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The Cultural Animal: Human Nature, Meaning, and Social Life Hardcover – February 10, 2005

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (February 10, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195167031
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195167030
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 6.6 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,472,416 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"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.

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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Gintis on 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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6 of 12 people found the following review helpful By PST on December 16, 2009
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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