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The Compassionate Instinct: The Science of Human Goodness Paperback – January 4, 2010

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 316 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (January 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393337286
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393337280
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #64,657 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Why would a Palestinian ambulance driver pledge to help a wounded Israeli soldier who had killed his brother? In contemplating the remarkable commitment of this ambulance driver—and in dozens of other settings—the contributors to this volume recognize an aspect of human nature that has long eluded scientific scrutiny. But in the 35 essays and interviews here collected (all originally published in Berkeley’s Greater Good magazine), readers watch talented psychologists, neurologists, and primatologists investigate the riddles of human compassion. In the selections gathered in the first section, contributors probe the mysterious origins of human empathy, limning an evolutionary history that has primed the human brain for selflessness. In the second section, contributors explore ways to convert our biochemical potential for altruism into day-to-day behavior. Readers learn, for example, how wise management policies can promote caring collaboration even in the cubicle labyrinth. And in the final section, contributors outline strategies—such as anti-bystander education—for fostering ethical health in society as a whole. Though uneven, this collection stimulates serious reflection. --Bryce Christensen


“[T]his collection stimulates serious reflection.” (Booklist)

“The short, accessible essays...underscore empathy, forgiveness, gratitude, happiness, trust, and apology.... A readable digest of current work in positive psychology for a general audience.” (E. James Lieberman - Library Journal)

More About the Author

Jeremy Adam Smith writes about parenting, science and technology, popular culture, urban life, and politics--sometimes all of them at once.

He is author of The Daddy Shift (Beacon Press, 2009), which the San Francisco Chronicle calls "amazing," author Michael Kimmel calls "impassioned [and] insightful," and the New York Times praises as "a chronicle of a time... we will look back upon as the start of permanent change." He is also the co-editor of two science anthologies: The Compassionate Instinct (W.W. Norton & Co., 2010) and Are We Born Racist? (Beacon Press, 2010).

Currently, Jeremy is a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University. He the founding editor of, where a series he developed and edited with the nonprofit news site Public Press won an Excellence in Explanatory Journalism Award from the Norther California chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists. He is also the former senior editor of Greater Good magazine, which was nominated for multiple Maggie and Independent Press awards during his tenure.

Jeremy's essays, short stories, and articles have appeared in Mothering, The Nation, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Bay Guardian, Utne Reader, Wired, and numerous other periodicals and books. He has also been interviewed by many media outlets, including The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, The Today Show, The Talk, USA Today, Nightline, The Daily Beast, numerous NPR and CBC shows, ABC News 5, NBC News 11, and He is a regular guest on The Takeaway, a drive-time morning show co-sponsored by New York Times, BBC World Service, and WNYC.

He lives in San Francisco with his wife and son.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 16, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a truly extraordinary collection of essays from the magazine Greater Good, a magazine I had no idea existed. The editors have done a tremendous job in selecting 35 essays (click on the cover above to see the Table of Contents and over all I am hugely impressed.

Multiple literatures are in convergences, from the consciousness side to the global brain side to the waging peace side. I arrived at this book from the "beyond genes to culture" side, and list ten other recommended books spanning those literatures at the end of this review.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Orlando's_reviews on March 19, 2010
Format: Paperback
The Science of Human Goodness. (Have you heard of such a thing?)

This is a find from the library yesterday, I started reading it at the coffee shop in town, and after a couple hours there I got in the car with it, I could not drive well, I was driving while brain & heart-stimulated, DWHP ?.

I managed to get home safely, went to my desk and kept on reading. I could not put the book down until I had completely read all the essays and stories, each one, handpicked by the editors from the Greater Good Magazine, published by Berkeley University.


I didn't know that Berkeley University had a: "Greater Good Science Center".

Along with the stories and essays, there is a micro biography of each author and their works, a complete Bibliography of current scientific thinking about Human Goodness. Read it, you will be happy you did and full of hope for the future of mankind. I wish I could drop everything I am doing now, and become a Greater Good scholar at Berkeley. (But I have to get back to keep on learning how to program the iPhone).
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Chris S. on June 2, 2013
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Full of good science but readily approachable by non-scientists as well, this collection of works by esteemed authors offers little snippets of amazing insights into how humans might become more compassionate. Most of the works are short synopses of larger publications by known experts in their field. The areas covered range from (mostly) the natural and social sciences to (a few on) politics and religion. Each one is quite short, making it easy to get through and grasp their key points, often in a humorous or mind-expanding way. Each is also a complete, stand-alone piece, independent of the others in the book. Poke around, delve here and there, put it aside and come back to it later -- or read them all, almost straight through, as I did. They're wonderful!!! (P.S. Don't miss the intro by Keltner or the final piece by Zimbardo and his colleague -- fabulous!!!)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Perpetualpsychstudent on December 27, 2010
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I highly recommend this book for those studying or interested in positive psychology; it is a multifaceted look at the nature of compassion and how this positive and pro-social emotion impacts our society. It is an easy and satisfying read filled with information based on sound research done by reputable professors and researchers. Don't miss this one!
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