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Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence Paperback – 14 Aug 1997

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Product details

  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (14 Aug. 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747533016
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747533016
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 379,956 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

If you harbour a sneaking suspicion that men are a herd of ignoble savages, then this book is for you. Authors Wrangham and Peterson will confirm your instincts. It turns out that extremely violent social behaviour is deeply rooted in male human genes and common among our closest male primate relatives. Rapes, beatings and killings are as much a part of life among the great apes as they are among us. The authors try to conclude on some upbeat notes that ring hollow, but their science reveals much about the dark side of human nature.

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 24 Nov. 1998
Format: Hardcover
This book seeks to explain the origins of human violence in terms of retained behaviour for our ape ancestors. From the introduction where the authors discus the genocide in Rwanda whilst en-route to study bonobo's to the phenomenon of rape in ornag-utans, infanticide in gorillas and cannibalsim in chimps we can see our cultural heritage clearly mapped out for us. Well written with a good balance between the formal scientific discussion and a more informal approach. Actaully quite a depressing book
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Simon Loveday on 29 Mar. 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As someone with a life-long interest in the way humans and animals behave, I thought that 'Catching Fire' - Wrangham's recent book on the origins of cooking and its importance in human evolution - would be hard to beat. I was wrong. This (earlier) book is even better. It's easy to read; exciting; thoroughly researched; carefully and patiently argued; and truly important as a guide to the way real humans behave.

Wrangham asks the question, 'are humans violent? And if so, where does this come from?'. He draws on two areas of research to answer this: first, the study of primates (gibbons, chimpanzees, orangs, and gorillas); and second, the extensive anthropological literature arguing that violence is rare or unknown in pre-literate or 'primitive' societies (the South Seas, the Bushmen, and certain South American tribes).

Wrangham has many years of experience (and wide reading) as an observer of apes in the wild, and what he writes about the apes is absolutely fascinating. (Did you know that in one of the four, rape is more common than consensual sex?) And his book is ground-breaking when it comes to the different way that the two chimpanzee sub-species (chimps and bonobos) behave. In one sub-species, males are routinely violent towards females, every adult male has higher status than any female, and raiding gangs will attack and kill members of other groups. In the other, females have equal status to males, violence between males and females is almost unknown, and groups manage their boundaries peacefully, with female-female sexual relationships being the means of peacemaking. How and why does this happen? Wrangham's explanations are highly convincing.

But his study of violence in pre-literate human groups is just as interesting and even more ground-breaking.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By gille liath on 18 Aug. 2013
Format: Paperback
It may be slightly ridiculous literally to demonise half of the human race; but look beyond the hysterical title, and the thesis of this book should spring no surprises: aggression in humans is characteristic mainly of males; it is an evolved trait; and it will be hard to eradicate because it succeeds (at least in its own narrow terms) and because a lot of women actually quite like it (or at least the idea of it).

So far, so obvious. But along the way, the book throws up innumerable interesting points for discussion in anthropology and ape-thropology. It should be read by anyone who thinks intra-species violence is an exclusively human trait; anyone who thinks the great apes are cuddly peaceniks; and anyone who thinks there is no war in primitive tribal cultures.

Above all it demonstrates, clearly though unconsciously, that evolution cannot explain everything - either about ape or human behaviour. For example, free-loving bonobos are held up as the example the human race should try to follow. But, though there is a plausible explanation of the lower social tension in bonobo troops, the crucial final link in the argument is missing: why does this translate into greater female power? Why do female bonobos, unlike other female primates, band together to suppress male violence? It appears that they just do (where humans have at most toyed with the idea of the New Man, bonobos have really taken it to heart). If the authors notice the yawning gap in their own argument, they are careful not to draw attention to it.

Eventually they get caught awkwardly between two inconsistent principles of political correctness.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 27 Nov. 2000
Format: Paperback
Provides a unique perspective on a subject that is too close to home for either comfort or objectivity. Leaves you with more questions than answers. Will be passing out copies of this book to friends for years to come.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 13 Mar. 2000
Format: Paperback
An incredible book based on solid research, the results of which were as much a shock to the authors as they will be to the reader. It would appear we have more in common with the apes than perhaps we would like to admit. Could the social restraints of our present society be the shackles for an outrageous demon?
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