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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can empathy help solve our environmental and social problems?, 13 Feb 2014
I know it is absurdly early in the year to be choosing the top book of the year, but here goes. I recommend Empathy by Roman Krznaric for both the quality of the content and its importance.

Empathy, he tells us, is ‘the art of stepping imaginatively into the shoes of another person, understanding their feelings and perspectives, and using that understanding to guide your actions.’

Krznaric rejects the self-interested individualism that has been promoted for over 300 years by thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes, Adam Smith, Sigmund Freud and Richard Dawkins. Instead he draws on the latest understanding of psychology, evolutionary biology and neuroscience to demonstrate that we are naturally empathetic.

He argues that we need to ‘switch on our empathetic brains’ if many of the world’s ills are to be solved.

We need to overcome barriers such as prejudice, authority, distance and denial if we are to boost our empathy skills, he says.

He utilises some pretty impressive case studies to argue that it is possible; from Oskar Schindler to Beecher Stowe - author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin - to Gandhi and Mandela. All people who without doubt developed very strong empathetic skills.
Krznaric identifies numerous tools to deploy to increase empathy: babies in classrooms; joining a choir; considering the full potential lifecycle of the jumper you are wearing; chatting to strangers; and immersing yourself in the role of somebody else for a period as George Orwell did in Down and Out in Paris and London.

Reading books, looking at photographs and watching films can also help build empathy – and he provides a recommended list, and asks you to add to it.

The critical role increased empathy has played in social revolutions is highlighted. Krznaric highlights how wartime evacuees exposed provincial households to the appalling poverty in the cities via the state of its children. And how ‘empathy campaigns’ - often spearheaded by Quakers - took on slavery, prison reform, women’s rights and more.

The 21st century needs to see significant boosts in empathy, says Krznaric - empathy with the victims of flooding, including in far-away countries; empathy with future generations to spur action on cutting carbon pollution; and even developing a kind of empathy for the natural world.

Doing so will require policy changes, such as the teaching of empathy skills to children, as well as facilitating change by creating spaces, opportunities and challenges for adults to switch-on or develop their empathy skills.

I would agree with Krznaric that without increased empathy the chances of solving the challenges of the 21st century are going to be incredibly difficult, if not impossible. Roman Krznaric has done us all a great favour by writing Empathy. It is a well researched, thoroughly enjoyable and an important read.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Urgent, expansive, empowering and ethical, 13 Feb 2014
This is a kind of travel book for the soul, as well as an incitement to social revolution. It takes you inside the minds and hearts of other people - and that's the most daring and transformative place any of us can go. I read the book as preparation for teaching a course about radical social leadership, and the ideas here, backed up by first rate research, are urgent, expansive, empowering and ethical.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars seeing our current situation as an important historical moment, 13 Feb 2014
Roman Krznaric's style is light, often wry and humorous, and also extremely learned. It weaves together insights from many current thinkers on empathy (for example, Brene Brown, Frans de Waal) and their work, with a more historical analysis and a lot of ideas about how to develop personal commitment to social change. The last chapter, on creating new and positive directions in how we deal with climate change, is a brilliant call to action, but also, a genuine handbook to creating a more stimulating and engaged life, reaching out and understanding other people better, signposting the reader to new on-line communities, a "menu" of empathy questions to discuss with others. See empathylibrary.com for a taster of the book, and more ideas from Roman Krznaric.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Empathy - appealing but elusive, 14 Feb 2014
Roman Krznaric offers an appealing celebration of empathy as an alternative to the increasingly egocentric, insular, atomised human experience of modernity. We are wired for empathy. His moving personal and social vignettes showcase empathy as a more attractive fulfilling way to live together in human society. There’s lots of interesting and also much morally challenging material here on subjects like prejudice, obedience to authority, distance from others, and denial of reality. His strong thesis is that empathy has reduced cruelty and torture, and can reduce inequality, injustice, conflict, and even climate change.

He doesn’t however tackle the difficulties with his thesis. Claims of ‘mirror neurons’ are unconvincing. We may just as easily react to someone else’s good or bad treatment by imagining it directly on ourselves, rather than via ‘mirror neurons’ in each person’s brain. Empathy may be reverse engineered selfishness. People’s capacity for empathy is not as infinite as Krznaric suggests or requires. Many people can’t find empathy for their own family or their immediate neighbours, never mind for the total world population. He doesn’t explore the boundary between empathy, and behaviour which is intrusive or patronising. Do we want to ‘step into other people’s lives’, and do other people want their lives stepped into? His social engineering proposals for an empathy revolution are too manipulative.

Technology increasingly makes individualism possible as lifestyle. This is unlikely to change or reverse, and resistance looks futile. Empathy may be nice, but it’s not necessary. It therefore has to make a very strong case for itself. Self is a powerful force. As Krznaric points out, other orientation is a rare capability. His own web site is egocentric and doesn’t offer any scope for engagement, as is the case with most other contemporary philosophers. A forum would be more consistent with the theme of empathy than a blog. Krznaric has told me what he thinks, but, contrary to his thesis, he hasn’t offered any channel to find out what I think.

There is a wider philosophical problem. We are urged to transfer concern from our own self to other people’s self, but it is still self which benefits. Merely swapping self interest (I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine) is a zero sum game. Having discovered someone else has a different interest or opinion to mine doesn’t necessarily resolve the dilemma. The question as to why, and how far, we should be more involved with others, more concerned with others, cannot be determined, just as justice itself cannot be absolutely defined . It is as arbitrary as any other moral imperative in an atheist interpretation. This however doesn’t prevent us choosing, in a totally arbitrary way, to prefer an empathetic society. I happen to largely agree with Roman Krznaric, but I think the debate needs to be deeper and wider.
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5.0 out of 5 stars empathy explained and a modern perspective, 4 Oct 2014
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This review is from: Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution (Kindle Edition)
Great book, exactly what I needed when the most important friend suggested that in some scenario's I lacked empathy. Reading this book has revolutionised me, changed my perspective and made me a better person. I can now understand my challenges over the past 18 months through separation and for the right reasons understand things from all perspectives. This is the first book I've finished in many years a good value perspective read.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars HIGHLY RECOMMENDED - MUST READ, 20 Mar 2014
By 
BLUE FISH (UNITED KINGDOM) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution (Kindle Edition)
Just loved this book, it delves into how the brain works, whether women are more empathic than men in relation to responding to another persons feelings and emotions. There have been different kinds of research that have dissected the empathic brain to understand how it works. The book explores the concept of empathy, realising empathic potential and empathic journeys, you have to try this by switching onto your empathic brain.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A call to action, 21 Mar 2014
By 
Dr. Quentin Spender "Quentin Spender" (Oxford and Wolverhampton, UK) - See all my reviews
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Krznaric divides empathic skills into six categories and hopes that we will try to DO at least one of them. I have tried empathising with the manager who recently sacked me: I would rate my success as about 20%. This book is not just an interesting read with lots of examples and mellifluously written; it also challenges the reader to develop empathy skills. This may be harder than it sounds.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a really interesting argument for empathy as not just about feeling good., 14 Feb 2014
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Sarah Knott (Bloomington, U.S.) - See all my reviews
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I especially liked the later chapters which argue that empathy has been, and can be again, a force of social and political change. The book looks back to the rise of humanitarian institutions in the 18th century, for example, and forward to a future of climate change activism, where empathy with coming generations might spur action now.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book to set your mind on fire, 14 Mar 2014
I loved this book. I guess I was heartened that, in this world full cruel behavior, there's convincing evidence that we are hard wired to empathize, to put ourselves into the shoes of others. Yes, we are selfish but there is this other tendency that can be nurtured and enhanced. I've always believed this but it was more of a hope than a conviction. Roman Krznaric's book gives me the confidence to shout out for empathy as a way to respond to both personal relationships and the wider political sphere. Since reading the book, I haven't stopped making empathy inspired postings on social media. I've also written to Roman to suggest that the empathy revolution faces it's greatest challenge in the Middle East, that at the moment, in my opinion. empathy is bestowed there unequally and unfairly. If fully mobilized, the results could be miraculous.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read, 20 July 2014
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A great read and the second copy made a good gift for a young friend's 18th birthday
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