hope we can learn some important lessons about our species from his extensive primate research. I enjoyed reading about Frans De Waal's work and past publications on the website: [...]
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Kelly Cooper VINE VOICE on October 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is the first book I've read by Frans de Waal. It is written in simple, accessible language and is positively stuffed with provocative ideas and anecdotal stories. The premise, that empathetic behaviors and tendencies predate our evolutionary pedigree, directly addresses underrepresented views in both evolutionary biology as well as popular conceptions of our own animal nature. I found his unapologetic attitude about the political implications of his work to be personally refreshing and scientifically defensible. However, here's what really sells the book: in casual conversation I found myself repeatedly (and indirectly) referencing "The Age of Empathy" as a touchstone for an astonishing array of tangential interdisciplinary topics. My only complaint is that I would have preferred a longer, more complex book on the subject.
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31 of 39 people found the following review helpful By C. L. Vash on October 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've only read the first chapter so far but am IMPRESSED! with both the forthrightness and plain old correctness-type rightness of his words. I'd like to see copies of this book provided in hotel dresser drawers instead of the Judeo-Christian or Qu'ran or Buddhist offerings found in most of them. If it's true that some travelers want to read something that will make them feel pretty good about being humans, this book ought to do it! De Waal is applying the massive knowledge he gained from years of being a first-class primatologist to help readers correctly understand certain economic situations originally misinterpreted by "social Darwinist" H.Spencer and still being misinterpreted by "materialist fundamentalists" R.Dawkins and D.Dennett. (Naturally, religious zealots of many sorts either ignore or repudiate Darwin since his observations do not seem to support the poetically expressed claims they take as historical reports.) For years now I've been disconcerted that so many of today's economists are still stuck in classical (linear)theory when it seems more of them would move on to recognizing the need for admitting nonlinear chaotic processes going on. Maybe De Waal's observations from a different point of view will help them loosen their grip on that comforting but out of date state of being.
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