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The Moral Animal: Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology Paperback – August 29, 1995

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Editorial Reviews Review

An accessible introduction to the science of evolutionary psychology and how it explains many aspects of human nature. Unlike many books on the topic,which focus on abstractions like kin selection, this book focuses on Darwinian explanations of why we are the way we are--emotionally and morally. Wright deals particularly well with explaining the reasons for the stereotypical dynamics of the three big "S's:" sex, siblings, and society.

From Publishers Weekly

New Republic senior editor Wright's account of the latest trends in Darwinian theory unravels the evolutionary logic behind subjects ranging from friendship and romance to xenophobia and sibling rivalry.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (August 29, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679763996
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679763994
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (205 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #24,980 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert Wright is a contributing editor of The New Republic, a columnist, and a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the cofounder of, runs the web-based video project, and lives in Princeton, NJ, with his wife and two daughters.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

324 of 342 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Although first published in 1994, a long time ago in the rapidly developing science of evolutionary psychology, Robert Wright's seminal book remains an excellent introduction to the subject. The text crackles with an incisive wit that says, yes we're animals, but we can live with that. The discussion is thorough, ranging from a rather intense focus on Charles Darwin and his life through the sexist and morality debate occasioned by the publication of Edward O. Wilson's Sociobiology in 1975, to the rise of the use of primate comparisons fueled by Jane Goodall's instant classic, The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior (1986). Wright has some rather serious fun with human sexual behavior as seen from the perspective of evolutionary psychology, but he spends even more time worrying (to no good effect, in my opinion) about altruism and the shaky concept of kin selection. The title is partly ironic, since much of the material suggests that we are something less than "moral." The "Everyday Life" in the title is an allusion to Freud (The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, 1904) who makes a dual appearance in the text, first as a kind of not-yet-illuminated precursor to modern Darwinian thought, and second as the reigning champ of psychology that evolutionary psychology is out to dethrone. (See especially page 314.)

What's exciting about evolutionary psychology is that for the first time psychology has a firm scientific foundation upon which to build. But it's a tough subject for some people, I think, mainly because they confuse "is" with "ought.
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75 of 79 people found the following review helpful By Alan Koslowski on November 30, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Though a few other books related to Evolutionary Psychology have been written since this, it is still one of the best introductions to the field. It is intelligently written, but not pendantic. Wright discusses many aspects of evolutionary psych. using many examples from the life of Charles Darwin.
Many have criticized this work as a justifying gender inequality, usually as related to male oppression and abuse of females. Wright openly states that he is attempting to explain human behavior from a Darwinian perspective. He argues that this perspective sheds much light on the subject, though he admits is isn't perfect or all inclusive. Wright closes with several behaviors that Evolutionary Psychology can not adequetly explain (most glaringly, homosexuality).
Though many women have been outraged by this work, this book has much to offer for both females and males who read it from a non-ideological perspective. I've read several interviews with Wright and other Evolutionary Psychologists who have stated that by understanding why we (all people) are naturally inclined to behave in certain ways are we better able to control behavioral tendencies that may be detrimental to ourselves and others. When read from this perspective, this book can only help men and women better undertand each other and improve relations between the sexes.
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39 of 43 people found the following review helpful By dana haggett on January 6, 1998
Format: Paperback
Wright's analysis of evolutionary psychology offers fascinating insights into the shaping of human behavior. Evolutionary psychology takes as its formula - does a behaviour increase the chances of reproductive success? - and studies the relationships between people in this context. This new science has offered interesting theories on the old issues of monogamy and faithfulness, trust, and status. The science constantly reminds us that we were designed in a painstaking evolutionary laboratory over eons - and that modern civilation has dramatically changed our context without allowing our genes to catch up. Behaviours that made sense a million years ago don't help out on the daily commute. The Moral Animal offers a summary of current thinking on this important new science. Wright presents as his case-study in intricate detail the life of Charles Darwin, and assesses his behavior in light of evolutionary psychology. The concept is interesting, and demonstrates how the science can be applied to specific, individual behavior, but the reader quickly is convinced that he would prefer it never be applied to himself. The downside of this book is the arrogant attitude of "hey, we finally figured everything out." The author constantly points out why prior theories are "wrong" and evolutionary psychology is right. Wright is fascinated with the single issue of status, and spends the majority of the book discussing this one issue, often repeating the same analysis over and over. The study would be even better if presented with a smaller chip on the shoulder.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By The Spinozanator VINE VOICE on January 1, 2006
Format: Paperback
I read the celebrated "Moral Animal" some 10 years ago, then re-read and underlined it at least twice. Finally I had found a theory of human nature and psychology I could wholeheartedly believe in. I was looking for a great quote from that book last week but found I had loaned out both copies - so I bought a new one and ended up re-reading the whole thing.

The quote is: "...humans are a species splendid in their array of moral equipment, tragic in their propensity to misuse it, and pathetic in their constitutional ignorance of the misuse."

Science journalist Robert Wright compiled these findings of evolutionary psychology (EP) for the lay reader in 1994 and "Moral Animal" is still a timely treatise. Matt Ridley introduced his excellent "Red Queen" about the same topic around the same year. Wright writes in an engaging manner, intertwining his pearls with biographical sketches of Charles Darwin. Disclaimer: For those who are offended by the very suggestion that our behavior evolved from apes - and that our behavior is an elaborate, sophisticated manifestation of language and socialization which evolved by natural selection along with a huge brain - you won't like this book.

I realize the following assessment of mine is anecdotal, but here goes: I have seen step-children treated differently than genetic children. I have seen how men and women preen, peacock-like, showing off their best (?) sides during courtships and how they pair off in society according to commonly accepted determinants of status, differing depending on sex. I have read about and subsequently observed how people (unconsciously?) score each other during their social interactions, rating relationship values for the future.
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