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The Most Dangerous Animal: Human Nature and the Origins of War Paperback – February 17, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“'Right now, as you read this, somebody, somewhere, is planning a war': from its opening sentence, Smith's book demands the reader's attention....a stark study of human nature, examining how we are biologically wired to fight. Smith's writing, reinforced by one grim example after another, is crisp and sobering, never blunting the fact that we are 'our own worst enemy'.” ―Publishers Weekly
“..erudite, informed, and persuasive...highly readable...a thoughtful, provocative and clearsighted argument...” ―Metapsychology
“Highly original and tighly woven...meticulously researched...” ―Portland Press Herald
“If you have the intestinal fortitude to confront the horrors of war, as well as the intellectual fortitude to confront its basis in human nature, then you are ready for THE MOST DANGEROUS ANIMAL. David Livingstone Smith knows evolutionary biology, and history,and psychology, and philosophy, and anthropology, and has put them together to produce a riveting, unflinching and disturbingly accurate account of human warfare, from the "commanded wars" of the Old Testament to Bush's Blunder in Iraq.” ―David P. Barash, professor of psychology, University of Washington and author of THE CAVEMAN AND THE BOMB
“Here is the unvarnished tale of human gangs, driven by built-in survival mechanisms and an uncanny ability for self-deception, romping through history--raiding, pillaging, terrorizing, waging wars, and committing large-scale atrocities in the name of abstract gods, holy lands, master races, and political systems. David Smith's rapid-fire account of our uniquely lethal nature makes a mockery of our dreams for peace. We could always try, though, but seeing ourselves as we truly are is a necessary first step. This book shows us how.” ―Anouar Majid, author of FREEDOM AND ORTHODOXY: Postcolonial Islam in a Polycentric World
“This is the most important post-9/11 analysis of war and it comes none too soon, as hundreds are daily dying and commentators continue to ask why. David Livingstone Smith has provided a cogent answer to the deeper why question of war; not why Iraq? or why Afghanistan? or why Darfur?, but why war at all? Smith's answer--that war is buried deep in our evolutionary past--will be controversial, but his case is irrefutable. We have seen the enemy in the mirror, and until we gather the courage to accept our true nature, men will fight and people will die. Every politician should read this book before deciding on war.” ―Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic magazine and author of THE SCIENCE OF GOOD AND EVIL
“In The Most Dangerous Animal, David Livingstone Smith illuminates an exceedingly dark subject: humankind's deep-seated penchant for war. The result is a discerning, insightful, highly original, and very disturbing book.” ―Andrew J. Bacevich, author of The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War
“Deftly combining concepts and analytical skills from traditional philosophy with an impressive grasp of contemporary science in several disciplines, Smith has produced a unique work that is at once chilling, invigorating, enlightening, and ultimately hopeful. Believing that truth is the best medicine, I recommend for every thinking person a full dose of this fiercely argued and deeply insightful book.” ―Dale Peterson, author of Jane Goodall, The Deluge and the Ark, and co-author of Demonic Males
“A remarkable and accessible book that provides original and compelling insights into the human capacity for war. Professor Smith's keen psychological analysis reveals how we unconsciously deploy self-deceptive strategies to override our horror at human bloodshed in order to indulge our universal penchant for inter-group violence. A must read for anyone interested in the psychological depths of human nature.” ―Barbara S. Held, Barry N. Wish Professor of Psychology and Social Studies, Bowdoin College, author of Psychology's Interpretive Turn: The Search for Truth and Agency in Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology
“This is a brilliant book. It weaves together a wealth of insights from science, history, literature, philosophy and contemporary affairs into an accessible, lucid, and cogently argued defense of the role of human nature in war.” ―Robert L. Holmes, Professor of Philosophy, University of Rochester, and author of On War and Morality
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More About the Author
In 2000 I moved from the United Kingdom with my wife Subrena to take up a position at the University of New England, a private liberal arts college in southern Maine, where I am associate professor of philosophy. I teach a range of courses on philosophy of biology, ethics, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of psychology and the history of philosophy. I am the co-founder and director of the New England Institute for Cognitive Science and Evolutionary Studies. The New England Institute hosts an lively program of public lectures, including the annual William D. Hamilton Memorial Lecture.
More information about me and my work, visit http://lessthanhumanbook.com and http://www.realhumannature.com
Top Customer Reviews
This little history, according to the lengthy and perceptive analysis in this most engaging book, sheds important light on why we wage wars and kill with such ferocity.
"The Most Dangerous Animal" is us. We have guns and walls and locks to protect us not from lions and tigers but from each other. But to gain the right ferocity and the sheer bloodlust needed to defeat our human enemies, we had to turn them into beast and vermin and other non human creatures because, simultaneously with our ability to kill, we had a mental module that urged us not to kill our kind. Therein lies, according to Professor Smith, who is both a philosopher and a psychologist, the terrible dialectic that is the human mind as warrior. For the tribe to survive it had to be able to stir its young men to a killing rage like chimpanzees tearing a strange chimp to bits with their bare hands. But at the same time, this violent ferocity must not be turned upon family, friends and other members of the tribe. And so these two assortments of mental neurons (mental modules) exist simultaneously in the human brain, and depending on circumstances lead us to brotherhood or to genocide.
The question that confronts us today is will we always have war?Read more ›
Unfortunately such idyllic fantasies do not impress Mother Nature. And for better or for worse, it's Nature's (or more specifically Evolution's) game we are playing here.
Smith's `The Most Dangerous Animal' proposes a rather cheerless approach to the issue of war: instead of endlessly moralizing about it, he leads the reader on a tour through our evolutionary past, to show how our capacity and necessity to fight wars developed via natural selection, and is therefore deeply ingrained in our minds.Read more ›
In general philosophers tend to do poorly when they turn their hands to evolutionary psychology, but he mostly pulls it off. However, there are notable weaknesses. He does not know enough about evolutionary biology to avoid believing, and repeating, some dumb and illogical ideas heard elsewhere and he does not manage to present speculative notions in a scientific manner, carefully framed. Instead we get statements presented as fact which one can dismiss with a few minutes thought. These will leave his work vulnerable to attack by all of those with far weaker and more illogical, and more ideological, ideas about humanity and war, unfortunately.
A few examples then. When discussing chimpanzees and bonobos, their peaceful cousins, he states that "A lot hangs on whether the trunk from which the two branches grew was chimpanzee-like or bonobo-like....if the prehistoric ape that gave rise to the human and chimpanzee-bonobo lines was more like the sensual, affable bonobo than the violent, patriarchal chimpanzee, this might indicate that the heart of human nature is more gentle than truculent."
There is no logic to this assertion.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A very interesting read. However, at times the author seems to go off the beaten path, away from the subject of the book, quite a bit. Still worth checking out.Published 5 months ago by anthony whited
This book may be the first of its kind. It clearly looks at the phenomenon of war from internal, external, historical, and modern perspective. Read morePublished 6 months ago by MNishi
Came with a nice little note thanking me for purchasing the book and it was also in great condition!Published 11 months ago by Erica Cansino
This is an intelligent, philosophical look at war and the violence we humans do to each other. I must confess that I have not read the book in it's entirety ... Read morePublished 11 months ago by Rookiecookie
so we are hardwired to resort to war for the many benefits it brings us,
atheists are just as fanatical as their religious opponents when discussing life,
when you ignore... Read more
Well written, rich, evocative description and well argued. Meanders a bit at times. Greater command of research literature could strengthen argument. Read morePublished 19 months ago by Amazon Customer