Back to the Animals

Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are by Frans de Waal

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is written to upend the imbalance that Social Darwinism has produced. De Waal asks us why we use “humane” to describe bonobolike behavior and “bestial” to describe chimpanzeelike behavior when both are part of the human gene pool. He challenges the view of human nature of the 60s that humans are basically competitive individualists with a fragile shell of civilization controlling us, stating that that theory depends on looking exclusively at chimplike behavior.

It isn’t a simple chimpanzees are individualistic and bonobos are community minded. He takes pains to show both in each. In the “Power” chapter he presents the chimpanzees’ competitive spirit modulated by cooperation and in the “Sex” chapter the subtle competition among the otherwise cooperative bonobos. That complexity continues as he discusses “Violence” and “Kindness.”

The book is richly descriptive of various ape societies–we get to know some of them quite well–which makes for entertaining reading. De Waal’s comparisons to human politics and speculations of how traits developed from the simple form observed in the apes to human behaviors are convincing to variable degrees, but all worth thinking on. Perhaps mostly the ones I was tempted to instantly reject. One can’t help wondering how these observations might be modified since the book’s publication in 2005.

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2 responses to “Back to the Animals

  1. Susan Nixon

    As always, you’ve found something interesting. I don’t think I’ll be reading this one, though. =)

  2. Another interesting sounding book. I can’t keep up with your reading schedule, but I can get some of them as audiobooks to listen to while I sew. Thanks for the review.

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