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on 20 November 2009
Frans de Waal has produced another excellent book with `The Age of Empathy.' He thus continues to produce breakthrough insights that began with his classic book, Chimpanzee Politics. In this book he examines the phenomenon of empathy from an evolutionary perspective. He does so by drawing upon a wealth of data from biological observations and experiments that includes primates of course but numerous other species as well. The evidence and the story that he develops are both interesting and revealing. And the story builds a strong case to support the thesis that even `advanced' emotional and mental processes such as empathy are not unique to humans, but have observable antecedents among numerous other species within the animal kingdom. His thesis follows and enriches the tradition begun by biologist Donald Griffin in his book, Animal Thinking. His thesis also ties in comfortably with the arguments presented by Daniel Dennett in his book, Freedom Evolves.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the description of similarities between the behaviour of children and primates. Experiments with monkeys and chimpanzees display amazingly parallel behavioural tendencies with that of human infants. The dominant theme is a shared aversion to perceived injustice. This finding is consistent with the field of evolutionary psychology of course. But reading de Waal's book is both exciting and instructive of how very deep some of our emotional roots lie within evolutionary history.

The author draws a number of political conclusions from the evidence he presents. His conclusions are consistent with a humanist philosophy. While I personally am able to relate to the conclusions, I have to admit that the ideas are only partially developed. But the book offers a clear challenge nonetheless. Conservative ideologies are almost certainly based upon assumptions regarding human behaviour that biological science is showing to be false. The onus is placed upon serious practitioners in political philosophy to develop new theories of socio-political organization that are based upon sound biological science. As it happens this is my argument as well in The Bridge.

David Hillstrom
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on 24 February 2010
Another tour de force for Frans De Waal. Whereas his previous book, "Our Inner Ape", focused on the duplicity of human nature by positioning the human species in between the violence and power-plays of the chimpanzees on the one hand and the good-naturedness and sexuality of the bonobos on the other, this book is all about what makes us, and our closest animal relatives, "good". It contains the latest results of empirical studies, mainly on captive animals, and observational studies on captive and wild animals - primates, but also monkeys, dolphins, whales and elephants. It doesn't eschew the occasional annecdote, which will anger some people, but didn't bother me. A truly fascinating read! For greatest impact, best read in conjunction with his other book Our Inner Ape: The Best and Worst of Human Nature and with Mark Bekkof'sWild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals and The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy and Why They Matter
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on 29 September 2013
De Waal casually spins tales of the animals he's watched. Either by design or happenstance, large numbers of social incidents appear where the animals choose what to do. What if one monkey gets food, and the others get none? What if one falls in the water? What do they do when a fellow animal dies, or if a bird hits the glass and gets stunned? The evidence of empathy, jealousy, or social conformity is plain to see, despite it being technically unscientific to mention it. While discussing these things, the author deals with accusations that he is biased in favor of fairness and empathy. He doesn't shy from comparing animal behavior to that of our business leaders and politicians. Many good questions are discussed. Do religions in which humanity seems above and apart from nature stem from environments where there are no forest apes for comparison? Is empathy a weakness to be overcome, or what? Basically, De Waal traces the evolution of empathy as a force for survival, with unfolding levels of emotional intelligence.
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on 26 October 2010
This book confirms what many of us feel we know. that many animals are not dumb beasts in any sense of the word.
A highly readable,informative, enlightening and intelligent book which looks in detail at animal behaviours over many years, considers much relevant research, and makes us consider again, that we are not the only species which experiences empathy. Also. anyone reading this cannot continue to believe that animal welfare, whether in zoos , theme parks or our intensive or non organic farms, is not paramount, as all living creatures to some degree have awarenesses of other animals hitherto unesplained. Essential reading for these times , where a little more empathy for our fellows would not be a bad thing.Finally, we have to oomprehend that we have inherited our capacity for empathy as part of our evolution, as empathy pays, in the survival game.
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on 8 March 2010
In this informative, funny and scientific book de Waal "enlightens" us how empathy has evolved in the animal kingdom - including us. With very saying examples the reader becomes more aware of how we are linked with other animals. I loved it.
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on 17 October 2015
Everything was OK.
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on 6 March 2015
first class
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on 1 August 2010
From all points of the compass, as Thoreau once said, I found this book to be insightful. However, I was amazed that the author did not include in the gentle spirit of animals the humble and kind Donkey. Just how much these lovely equines permeate our spirit is incredible once you are aware and have studied them. In human history, theology, religion, literature, art they are there! And, from personal experience, they are the kindest beings I have ever met. So I believe too, mankind is on a path to empathy with our animal friends, but for me in particular, the Donkey leads the way. And, like Balaam's Donkey in the Old Testament, we too, will have a "reveal"ation and be lead by the example of the humble Donkey to the life of the spirit and the way of the heart. A website the author may look into is The Donkey Sanctuary in Devon, UK. And Some books the author may consider reading: "The Wisdom of Donkeys" by Andy Merrifield, any and all books by Dr. Elizabeth Svendsen, founder of The Donkey Sanctuary, and my newly published book "Opening Doors: An equilog of poetry about Donkeys", now globally available on Amazon! Thank you and high regard to the author. - Jenny B.
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