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The Cultural Animal:Human Nature, Meaning, and Social Life [Print Replica] [Kindle Edition]

Roy F. Baumeister
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

What makes us human? Why do people think, feel and act as they do? What is the essence of human nature? What is the basic relationship between the individual and society? These questions have fascinated both great thinkers and ordinary humans for centuries. Now, at last, there is a solid basis for answering them, in the form of accumulated efforts and studies by thousands of psychology researchers. We no longer have to rely on navel-gazing and speculation to understand why people are the way they are - we can instead turn to solid, objective findings. This book, by an eminent social psychologist at the peak of his career, not only summarizes what we know about people - it also offers a coherent, easy-to-understand, though radical, explanation. Turning conventional wisdom on its head, the author argues that culture shaped human evolution. Contrary to theories that depict the individual's relation to society as one of victimization, endless malleability, or just a square peg in a round hole, he proposes that the individual human being is designed by nature to be part of society. Moreover, he argues that we need to briefly set aside the endless study of cultural differences to look at what most cultures have in common - because that holds the key to human nature. Culture is in our genes, although cultural differences may not be. This core theme is further developed by a powerful tour through the main dimension of human psychology. What do people want? How do people think? How do emotions operate? How do people behave? And how do they interact with each other? The answers are often surprising, and along the way the author explains how human desire, thought, feeling, and action are connected.


Editorial Reviews

Review


"A remarkably well-written book. Anyone interested in psychology and philosophy would find this book fascinating. It is thorough, very well informed, and clearly presented."--Diaglouge


About the Author

Roy F. Baumeister is at Florida State University.

Product Details

  • File Size: 5006 KB
  • Print Length: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; 1 edition (January 14, 2005)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005OL9I62
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #801,499 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The First Chapter is the Book October 2, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Baumeister writes that his "initial project was to provide a summary and overview of human nature, based on current lab findings in social psychology." After a year of hard work, he finished a draft of the book, and realized that it had no central theme, but rather was a compendium of scattered observations and partial, unintegrated, insights. Of course this is not surprising because the field of social psychology is just that---a bunch of unintegrated insights drawn together by insufferable pseudo-generalizations. Then, says Baumeister, "one day, sitting by a rooftop pool...I began to think that the giant mass of information really did seem to be ready for integrative explanation. The human psyche...was designed for something very specific. Inner processes serve interpersonal functions. What goes on inside the person is there to facilitate the types of relationships we have." (p. viii) He goes on to say "Nature built us for culture. The human psyche is thus designed by natural selection to enable us to belong to a culture."

Baumeister was chagrined to discover that this synthesizing theme would require a whole year of rewriting, "which involved a growing struggle with my own impatience," he writes. A whole year? A year is a very short time to deal with such a big theme, especially since the idea itself is quite foreign to traditional social psychology. Unfortunately, Baumeister's impatience shows. Except for the first chapter, the book is filled with vapid and off-hand observations well known to all and hardly reflecting "current lab findings" in any serious way. Here is a typical, randomly chosen quote from the chapter How People Act and React: "In terms of money, rationality means doing what is best for the self in the long run." (p.326) This of course is just false.
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Format:Kindle Edition
This is one book that is REALLY difficult to summarize in an amazon review. It is basically a compendium of a lot of things we know about humans - from what motivates us to how we learn to how we interact with each other. But there is a common theme, and it is a good one. Where most scientists look at human nature as what comes first and culture as what comes next, social psychologist Baumeister suggests that culture is actually part of human nature - that human nature is 'hardwired' for culture. Unlike other species who are, at best, social animals, we are truly cultural animals. We not only cooperate with each other, but have elaborate social rules with which we interact with each other. And while these social rules vary between cultures, the variations can often be understood as expressions of our very common human nature, a human nature that in some sense needs culture.

Taking off from this foundation, Baumeister explores everything from what motivates us (with fascinating talk about the ways humans exploit extrinsic incentives to get a great many things done), to how we learn (and the ways we've devised to consciously pass information between people) to how we interact (how most cultural rules are ways to harness the positives of human nature and disincent the negatives).

I've been an admirer of Baumeister for some time, having read his books, Willpower and Is there Anything Good About Men? Not only is Cultural Animal a very clear and engaging text, but it is quite encyclopedic in its scope dealing with how humans operate - reviewing research on everything to how humans construct mental maps of the world to how we go out of our way to create social networks that enhance our well-being.
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Format:Hardcover
Mr Gintis has provided a good summary of the book and I agree with most of his comments. One star because I have seldom read anything so foolish.
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6 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting reading December 16, 2009
By PST
Format:Hardcover
Firmly based on Darwin's Evolutionary Theory, the author attempts to explain what makes humans unique cultural animals. Rather than focussing on the differences between cultures, he points out, how cultural animals (man being the only such species)are different from social animals (e.g. woolves, horses..). His explanation is, that this must have offered an evolutionary advantage to the animal, so so it evolved over time

He draws from a huge pile of information from experiments done by countless phychologists over many decades, and manages to offer logical explanations of their results.

There is much information in this book about results on human behaviour, which are interesting in their own right - even if the reader is not interested in how / why they evolved.

I can highly recommend this book to anybody, who is interested in how humans "operate", and even more so to people, who (like me)want to know the evolutionary background of human traits.
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