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The Moral Animal: Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology [Paperback]

Robert Wright
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 29 1995 Vintage
Are men literally born to cheat? Does monogamy actually serve women's interests? These are among the questions that have made The Moral Animal one of the most provocative science books in recent years. Wright unveils the genetic strategies behind everything from our sexual preferences to our office politics--as well as their implications for our moral codes and public policies. Illustrations.

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Product Description

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An accessible introduction to the science of evolutionary psychology and how it explains many aspects of human nature. Unlike many books on the topic,which focus on abstractions like kin selection, this book focuses on Darwinian explanations of why we are the way we are--emotionally and morally. Wright deals particularly well with explaining the reasons for the stereotypical dynamics of the three big "S's:" sex, siblings, and society.

From Publishers Weekly

New Republic senior editor Wright's account of the latest trends in Darwinian theory unravels the evolutionary logic behind subjects ranging from friendship and romance to xenophobia and sibling rivalry.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Boys growing up in nineteenth-century England weren't generally advised to seek sexual excitement. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book but it loses steam. Jan. 18 2004
Format:Paperback
One of the best books written on Darwinism in recent years. Although not as ground breaking as when it was originally published, it is still a very good summary of current research.
The book provides great insight into the human brain and sheds light on why we behave the way we do. Although some may view the first section as sexist, you need to leave your prejudices at the door. There are some unpleasant ideas presented, and although they may, at first, rub you the wrong way, upon contemplation they make a lot of sense.
The first three sections (Sex, Romance & Love; Social Cement; Social Strife) are all well written and it is interesting how the author returns to the personal life of Charles Darwin to explain the main ideas and to put them into context.
The fourth and final section (Morals of the Story) is where the book loses steam. It becomes more abstract and it seems that authour, at times, is stretching to make his point. He may be correct in some of his ideas, but I found the final section more philosophical and preachy than the previous sections which relied more on science.
A great book that thouroughly deserves a 5-star rating. A must for your science library.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I must protest this piece of sophistry Jan. 2 2003
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This book masterfully gives the casual reader the impression of learning something insightful and new about the origins of human psychology but, in the words of the author, it's all self deception. Any number of so-called insights can easily be dismissed if the reader were to think a little. For example, Wright talks a lot about the sex differences stressing the male tendency to lie to females to get sex. But he never considers that members of both sexes will often lie to get something that gives them pleasure or to gain social status or to gain material advantages. The capacity to deceive is a trait shared by all humans but there is no evidence presented that it's origins are in male sexuality. It's easy and even titlating to speculate that the origins of the characteristics of human consiousness lie in the sexual selection of our ancestors. But it's even easier speculate that sexual selection played a minor role. After all, the capacity of humans to decieve others is just a secondary effect of their capacity to form a detailed mental picture of the world and communicate with others through language. These traits gave early humans a big survival advantage quite apart from enhancing the sexual prowess of some males. My point is that speculation is not science and this book offers little more than speculation on the evolutionary origins of human psychology. I say it is sophistry because Wright tries hard and in many ways succeeds at selling his vision of evolutionary psychology but without actually showing us the evidence. Indeed, if his idea that human conciousness is basically self-deceptive, there is no point in looking for scientific truth about human nature in the first place. But this idea is consistent with the spirit of the book, which seems more intent on convincing the reader of its views rather than presenting a scientific, that is, evidence-based search for the truth about the origins of human conciousness.
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5.0 out of 5 stars nasty and nice finally explained June 24 2004
Format:Paperback
For most of my life, I've been trying to understand the reasons behind why we animials behave the way we do.
This book has changed my life. After an extensive and enjoyable study of the text my new understanding on Evolutionary Psychology allows me to accurately conclude scientific explainions for my own emotions, including observed emotions of other animals.
Powerful, confronting and liberating.
Please read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Mostly highs Jan. 13 2004
Format:Paperback
Robert Wright is an exponent of the "evolutionary psychology" movement - that is, the notion that our civilization and its institutions, manners, laws, customs and religions are all a part of the evolutionary process. We are the sum of our genes but we are much more than that - the moral animal. We worry about what others think about us, about what we do, about right and wrong and evil and love and good and bad.
Wilson has made similar arguments in his excellent works and this book is a supporting cast member in the long drama of evolutionary science. The book is not technical but it is extremely interesting - discussing such concepts as male, female, sex, family, groups, altruism - all with a focused eye and calm, measured vocabulary. He looks at our reasons for doing what we do, why we like certain people and more importantly, why we dislike others and live life as we do.
One problem common to many books of this type is the almost worshipful homage to Darwin. His thoughts on many subjects are treated as Scripture at times and his life is studied for what he offers in other realms besides natural selection. While Darwin may have brought about a synthesis of scientific thought at the time, it is fair to say that technically he was surpassed long ago. In the end, this is a book about the qualities that make us human and different than other animals on Earth.
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Format:Paperback
The author chooses Darwin to serve as an illustration of the principles of evolutionary psychology, developing a compelling biographical narrative and thereby broadening the appeal of his book. My only quibble is that the final chapters seemed unnecessarily defensive, as if the author imagined that the only readers that would hang on that long would be hecklers.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Intro to Evolutionary Psychology
Start here for a great introduction to our behavioral evolution. Well written and interesting, this book gives new insights into why we do what we do and how we got here. Read more
Published on Nov. 27 2003 by Colleen
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Science, Bad Philosophy
This book has a lot in common with many Stephen King novels: it starts off intriguing, becomes more and more engrossing, and then concludes with some improbable and disappointing... Read more
Published on Aug. 29 2003 by DeeDee
4.0 out of 5 stars Clear, Concise, Convincing
The Moral Animal was recommended to me for several years by an ex-roommate and I finally relented and picked it up. Read more
Published on July 23 2003 by Yan Timanovsky
5.0 out of 5 stars Great introduction to the subject
The perfect introduction to evolutionary psychology. Follows sound logic and the writing flows smoothly from section to section. Read more
Published on June 18 2003 by Andrew R. Rowe
3.0 out of 5 stars Very engaging, but not quite captivating...
I read Robert Wright's "Nonzero" which I found to be more interesting--though it looks like most reviewers experienced the inverse. Read more
Published on May 29 2003 by Emlyn Addison
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but partial
A clear, unpretentious introduction to evolutionary psychology. As a reader said on Feb. 2002, this discipline is compatible with progressive views. Read more
Published on April 15 2003 by claudia
2.0 out of 5 stars Ponderous Twaddle
This book is ponderous twaddle. The author seems incredibly
impressed with himself to the exclusion of his subject. Read more
Published on March 15 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Evolutionary Psychology
Why do humans establish the group dynamics that they form? This book follows the life of Charles Darwin and shows the underlying motivations for some of the actions he took... Read more
Published on March 11 2003 by LeGrande Blount
5.0 out of 5 stars homo homini lupus
Part one of this book is filled to the brim with talk of sexual behavior. Was by the end of chapter 6 on the verge of laying it down, because I thought the author was trying to... Read more
Published on Feb. 7 2003 by "lhfyrbeb"
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