- Paperback: 864 pages
- Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (June 14, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 031620823X
- ISBN-13: 978-0316208239
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.5 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 55 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #103,630 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World Paperback – June 14, 2016
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About the Author
Born in France, Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist monk who left a career in cellular genetics to study Buddhism in the Himalayas over forty-five years ago. He is an internationally bestselling author whose previous books have been translated into more than twenty languages. Ricard is celebrated at the World Economic Forum at Davos and at TED, where more than seven million people have viewed his talks. He lives in Nepal and devotes much of his time to humanitarian projects in Tibet, India, and Nepal.
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From the first page, Ricard introduces the reader to the various forms of altruism and portrays “true love” as a supreme form of compassion. He recognizes that individualism, greediness, egocentrism, and narcissism are human forces that oppose altruism, and brings up the famous Groucho Marx quip, “why should I care about future generations? What have they ever done for me?” Nevertheless, through the entire book, he conveys an astonishing and varied amount of information, ranging from historical analyses, comparative biology, the role of the hormone oxytocin, the functioning of “mirror neurons,” and the effects of vagal tone on the parasympathetic nervous system, to explain that humans are social animals that have a natural tendency to cooperate; such a view is opposite to the well-known concept that humans are by nature competitive, selfish and behave like wolves. The book gives a particular emphasis to two central themes, the demonstration that altruism exists, and how to cultivate it.
The book arrives at a most propitious moment when the United Nations is holding negotiations to adopt a new strategy for the next 15 years, called “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs). It is also the time when many religious groups are intensifying their teachings about tolerance and cooperation to deal with the modern world, and particularly the affirmation that we have the moral obligation to act, as stated in the recent papal encyclical about climate change. Ricard expands the notion of altruism to deal with its social dimension and devotes many pages to explain the concepts of interdependence and interconnectedness, which are at the core of the yoga tradition. Based on solid scientific research, he brings the well-known concept of “planetary boundaries” to explain the magnitude of the current planetary challenges. The fifth part of the book is devoted to discuss the basis of a future altruistic society.
Altruism is a dense encyclopaedic and documented work that demands deep study and reflection. It has 1,769 references, printed in the last 131 pages as end-notes. It will remain for many years a major reference on the subject. We hope that in a new edition the publishers will include an alphabetical index of authors and subjects as this scholarly work will be an indispensable source of information. His major concluding remarks are a clear message: “We must dare to embrace altruism. Dare to say that real altruism exists, that it can be cultivated … and that the evolution of cultures can favour its expansion. Dare to teach it in schools. .. Dare to proclaim that altruism is not a luxury, but a necessity.”
Positive words... Altruism takes its subject, altruism, and expands on its meaning and application in a wide variety of fields, -ologies and isms, including human and animal evolution, cultural evolution, biological science, behavioral science, psychology, sociology, economy, politics and earth science. It posits a human predisposition towards altruism, and describes the personal and organizational forces of selfishness, greed and aggression that stand against it. Despite its length and ranginess, the book's narrative energy survives to the end by virtue of intellectual mastery, passion and logical, linear organization. It is consistent and relentless in returning to, focusing upon and expanding its subject.
Since the book is long and people don't have much time these days, I thought the pertinent review question is whether or not it is worth the time and energy to read it. The short answer is it depends on what the reader is looking for. I break this down like this...
In addition to being a doctor of biological science, a prolific author, translator, photographer and founder of multiple humanitarian enterprises, Altruism's author, Matthieu Ricard is a longtime, fully-ordained Buddhist monk and one of the world's most famous western practitioners of the Buddhist faith. His many talents, in my view, emerge neither randomly nor pro se, but as dynamic manifestations of his own altruistic intent.
That said, one might expect that Altruism would be a primer of how to cultivate altruistic intent, especially using the traditional tools of faith, meditation and practice found in Buddhism. But it is not. Despite the author's expertise and immersion, explicit references to Buddhist practice and the subjects in the book are few and far between. Even less is it claimed that one must be a Buddhist, or that only Buddhists can rightly practice altruism. Instead, this book adheres to its central thesis, that the inclination towards altruism is original, immanent and pervasive throughout the human species. Based on that view, Ricard goes on to locate altruistic trends, threads, terminologies and methods throughout the vast array of -ologies, -isms and case studies (backed by 100 pages of notes, 13 pages of bibliography) referred to in this book. By this he accomplishes his task. I can see however that this method, and the relentless approach here undertaken, could easily fatigue, annoy or disappoint readers hoping simply for a "Buddhist book." Fortunately, these days there are many excellent books on Buddhist philosophy that can be read instead.
Next, for those of scholarly or academic interests, those looking for a contemporary, exhaustively researched almost encyclopedic treatment of the subject of altruism itself, as well as the many adjunctive synonyms of that word such as, cooperation, sympathy, empathy, aid, care, kindness, compassion and the like, locating these words within the various realms of scientific, academic, economic and political discourse noted above, then this book will be timely and rewarding, and reading it will be time well spent.
Finally, for those who are, either as a result of kind logic or spiritual practice, ready and prepared, primed for altruism, already turned on the path to embody those positive words mentioned above, THIS BOOK IS A REAL TREASURE. Why? Although such people may be fully motivated towards altruism, it is less likely that they are well-informed on the current modes of its expressions in this world, as well as the forces opposed.
For such people, looking for a way to enter the fray, this book provides a contemporary roadmap of history, terminologies and science towards the great subject that it brings, connecting the dots between diverse springs of altruism and their harshest areas of deficit, identifying the two by their many guises, names and places in the language of the modern world. Though it is too much to ask that any one book be exhaustive in this regard, this is nevertheless a manageable attempt which presents an informed and convincing picture of that goal. Reading Altruism is a grand starting point for people like these.