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on 5 October 2015
Simply stunning. What could be a thoroughly pessimistic tome which suggests that humans are merely animals that think too much of themselves is actually rather freeing. John Gray dissects philosophy, religion and humanism and shows that all of these are distractions from a simple truth: 'There is no redemption from being human. But no redemption is needed.'
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on 11 July 2014
Utterly thought provoking. I suggest Gray's tenets here should be read in conjunction with the viewing of three films which seem to strongly reflect the revised way of thinking/seeing the world he suggests we should adopt: Le Quattro Volte, Uzak, Sleep Furiously. In these films, as in The Silence of Animals, what is promoted is nothing less than 'the reinvention of perception'.
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on 5 July 2015
The 21st century in the West - probably the Wettest Place and Time ever. All sensibility and no sense. One of the very few ways to get even halfway dry is to read John Gray. Including this one.
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on 4 March 2017
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on 26 August 2016
John Gray is an excellent writer, erudite, a skilled wordsmith and very well read. Yet his books are, for me, spoiled by a deep misanthropy and cynicism about our species. To Gray we are braggarts ‘bigging ourselves up’ whilst shamelessly exploiting other humans and animals. We kid ourselves about being secular ‘humanists’ and unbiased by dogma, whilst our very thoughts and language are suffused with mythic and Socratic self deceptions.

The book starts with a withering reminder of human folly, cruelty and beastliness. In the Silence of Animals, as with his earlier ‘Straw Dogs’ we must deal with the most brutalising elements taken from both real history and creative writing. Sometimes these are merged, as if Winston Smith (Orwell’s broken hero from 1984) was as real as the brute facts of Auschwitz or the Gulag. This is a perilous technique to employ in a serious study but a powerful one, nonetheless.
What do we learn from Orwell’s novel? That Smith’s interrogators wished not merely to torture him into telling the truth but insisted that he should also willingly accept their perverse world view as ‘true’.
We then discuss the forces which might make us turn to cannibalism by studying the characteristics of Russian prisoners who survived Nazi prison camps. Next, Norman Lewis’s memoir of the amorality of post liberation Naples in 1943 is used to illustrate the shedding of any veneer of morality. We witness a zone of desperate need which led brothers to pimp-out their sisters in exchange for basic essentials. Humans do not ‘progress’ in Gray’s world, they merely lurch from feast to famine. In the latter state they have no more morality than a hungry lioness. This is grim reading.

The awful cruelties of the inquisition during which religious dogma was brutally enforced, have been replaced in the modern post-enlightenment world by a ubiquitous conformity to an inviolable ‘secular humanism’ which is crude, self congratulatory and misinformed. Gray correctly notes that Sigmund Freud’s atheism was more radical than most readers can acknowledge. Likewise, Gray restores Fritz Mauthner’s proper position in philosophy of language. Gray rates him as being every bit as significant as Wittgenstein. This part of the book is first rate.

But as the book proceeds I became aware that the passages of quotation (long borrowings from his sources dominate this text) were mostly from quite old writings in poetry and animal behaviour (Llewlyn Powys, J.A Baker). This gives the erroneous impression that modern science has ignored the questions that Gray poses. Gray might have a significant lacuna in his immense knowledge. He seems unaware that modern evolutionary biology, behavioural science, social psychology and neuroscience have recently made great progress in studying such complex interactions in the animal world that try to explain helping behaviours, altruism, cooperation, friendship, and even kindness.
His most recent citation from social psychology is Leon Festinger’s 1956 study, ‘When Prophecy Fails’. Gray was twelve when this was written, he is now retired. If he has read research in recent journals there is little evidence here. One important line of 21st century research, and a classic in the field, is the work of Ernest Fehr and Urs Fischbacher, “The Nature of Human Altruism”, (Nature, 425, 23 October 2003). This article demonstrates that a less despairing account of human social behaviour can be constructed within the constraints of scientific rigour. Gray taught at the LSE and a few years ago that institution used to run the ‘Darwin Seminars’. He would have been there while they were on. Yet the material discussed in those excellent and exciting meetings seems not to have reached Gray; at least he does not acknowledge it.

Studies of altruism, from both behavioural observation and MRI scans alike, show that for every sadist torturing a political opponent or ethnic enemy to death (Gray’s obsession) there are others queuing to give blood, offering their kidneys to unknown recipients, volunteering to help others or to tidy their communities. People value these acts, and those who perform them are celebrated and considered decent people.
Sadly, Gray’s clever arguments allow no space to celebrate such mundane acts of kindness.
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on 19 September 2016
While I was reading this book I thought I'd be giving it 4 or 5 stars - it is so well written and fascinating to read. But now I've got to the end I'm left thinking it really was the most dreadful book I've read for a long time.

Because whilst the central thesis is that 'progress' is an unavoidable myth which man cannot get rid of, Gray demonstrates he is still a believer.

Let me demonstrate: He wants to 'find ways of living well' and talks about us being 'best off' in taking certain actions. He contrasts his approach with another idea which he calls 'one of the most destructive of modern fictions' and instead talks of a 'better' way. He argues that the human mind needs to be 'released from myth', so argues that a better way is 'Godless contemplation' (why exactly need it be 'Godless'?) In fact, he asserts, 'a type of atheism that refused to revere humanity would be a genuine advance' and 'any reduction in universal evils is an advance in civilisation.'

His whole reason for writing this book is because he believes in progress. Yet it is a book which purports to denude the myth of progress.

So he's really keen that we 'change'. He says, 'As you come to see your life in the light of this new story, you will yourself change.' (oh, and by the way 'this new story' is just another fiction. Gray's got a bit of a downer on 'truth'.)

The non-existence of God is only asserted, or assumed, never argued.

He uses countless quotes from various intellectuals to show they were nearly as right as he is (especially Freud and Neitsche). But for all his disbelief in progress and truth, Gray is pretty sure he's more right than they were.

And he writes really well. I quite enjoyed reading the book and working through his arguments. I'm glad I never have to read it again, and I wouldn't recommend anybody else to read it. I'm not criticising because I'm a Hegelian. I just think Gray's in a bit of a mess.
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VINE VOICEon 18 August 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Despite the joyous and imaginative cover art work and the title that suggests a recent horror film (the previous volume "Straw Dogs rejoiced in its duplicity)inside I discovered the working essays combined to form a philosophy of an acknowledged pessimist, maybe this is not the technical term for his status but after reading the first half of the book (it is a rather indigestible tome and requires extensive rereading)with its references to Koestler, Orwell and the darker side of Joseph Conrad, I came to this conclusion.

It does take a prolific writer (often seen in the Guardian and Spectator) to be able to draw threads for his argument from as many sources as are available and Gray is obviously extremely well read.

He delivers a world where the torture of Winston Smith is as relevant today as it was back in the 1940s; the depressing message is that nothing really changes, that so called civilisation merely masks the truths (Is there such a thing as Truth?)in empty rhetoric, propaganda, political cant and The Big Lie i.e. that we are a civilsed animal

Gray's sources are impeccable and worth further research. The book is divided into three sections each one subdivided into almost meditative essays. Essays themselves are becoming a dying literary form and so, even though challenging, this collection here is both thought provoking and contentious. There is so much food for thought that a single reading will not do this book any jind of justice.

There is no doubt that Gray's voice is an important one even though what he is saying may not always be palatable
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on 10 March 2013
John Gray, The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths

John Gray maintains that science and myth are simply the human animal's way of dealing with chaos. His latest book strips away the comforts of science and religion, mere shelters from a world we can never know. In his latest book, Gray attacks the very notion of progress, a doctrine that cannot but fail to delude. As our forefathers put their faith in gods, modern man clings to science and technology. He cites a range of authors, from Conrad to Ballard who present worlds where chaos dominates over civilisation. If civilisation is natural, then so is barbarism.

Gray refuses to believe in so-called scientific advance, his mentors being Freud rather than Darwin, and Llewelyn Powys rather than Richard Dawkins. He quotes extensively from the little-known Powys, an atheist `adamant that rejecting religion meant renouncing any idea of order in the world.' Gray's bleak and nihilistic viewpoint echoes that of Beckett: God is a man-made phantom, a bastard who doesn't exist. Gray ends with a clarion call from Powys: `It is not only belief in God that must be abandoned, not only all hope of life after death, but all trust in an ordained order.'

This is a fascinating and wide-ranging account of myth in the comprehensive sense of the word. Gray cites a range of philosophers, economists, poets, theologians, anthropologists and social commentators, all of whom have found shelter in certainties. The fact is that man's dreams of progress are but makeshifts, stages in a perpetual cycle that has no purpose or meaning.
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VINE VOICEon 22 April 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In this sequel to his earlier work "Straw Dogs", John Gray seeks to debunk the idea of human "progress". Rather than experiencing an ascending life, he contests that we are simply frightened animals taking refuge in a variety of psychological strategems to escape the transience of life and the inevitability or death. It doesn't sound like a very cheerful philosophy, but he applies his scepticism to everyone more or less equally - humanists and athiests, he says are as guilty of subscribing to these illusions about human fate as are religious fundamentalists and believers in magic.

It's a remarkably stout, homespun philophy for an Oxbridge don to espouse, though this is an intellectual work, replete with references, footnotes and quotations and will not be an easy read for anyone unused to academic method.

Although some may find the conclusions depressing, Gray tells a good story and the examples and case studies he chooses - from Arthur Koestler and Sigmund Freud to the more obscure Llewellyn Powys and Patrick Leigh Fermor - make fascinating reading along the way.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
'Paradox' is 'an integral part of structural design.' I find this comforting not devastating. John Gray has written a small book of giant proportions. I underlined what I regard as significant text. There are many ticks in my margins. And a few question marks.

That the crowd can never be turned is nothing new to me. But I love the idea that other animals know better. I love the myth. The author has authority. But not great authority. You see, my opening sentence in this review was not taken from his book. It is taken from a book about myth making. Written by John Yorke Into The Woods: A Five Act Journey Into Story is the dark bright side of human endeavour. Books and Movies.

Maybe it is because I am a poet that I read nothing to fear in 'The Silence of Animals.' Gray's juxtapositions of times, of ideas, of failure, of despair I can embrace as an objective even real perspective. His commentary on the current financial crises is particularly clear. Evolution as 'a process of drift' sits well in my understanding of human nature.

I just wish he had taken on that sentence: paradox is an integral part of structural design. Is there a design? Or do human beings have a craving for understanding the infinite? I don't. I think infinity is the masterstroke of human language. One word for everything and then some. 'Real wealth is finite' states our esteemed author. But what is wealth? The uneasy question the crowd prefers to deflect. I do not.

Your life may be in your children or it may be in your mind. Both are wholesome, healthy, productive options. Don't hurt others, don't hurt yourself. And try not to use big words. They put you off life and living. Words like 'freedom,' 'tyranny,' 'self' or 'truth,' they clutter the place up so that you can't see where you are. Surrounded by others. Just the same.
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