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Our Inner Ape [Hardcover]

Waal De
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 11 2005 1573223123 978-1573223126 1
We have long attributed man's violent, aggressive, competitive nature to his animal ancestry. But what if we are just as given to cooperation, empathy, and morality by virtue of our genes? What if our behavior actually makes us apes? What kind of apes are we?

From a scientist and writer E. O. Wilson has called "the world authority on primate social behavior" comes a fascinating look at the most provocative aspects of human nature-power, sex, violence, kindness, and morality-through our two closest cousins in the ape family. For nearly twenty years, Frans de Waal has worked with both the famously aggressive chimpanzee and the lesser-known egalitarian, erotic, matriarchal bonobo, two species whose DNA is nearly identical to that of humans.

De Waal shows the range of human behavior through his study of chimpanzees and bonobos, drawing from their personalities, relationships, power struggles, and high jinks important insights about our human behavior. The result is an engrossing and surprising narrative that reveals what their behavior can teach us about our own nature.

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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Noted primatologist de Waal (Chimpanzee Politics) thinks human behavior cannot be fully explained by selfish genes and Darwinian competition. Drawing on his own primate research on chimpanzees and bonobos—our closest animal relatives—he shows how much we can learn from them about ourselves: our qualities of "fellow feeling and empathy" as well as our power-obsessed, violent side. We are "bipolar apes," de Waal says, as much like bonobos as like chimps. The latter are known for their viciousness and "red in tooth and claw" social politics, but bonobos offer a radically different social model, one of peace and hedonistic orgies; de Waal offers vivid, often delightful stories of politics, sex, violence and kindness in the ape communities he has studied to illustrate such questions as why we are irreverent toward the powerful and whether men or women are better at conflict resolution. 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In Chimpanzee Politics (1982) and five succeeding books, de Waal has called attention to how close to human Homo sapiens ' closest relatives really are; indeed, the domestic entity referenced by the title of de Waal's photo collection My Family Album (2003) isn't his particular menage; it's that of the chimps and bonobos he has studied and grown to love. As his books have become more complete and general about human-ape resemblances, his prose has become ever clearer and more artful. This book is arguably an even better read than The Ape and the Sushi Master (2001). After a bringing-up-to-speed chapter on such matters as chimp-bonobo distinctions and human-ape shared ancestry, de Waal devotes long chapters to power, sex, violence, and kindness among the apes, and among humans, too. Comparing the three upper primate species, and occasionally certain monkey species, as well, yields illuminating and provocative results because they are all highly social, and the apes share cultural capability with humans. Overall, chimps are more concerned with power and more violent but much less sexy than bonobos, and both apes demonstrate kindness socially to a greater extent than humans do, at least verbally. In conclusion, de Waal turns directly to "The Bipolar Ape"--that is, the human being--and urges learning from the apes how to improve humanity's longtime balancing act between savagery and good fellowship. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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One can take the ape out of the jungle, but not the jungle out of the ape. Read the first page
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4.0 out of 5 stars A thoughtful read Jan. 24 2013
Format:Paperback
This a thoughtful book that holds one's interest and is not dry or academic in tone. It is a good introduction to the topic, and while not detailed enough for some, it does prepare one for understanding a more in-depth study. I found it gave me enough to look at human societies with greater understanding. It has numerous anecdotes, but these are used to make essential points and are fascinating in themselves. The anecdote that struck me most forcefully is that of a baboon community dominated by an especially aggressive, bullying warrior elite who made life hell for the females and the less-aggressive males. These bullies would regularly fight their way across the territory of the neighbouring community of baboons to raid the food garbage dump of a tourist lodge. They all met their end when the lodge threw out contaminated meat. Suddenly this community lost all of the overly aggressive alpha menaces. They were being studied by primatologists during this time and for many years after. Even ten years after this event, when there were no males still alive from before that time, this society was still enjoying its new era of freedom from internal violence. De Waal concludes that the females and remaining males had vetoed the entry of any overly aggressive young males who emerged from the jungle looking for a new home. De Waal made two conclusions from this, neither of which was the one I drew. I conclude that for a society to live without the threat of violence, one has to control violent male cultural attitudes. I think I remember a pessimistic comment from Eric Hobsbawm that we are sliding back into barbarism. Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It answered a lot of questions Sept. 11 2008
Format:Hardcover
An intruiging book about primate (and other animal) behavior and practical applications of evolutionary psychology to human problems, including social policy, interpersonal and national conflict resolution, and human psychology. A lot of thoughtful discussion and illustrative stories.

It provided a lot of - not only insight - but answers to questions like what is human nature, why do we respond the way we do, what is the origin of our values and morals, and what does this mean for the future of mankind?

A phenomenal book that breaks a lot of taboos, myths, and excuses for human behavior. It even gives clues to questions like the difference between men and women. Ironically, the book even provides clues as to why we treat these animals (not us) the way we do.

In this book de Waal succeeds in showing apes as intelligent, self-aware, sensitive beings who operate within and understand a lot of the same social dimensions we do: empathy, belonging, isolation, loyalty, class, anger, fairness...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How special are you? Nov. 16 2005
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
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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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  54 reviews
64 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How special are you? Nov. 16 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]
46 of 49 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's okay... May 21 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.
52 of 61 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and thoughtful, but with the ocassional lapse Oct. 9 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
5.0 out of 5 stars Literate and thought provoking Oct. 10 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
5.0 out of 5 stars A little heavy on the ape stories, but a delightful book Oct. 19 2006
By Edward Durney - Published on Amazon.com
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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