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The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals

27 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0465030149
ISBN-10: 0465030149
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

To determine what distinguishes the mental capabilities of humans from those of our closest living relatives (chimpanzees and great apes), Australian psychologist Suddendorf uses diverse data drawn from the worlds of human developmental theory, infant and child psychology, and primate ethology to walk a moderate line between €œromantic€ and €œkilljoy€ interpretations of animal €œbehavior as an indicator of mind.€ He explores six realms in which human thinking appears to be qualitatively different from that of animals—€œlanguage, mental time travel, mind reading, intelligence, culture, and morality€—and finally locates the gap in the interaction between two key mental capacities: nested scenario building and the urge to connect. His analysis of the of the gap's development is much more straightforward, as he digs into evolutionary theory, molecular evidence, and the fossil record to show interbreeding and physical signs of intermediate capacities in early hominin species, positing that we Homo sapiens widened the gap by murdering our nearest evolutionary neighbors. His musings provoke thought about humanity's place in the community of life, and he considers whether a rich or lean interpretation of the inner worlds of the creatures around us serves us best. (Nov.)


A PUBLISHERS WEEKLY Top 10 Fall Science Title

A BBC FOCUS Editor's Choice

“[The Gap] provides a new lens through which to see the world. Read it, and you might never look at yourself or your household pets in the same light.”
Science Magazine

“A rewarding, thought-provoking journey.... Mr. Suddendorf cuts an entertaining swath through a thicket of research studies on primate cognition.... The author’s style is not only consistently interesting and informative but at times delightfully playful.... A welcome addition to the growing literature explaining science to the intelligent layperson.”
Wall Street Journal

"Suddendorf is a skillful guide through 'the gap' between animal and human minds. He describes clever animal experiments and observational work with lucidity. He ends with a plea. Our ape cousins are dying out. It’s vital that we use our unique powers of foresight to prevent the gap from widening. [Five stars]"
BBC Focus

“A compelling synthesis of the current literature on human evolution and comparative psychology to address the big questions of our species’ uniqueness. Fittingly, if the origin of human potential began with our ability for imaginative storytelling, Suddendorf’s narrative is an excellent addition to our species’ legacy.”
Times Higher Education

“In his admirably clear and cogent first book The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals [Suddendorf] seeks a middle way that does justice to other species while arguing that there really are important differences between us and them.... Suddendorf’s book is a fine introduction to this fascinating field and deserves a wide audience.”
Financial Times

“Our success as a dominant species, [Suddendorf] says, has depended on our ability to imagine and communicate. But he goes further, suggesting that the gap between humans and animals is widening, not because we are becoming smarter but because we are killing off our closest intelligent animal relatives. Suddendorf brilliantly fills in the gap with telling detail and acute analysis.”
The Times (UK)

“Fascinating....enjoyable....would make [a] marvellous gift.”

“This is a thought-provoking book that gives new meaning to the phrase ‘know thyself’—making it clear the endeavour should go beyond navel-gazing to ponder the larger significance of being human.”
New Scientist

Times Literary Supplement

“Beautifully written, well researched and thought provoking, The Gap searches for key differences between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom, and presents a balanced overview of the current status of our understanding of the mental abilities of animals. I found it fascinating and strongly recommend it to everyone who is curious as to how we have evolved to become the dominant species in the world today. Thank you, Thomas Suddendorf, for writing this book.”
Jane Goodall, PhD, DBE, Founder, The Jane Goodall Institute, and UN Messenger of Peace

“Suddendorf takes us systematically through the ‘language, mental time travel, theory of mind, intelligence, culture, and morality’ that animals may demonstrate and compares each domain to our own. He does so in delightfully direct, even evocative language.... Provocative…This is a very important book.”
Australian Book Review

“[A] fine new book.”
Weekly Standard

“An excellent work which probably stands alone in its field.”
Richard Leakey

“[A] sure-handed, fascinating book.”
Scientific American Mind

Top 10 Science and Tech Books for November, The Guardian (UK)

“Wonderful.... Important and beautifully written.”
Journal of the History of Biology

“Bringing together the latest research in animal behavour, child development, anthropology, psychology and neuroscience, Suddendorf makes you think about our place in nature and puts forward a provocative argument for reconsidering what makes us human.”
The Vegetarian (UK)

“Fascinating reading.... A fine example of science made accessible for general readers, combining history, personal anecdotes, clear accounts of research and a broad picture of human evolution.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Sweeping, sharply argued, and exceptionally entertaining, The Gap tells a story that may turn out to be one of the great scientific discoveries of the century. Thomas Suddendorf is one of the world leaders in the study of the evolution of the human mind. His analysis of the ‘gap’ is brilliant, a veritable eye-opener. This book expands your mind. You can feel it as you read it. Begin with the first chapter. It alone is worth more than the price of the total opus.”
Endel Tulving, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, University of Toronto, and author of Elements of Episodic Memory

“A provocative and entertaining gem of a book.”
Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology, Cambridge University, and author of The Science of Evil

“In this deep, illuminating investigation of the human condition, Thomas Suddendorf artfully brings the latest data from cognitive science and ethology to bear on the Greek adage: ‘know thyself.’A must-read for anyone interested in evolution and the origins of humanity.”
Stanislas Dehaene, author of Reading in the Brain

“With the sure-handedness of a leading scientist and the love of man and of animals of a true humanist, Suddendorf takes a close look at what makes humans unique. I learned a heck of a lot from this important book, and so will you.”
Oren Harman, Professor of the History of Science, Bar Ilan University, and author of The Price of Altruism

The Gap brilliantly combines scholarship with accessibility, explaining often difficult ideas in plain language. This is popular science at its best—erudite, entertaining, and wonderfully informative.”
Michael Corballis, Professor of Psychology, University of Auckland, and author of The Recursive Mind

“In this fascinating discussion of the gap between us and other species, Suddendorf poses a series of questions about what makes us uniquely human. The reader is taken on a tour of intriguing and sometimes bizarre research tales interwoven with the author’s observations of his own children and other animals. Written in a friendly, accessible style, this book is a must read for anyone interested in who we are and why—or if—we are special.”
Niki Harré, author of Psychology for a Better World

“This wonderful book shows that the human mind is unique in surprising ways that we should treasure more highly—but that we have a standard ape mind in many other ways that we vainly assume are exceptional. It offers a new kind of evidence-based self-esteem for our species, both humbling and ennobling. Suddendorf is a leading evolutionary psychologist and primatologist whose ground-breaking research has shown how humans are masters of building imaginary scenarios and linking our minds together socially. Here he makes his case in a fun, wise, balanced, and accessible way that any thinking human will love.”
Geoffrey Miller, evolutionary psychologist, University of New Mexico, and author of The Mating Mind and Spent

“An engaging, well-written exploration of the multiple and diverse scientific fields of study that intersect at the question of what makes us, well—us… The Gap serves as an excellent source for thoughtful and thorough reviews of the current state of the field.”

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (November 12, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465030149
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465030149
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #71,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Alan F. Sewell on November 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book seeks to answer the curious question of why human beings apparently have no close relatives on the evolutionary tree. After all, evolution is a painstaking slow process of incremental accumulation of genetic mutations that eventually differentiate the species. Most species have many close relations.

So WHY is there only one species of human beings extant, and no other species even comes close to what we’ve accomplished in the way of obtaining dominion over the Earth?

The traditional theoretical answers are:

1. (Religious) Man is a divine creation who was DESIGNED to be different from every other species.

2. There WERE until recently (a few tens of thousands of years ago) several species of hominids but homo sapiens eliminated them by:

A) Interbreeding with them.
B) Exterminating them
C) Gently outcompeting them so that over a period of hundreds of thousands of years we gradually became the dominant hominid
D) All of the above.

3. Perhaps we actually DO have closely related species (apes and orangutans) who look more different to us than they really are. An alien from another planet might consider them to be just another subspecies of hominid. Recent observations of apes in captivity and the wild have revealed cooperative behaviors all to similar to the “politicking” that goes on all the time in human societies.

These theories have been discussed so often in recent years that I was a bit reluctant to buy this book.

However after previewing it in Kindle, Author Thomas Suddendorf’s logic is so well stated and his writing is so entertainingly lucid that I could not resist purchasing the book and making time to read it at a leisurely pace so as to comprehend it fully.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Smart on January 9, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There aren’t many questions bigger than: ‘What makes our minds so different to other animals? According to some pundits, more information has been produced in this century than has accrued in all the millennia before and it’s expected to go on exploding. So how do you make sense of the deluge? One way is to find people, who you trust to have the deepest, wisest, latest stuff worth weaving into your own big picture. Thomas Suddendorf brings established facts from a range of fields, such as palaeoanthropology, linguistics and genetics to his own fields of evolutionary psychology and child development to craft a powerfully persuasive argument for the evolutionary course of what he refers to as ‘The Gap’ – the mental gap between our closest relatives, the great apes, and us.

Central to his quest is the identification of the building blocks of the mind, which he broadly defines as the ability to think of things which are beyond our immediate perception. To establish the base of the gap he applies tests developed by famed child psychologist Piaget to chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas and finds that they are able to meet the tasks of Piaget’s last object permanence task (called 6b!). ‘Like human two-year-olds, but unlike other primates, adult great apes have demonstrated that they can think about things they did not perceive.’ They pass the test of a mind by inferring a probable place for an object they can no longer perceive. Having gauged the lower limits of ‘The Gap’ he probes for the upper limits: ‘key uniquely human attributes that may have led to a profound shift in human behaviour’.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Taylor McNeil on February 19, 2014
Format: Hardcover
How special are we human beings—we homo sapiens? We take a look around at the other animals—first even recognizing that we are animals, in particular primates, is sometimes difficult—and say to ourselves that we are indeed pretty darn special, clearly many cuts above the rest of the animal kingdom. We speak, write, create art, build iPhones, and heck, are lords of all we see. On the other hand, how about other animals that seem pretty smart, like our cousins the great apes (orangutans, gorillas, and chimpanzees) and in whom we see some, well, familiar faces and traits. And aren’t dogs and cats pretty clever sometimes, not to mention some birds that have even been known to wield tool-like objects?

Thomas Suddendorf, a psychologist born in Germany and now teaching in Australia, systematically lays out the issues in his remarkable book, The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals. To know what separates us, we have to know what’s special about us and what makes us tick. Suddendorf takes us on a fascinating tour of what it means to be human, and then systematically looks at attempts to find traces of those same traits in other animals.

Above all what sets us physically apart are our brains. Suddendorf has a chart that shows graphically the average excess amount of brains in weight over and above what would be expected based on body size for a number of species. The one outlier? Humans. Far behind are the great apes, and several steps below them are various monkeys—just as they are steps away from us on the evolutionary tree.

Suddendorf lays out the arguments using different qualities that seem to set us apart from all other animals.
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