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Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are Paperback – 1 Aug 2006

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (Aug. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594481962
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594481963
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.1 x 20.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 709,728 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"Fascinating . . . This important and illuminating book should help our own species take [a] lesson in civility to heart."--The New York Times Book Review

"An enlightening look at ourselves"--The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"[An] excellent book . . . This is a rarity, a superb scientist producing an excellent book for non-specialists . . . De Waal covers [his topic] with great wisdom and subtlety . . . This should be required reading for the opinionated cousins (or better yet, world leaders) whose ancient encounters with Robert Ardrey or Konrad Lorenz have led them to believe what kind of ape we are."--Nature

"De Waal demonstrates why he is the current Alpha Male of American primatology. Decades of cutting-edge research on apes (and monkeys too) lend vibrancy to his words, and authority to his conclusions"--BookSlut.com

"De Waal offers vivid, often delightful stories of politics, sex, violence and kindness in the ape communities he has studied . . . Readers might be surprised at how much these apes and their stories resonate with their own lives, and may well be left with an urge to spend a few hours watching primates themselves at the local zoo."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Fascinating and enlightening: It's hard not to conclude that, in many ways, apes may be wiser than their upright relatives."--Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"For more than a quarter-century Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal has been unlocking the uncanny parallels between [chimp] behavior and our own . . . Our Inner Ape is filled with fascinating examples of how human behavior can be explained by our ape ancestors."--Outside Magazine

"An informative and engaging work."--Library Journal

"De Waal is perhaps the most literate, entertaining, and soulful of the cognitive ethologists."--Los Angeles Times

"De Waal is an original thinker and writes with such a light hand that the reader can take a stimulating ride through his imaginative philosophical discourse."--Boston Globe

"A new book on the human species by de Waal, one of the world's great experts on primate behavior, is an eagerly awaited publishing event. By turning his binoculars on the human species, he provides us with a revealing picture of the inner ape--what lies inside each and every one of us."--Desmond Morris, author of The Naked Ape

"Frans de Waal is uniquely placed to write a book on the duality of human nature and on its biological origins in the other primate species. No other book has attempted to cover this ground. Few topics are as timely to the understanding of the human mind and behavior."--Antonio R. Damasio, author of Descartes' Error

"One of the important disciplines that is generating new knowledge about human nature is primatology. Frans de Waal is the best-qualified scientist not just to describe the results of this research, but to draw out a balanced understanding of what it implies about contemporary politics and social policy."--Francis Fukuyama, author of The End of History and the Last Man

Fascinating . . . This important and illuminating book should help our own species take [a] lesson in civility to heart. The New York Times Book Review

An enlightening look at ourselves The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"[An] excellent book . . . This is a rarity, a superb scientist producing an excellent book for non-specialists . . . De Waal covers [his topic] with great wisdom and subtlety . . . This should be required reading for the opinionated cousins (or better yet, world leaders) whose ancient encounters with Robert Ardrey or Konrad Lorenz have led them to believe what kind of ape we are." Nature

De Waal demonstrates why he is the current Alpha Male of American primatology. Decades of cutting-edge research on apes (and monkeys too) lend vibrancy to his words, and authority to his conclusions BookSlut.com

"De Waal offers vivid, often delightful stories of politics, sex, violence and kindness in the ape communities he has studied . . . Readers might be surprised at how much these apes and their stories resonate with their own lives, and may well be left with an urge to spend a few hours watching primates themselves at the local zoo." Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Fascinating and enlightening: It's hard not to conclude that, in many ways, apes may be wiser than their upright relatives." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"For more than a quarter-century Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal has been unlocking the uncanny parallels between [chimp] behavior and our own . . . Our Inner Ape is filled with fascinating examples of how human behavior can be explained by our ape ancestors." Outside Magazine

"An informative and engaging work." Library Journal

"De Waal is perhaps the most literate, entertaining, and soulful of the cognitive ethologists." Los Angeles Times

"De Waal is an original thinker and writes with such a light hand that the reader can take a stimulating ride through his imaginative philosophical discourse." Boston Globe

"A new book on the human species by de Waal, one of the world's great experts on primate behavior, is an eagerly awaited publishing event. By turning his binoculars on the human species, he provides us with a revealing picture of the inner ape what lies inside each and every one of us." Desmond Morris, author of The Naked Ape

"Frans de Waal is uniquely placed to write a book on the duality of human nature and on its biological origins in the other primate species. No other book has attempted to cover this ground. Few topics are as timely to the understanding of the human mind and behavior." Antonio R. Damasio, author of Descartes' Error

"One of the important disciplines that is generating new knowledge about human nature is primatology. Frans de Waal is the best-qualified scientist not just to describe the results of this research, but to draw out a balanced understanding of what it implies about contemporary politics and social policy." Francis Fukuyama, author of The End of History and the Last Man"

About the Author

Frans de Waal has been named one of Time magazine s 100 Most Influential People. The author of Our Inner Ape, among many other works, he is the C. H. Candler Professor in Emory University s Psychology Department and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Frans de Waal has been named one of Time magazine s 100 Most Influential People. The author of Our Inner Ape, among many other works, he is the C. H. Candler Professor in Emory University s Psychology Department and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.


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Format: Hardcover
Primatology, the study of our ape cousins, must at once be the most rewarding and thankless jobs in science. On the one hand, these investigations can tell us more about ourselves than any philosophy or psychology curriculum can hope to impart. We learn of their friendships, conflicts, desires, social manipulations and group politics. The resemblances to humans make compelling reading. On the other hand, the long history of our culture has conditioned us to avoid recognising our evolutionary roots. There are "the animals" and there is "us".
With thirty years' experience in the Netherlands and the United States, de Waal wants us to understand how human values derive from primate origins. His careful studies have revealed things unexpected even to himself. His chief aim with this synopsis is to dispense with the many myths that have emerged over the past few years - chimpanzees as "murderers" or "war-makers"; bonobos as over-sexed and gender indifferent, both as "simply wild animals living at the command of "instinct". Diversity and individuality are a major facet of ape societies which, in de Waal's assessment, not only makes them worthy of study, but worthy of sound comparison with our own species.
At first glance, de Waal's condensation of ape behaviour into four topical chapters seems over-distillation. The material in those chapters, however, shows the complexity of primate personalities. Chimpanzee society is male-dominated, with young males taking every opportunity to displace the "alpha" group leader. They live in a strongly hierarchical society where the males hunt and dispense meat for sexual and other favours. Female chimpanzees form few alliances, although brief excursions with males other than the alpha occur.
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Format: Hardcover
Primate behaviour books have a habit of plunging into mawkish sentimentality, or avoiding this by being so dry that they could be used to mop up spills. This one is a glorious exception. Written by a US-naturalised Dutch primate expert, his descriptive, emotional, carefully-measured, pithy and resonant writing perfectly walks the tightrope between observation and interpretation, and using this to explain aspects of human behaviour that we never even thought about before. He includes a lot of important information about chimpanzee and bonobo society, which is enthusiastic without being effusive, measured without being dull, and includes amusing and illuminating examples from humans, all their primate relatives, and beyond. Even his cat, Diego, gets a lookin. His further-reaching comments contextualise us neatly in the animal kingdom, while highlighting how our unique capacities might be turned towards improving the world in which we live. I have tried to fault it, but I can't. Read this book.
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Format: Hardcover
The brilliance of this book lies chiefly in its ability to effortlessly convey complex sociological theories to a wide audience. Writing in a form that allows 'ordinary' people to appreciate and understand our fascinating relationships with our closest relatives without sacrificing any of its potency in the translation.

Our Inner Ape is basically a study of the development of human characteristics through the course of evolution, focusing mainly on mental aspects such as morality and empathy. Using behavioural experiments and extensive observations of both wild and captive apes (particularly chimps and bonobos) De Waal demonstrates how little we are removed from our primate cousins and theorises what factors might have steered the evolution of human mentality towards what it is today.

My favourite thing about this book is the inclusion of many anecdotes that the author has amassed over his decades of research. Some of these are truly overwhelming. Whether horrific, amusing, or emotional these stories really bring home not only the intelligence, but also the individuality of these animals as well as giving an insight into the social worlds of ape colonies.

The book could be much improved with more numerous and better quality pictures. There is a small group of old photos in the middle but these are all in black and white and are either facial close-ups or taken in a laboratory. Colour photographs with better captions and showing some of the behaviour discussed in the book would be a great improvement.

Although this is a relatively easy book to read and understand you need to pay attention to grasp many of the concepts. It moves at a fast pace and there is a lot to take in, but put the effort in and you will be glad you did.
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Format: Hardcover
"Our Inner Ape" is a popular science book by leading primatologist Frans de Waal. It attempts to uncover human nature by taking a closer look at chimpanzees and bonobos, our closest living relatives. The book contains chapters on power, sex, violence and kindness.

De Waal's book is interesting and well worth reading. Sometimes, it's even entertaining. The author often mentions his own encounters with apes...and with humans who were perhaps acting out their inner ape just a little bit too much!

Many popularized books on human evolution portray us as "killer apes". They emphasize our violent, manipulative and hierarchical streaks. Naturally, they then connect this behaviour to that of apes and monkeys, usually the chimpanzee. Indeed, chimpanzees can be extremely violent. In the wild, they have been observed to attack, kill and even eat members of their own species. The conclusion: we are descended from murderous, aggressive beasts and cannot be counted on to ever mend our ways. Some literature of this type is anti-feminist and regards male dominance over females as a good thing.

De Waal doesn't deny the darker sides of humans, but his book is nevertheless unusual in its emphasis on the positive traits of our nature. He points out that these, too, have parallels among the apes.

Chimpanzees may be fiercely hierarchic, but their hierarchies are nevertheless unstable. Coalitions of subordinates can overthrow the alpha male if he gets to overbearing. Is this the origin of our democracy? And while chimpanzees can be aggressive, they have also evolved methods of peace-keeping and reconciliation. De Waal describes how one old female played the role of arbiter in disputes among dominant males in a flock at the Arnhem zoo in the Netherlands.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9c4bf2e8) out of 5 stars 65 reviews
68 of 72 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c4d10a8) out of 5 stars How special are you? 16 Nov. 2005
By Stephen A. Haines - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Primatology, the study of our ape cousins, must at once be the most rewarding and thankless jobs in science. On the one hand, these investigations can tell us more about ourselves than any philosophy or psychology curriculum can hope to impart. We learn of their friendships, conflicts, desires, social manipulations and group politics. The resemblances to humans make compelling reading. On the other hand, the long history of our culture has conditioned us to avoid recognising our evolutionary roots. There are "the animals" and there is "us".

With thirty years' experience in the Netherlands and the United States, de Waal wants us to understand how human values derive from primate origins. His careful studies have revealed things unexpected even to himself. His chief aim with this synopsis is to dispense with the many myths that have emerged over the past few years - chimpanzees as "murderers" or "war-makers"; bonobos as over-sexed and gender indifferent, both as "simply wild animals living at the command of "instinct". Diversity and individuality are a major facet of ape societies which, in de Waal's assessment, not only makes them worthy of study, but worthy of sound comparison with our own species.

At first glance, de Waal's condensation of ape behaviour into four topical chapters seems over-distillation. The material in those chapters, however, shows the complexity of primate personalities. Chimpanzee society is male-dominated, with young males taking every opportunity to displace the "alpha" group leader. They live in a strongly hierarchical society where the males hunt and dispense meat for sexual and other favours. Female chimpanzees form few alliances, although brief excursions with males other than the alpha occur. The other "chimpanzee", as de Waal points out, couldn't be more different. The bonobo, once known as the "pygmy chimp", has a more egalitarian society. In fact, the most dominant individual is usually an older female. When fights occur, they are generally brief and inconsequential. The "alpha" female is more likely to die of old age than be toppled by a younger competitor. The leading bonobo is respected for her conciliation and diplomatic skills. Power, then, is a feature of primate society, but how power is exhibited and maintained varies greatly.

"Sex" and "Violence" form the next two topics. Among the apes, including humans, there are several trade-offs involved in producing and raising offspring. Male-dominated chimpanzee groups can establish parentage with relative ease. "Extra-Pair Matings" [EPM] are discouraged and the alpha male is fairly secure in the babies being his. One of the more distressing discoveries about chimpanzees was the revelation that an usurping alpha would kill all his predecessor's offspring. Bonobos would find such behaviour abhorrent [as do we]. In bonobo society, everybody has sex with everybody else - gender is irrelevant. Consequently, since any baby might belong to any male, infanticide is unknown. It's not unknown among humans. The rate of violence against stepchildren, says de Waal, is a matter of some concern. The rate of human EPM is even higher, with studies indicating as many as one-fifth of newborns fathered by unacknowledged men. Yet, alone among primates, we form the "nuclear family" group.

There's another side to all ape behaviour, says de Waal. That's "Kindness". Science turns over both its own and society's often cherished beliefs. One of those beliefs is that only humans "care". Opening the book with the now-famous case of the gorilla that rescued a small child from a zoo moat, de Waal goes on to explain how apes are kind to each other, and even other species. We like to believe that kindness is something we invented with culture, but de Waal suggests there are roots for it reaching back at least 6 million years when the chimp-human lineage split. "The apes can tell us much about ourselves", he contends. There's no better place to seek that information than among them. While fights among chimpanzees are common and often intense, so is the reconciliation that follows. Chimpanzees, bonobos and humans are form societies. Each has methods to keep those societies functioning. Empathy and mutual kindness are as much a part of ape "culture" as in human communities. De Waal urges that we open our eyes to the examples offered by our ape cousins for hints about solving some of our own problems. The biggest step we must take in that process is the recognition that our habits derive from theirs.

That derivation is de Waal's conclusion to this excellent work. Much has been made of the fact that humans and chimpanzees share over 98% of our DNA. The author passes over the numbers in favour of the behavioural evidence. We and the other apes share the experience of "community" and how to live with others. In aspects of sex and violence, we share habits and diverge - but not far - in others. It's false, he says, to argue that humans are "naturally" violent or loving. We aren't the manifestation of "selfish" genes alone, but adapt fluidly to changing conditions. Like the other apes, we negotiate, maneuver and manipulate, sometimes successfully. Our greatest difference is in the way we occupy and use territory. We evolved in an open environment, but we live enclosed in urban centres. That is a contradiction we must learn to deal with. We are, in his words, "The Bipolar Ape". [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
48 of 51 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c4d11f8) out of 5 stars It's okay... 21 May 2006
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In our explanations of human behavior, there is sometimes a tendency to attribute the brutish and nasty examples to our animal nature, but to claim acts of kindness, altruism and compassion as distinctly human proclivities. This view goes hand in hand with what De Waal calls the veneer theory of civilization -- the idea that morality is a recent acquisition (perhaps aided by religious texts) and that lurking beneath this thin veil of decency is a cauldron of seething, antisocial impulses. Anyone who endorses this Hobbesian view of human nature would do well to consult this book.

In "Our Inner Ape", Frans De Waal seeks to ground both our darkest and most sublime tendencies in a continuous, evolutionary history. He chooses two of our closest primate relatives to prove his point -- the chimpanzee and the bonobo. De Waal assumes absolutely no background knowledge on the part of the reader (in fact, he takes some time to spell out the difference between a monkey and an ape). Sandwiched in between an opening and a concluding chapter, the meat of this book concentrates on the topics of `Power', `Sex', `Violence' and `Kindness'. De Waal's accounts of the highly intricate social networks formed by the ape species and their complex forms of interaction within those networks are extremely interesting.

However, what some might view as the strong point of the book, to me seems like precisely its weakness. I am referring to the book's purely anecdotal tone. Having read it, one comes away less with factual information on the social life of the higher primates than with a somewhat random series of stories. Though these stories are intriguing, there are so many of them that it makes one wonder how much of what has been read will be retained. The book is not so much a concentrated study as it is scattered story-telling.

Also troubling was De Waal's misdirected swipe at Dawkins' "Selfish Gene". Dawkins did go to some extent to distinguish the difference between individual selfishness and what he meant by the phrase `selfish gene'. He also went to some lengths to point out how the term `selfish gene' was not to be understood literally but purely as a metaphor. To believe that Dawkins was out advocating heartless individualism is a gross misreading of his work; it also ignores the fact that Dawkins explicitly stated that his work should under no circumstance be read as a guidebook for how to organize our society. De Waal's reading of Dawkins here is uncharitable and it attacks a straw man version of his argument. There is actually far less dissonance between Dawkins' `selfish gene' and what De Waal proposes in "Our Inner Ape", for De Waal also assumes that morality emerges from a process of natural selection and that it grows out of kin selection and reciprocal altruism (effective strategies for gene propagation).

In some ways this work by De Waal seems like an updating of the outdated "Naked Ape" by Desmond Morris. It is similarly geared specifically toward the general audience who will reap the most satisfaction from this book. It does not seem to offer much that is new to the reader who is even minimally acquainted with primate studies.
53 of 62 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c4d1534) out of 5 stars Entertaining and thoughtful, but with the ocassional lapse 10 Oct. 2005
By J. A Magill - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Proving that all social science remains cyclical, Frans De Waal offers readers a new trip around in the never ending debate of the biological roots of human culture and behavior. For decades, as any student who sat in on an intro anthropology class will tell you, the reigning comparison stood between Homo sapiens and chimpanzees. Thus these aggressive, territorial, and -- to anthropomorphize a bit -- brutal primates, with their hierarchical and male dominated social structure stood as the explanation for all of humankind's worst impulses. Such analysis fit well into the several millennium old dichotomy between our "animal" (evil) and "human" (good) impulses.

Through his fascinating and often amusing analysis of the bonobo, another primate with whom, like chimps, humans share 98.5% of genetics'. Where the chimp is brutal the bonobo is peaceful. Where chimps are territorial and hierarchical, the bonobos share and maintain a female dominate structure. Where chimps jealously guard sexual privileges, bonobos mate, well like animals, sharing partners in all conceivable combinations (De Waal pays this great attention, suggesting that such "loose" sexual relationships prevent aggression).

De Waal writes well, and offers an interesting thesis that in fact both sides of human nature may well come from our animal roots. He even presents interesting evidence for empathy among bonobs and more startling still, the elusive notion of consciousness, that an individual can project themselves into an alien form, such as bonobos caring for birds. All of this makes for a fun and thought provoking read.

De Waal falls short, however, in not going deep enough. While he demonstrates evidence for the emotional hardiness of chimps vs. the far more delicate bonobo (during a bombing in WWII all a zoo's bonobos suffered heart attacks, while the chimps survived), but does not go far enough in examining the potential genetic basis of such behavior. Also, while he does offer in bonobos interesting evidence of alternative survival strategies to aggression, he unfortunately empathizes a bit too much with these gentle creatures. The resulting anthropomorphize, while forgivable, distracts the readers and leads De Waal to make some arguments that seem a bit forced and ignore viable alternatives.

Such criticism, however, should not cause any to shy away from this quite enjoyable and thought provoking work.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c4d1060) out of 5 stars Literate and thought provoking 10 Oct. 2005
By Fred Bortz "Dr. Fred" - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Even staunch supporters of Darwinian Evolution acknowledge the reason that many people find that theory hard to accept. We humans see ourselves as rational beings with manners and ethics, while apes are fundamentally different creatures that behave like -- well -- animals.

Emory University Primatologist Frans de Waal would not agree. If we really want to understand what makes us human, de Waal argues in Our Inner Ape, we should not focus on our differences with apes, but rather examine the "fascinating and frightening parallels between primate behavior and our own, with equal regard for the good, the bad, and the ugly."

That is precisely what he does in the book, with a wealth of stories and an entertaining style that does not sacrifice scientific depth or objectivity. He focuses on chimpanzees and bonobos because they are closest to humans, sharing a common ancestor as recently as 5.5 million years ago.

A 1000-word review of Our Inner Ape, including an opening limerick, is available at my Science Shelf online book review archive.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c4d19f0) out of 5 stars A little heavy on the ape stories, but a delightful book 20 Oct. 2006
By Edward Durney - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Ouch. Some reviewers clearly did not like Our Inner Ape. But I did. It's delightful.

Frans De Waal writes thoughtfully, using many, many (perhaps a few too many) stories from his long experience watching chimps and bonobos as a springboard into his analysis of human society. Unlike most who write about fields that they love -- and De Waal clearly loves his study of primates (ape and human) -- De Waal does not force his conclusions. Instead, he leads the reader along, and acknowledges that many of his ideas could well be a little off base.

For me, the chapter on sex provoked the most thought. If any of us could be impartial observers of sex and human society, it would probably seem hilarious. (Lord Chesterfield's comment that "the expense is exorbitant, the pleasure transitory, and the position ridiculous" seems a pretty accurate statement of how we should view sex. But of course we don't.) De Waal's description of the hedonism of bonobo society, contrasted with the chimp's approach to sex, gives some interesting clues as to why we human males and females act the strange way that we do.

Whether you like Our Inner Ape depends on what you expect. I came across the book in the library, picked it up, started reading, and was captivated. It took me little time to decide I was buying a copy for myself. But if you are looking for something scientific, with extensive footnotes, De Waal's somewhat rambling and anecdotal approach will probably leave you unsatisfied. And some of the things De Waal states as fact should be taken with a grain of salt. This is not a rigorous book of scholarship.

All in all, though, I would ask myself this: Do I want to read a book that will keep my interest and get me thinking? Our Inner Ape will do that. Give it a read.
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