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Log out of ReadCube. Volume 35 , Issue 1. The full text of this article hosted at iucr. If you do not receive an email within 10 minutes, your email address may not be registered, and you may need to create a new Wiley Online Library account. If the address matches an existing account you will receive an email with instructions to retrieve your username.

The Most Dangerous Animal: Human Nature and the Origins of War by David Livingstone Smith

Tools Request permission Export citation Add to favorites Track citation. Share Give access Share full text access. Share full text access. Please review our Terms and Conditions of Use and check box below to share full-text version of article. Get access to the full version of this article. View access options below. You previously purchased this article through ReadCube. May 30, James rated it it was amazing Shelves: animals , culture-and-politics , death-dying-killing-bereavement , gender-issues , general-science-math-technology , history , military , mythology , psychology.

He digs into history, sociology, anthropology, modern psychology, and brain science to look at the evidence for and against homo sapiens as 'the killer ape'. Smith finds a lot of theoretical structure and supporting data to indicate that on one hand, our species is highly predatory toward others, and Fascinating. Smith finds a lot of theoretical structure and supporting data to indicate that on one hand, our species is highly predatory toward others, and often within itself.

That much is obvious from any history book or newspaper. But he also points out considerable evidence that almost all human beings have a hard time killing other people, or even other creatures that resemble us in key ways. Getting most people to kill others takes considerable cultural and military training convincing them that 'the enemy' are not really human but are some hostile other species, usually predatory or parasitic, and conditioning them to kill too quickly to have time to mull it over first.

Often the aftermath, once they do have time to think, haunts them lifelong, as in the case of the PTSD many veterans and police officers feel after having to kill people in the line of duty. It's interesting to read this, and juxtapose it with Kevin Dutton's 'The Wisdom of Psychopaths', in which that author concludes that our society globally, not in any one country is becoming more psychopathic, but less violent toward one another. Highly recommended for anyone interested in psychology, history, sociology, or anthropology. Aug 14, Kevin McAllister rated it really liked it.

Aug 13, Julie rated it it was amazing. I am deeply troubled by the number of instances of murder, rape and torture and I am unable to understand how this can be. Until I read this book. I understand the causes better, but I still struggle with the reality of it.


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Very well researched book, and very relevant to our current affairs. From the review: "Almost million human beings, mostly civilians, have died in wars over the last century, and there is no end of slaughter in sight. The Most Dangerous Animal asks what it is about human I am deeply troubled by the number of instances of murder, rape and torture and I am unable to understand how this can be.

May 24, Stewart rated it liked it. As others have mentioned, this book is a fairly excellent read and a good introduction to the theories presented in it, though it isn't new for people familiar with sociology. The material is presented in a solid and engaging way, and it's a quick read. That said, it still has several flaws that prevent me from giving it a higher rating. Some of the logic used stems from an obviously male-centric standpoint, and he tends to oversimplify some things.

This is especially true on the subjects of wome As others have mentioned, this book is a fairly excellent read and a good introduction to the theories presented in it, though it isn't new for people familiar with sociology. This is especially true on the subjects of women and rape respectively. Sep 04, Phil rated it did not like it.

I didn't finish this book. I'm not in the mood this month to learn about beheadings and terrible tortuous deaths at the hands of the enemy. Feb 01, Alexis rated it really liked it. Very realistic This lecture help to get a better understanding about how we react one each other and to think seriously what kind of animal we are. Apr 07, Ann Marie rated it really liked it. Auden says it all, "Evil is unspectacular and always human, and shares our bed and eats at our own table.

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As evidence he cites examples from evolutionary biology, psychology, sociology, and animal studies. If you are like me, you think human beings are the most fascinating thing on earth. We are wonderful, terrible, and maddening. In the last two categories is our penchant for killing each other. The author believes that, "War is not a pathological condition; it is normal and expectable.

He also mentions that war kills more civilians, most innocent, than combatants, many of them children. If the purpose is to understand why, scientifically, we came to this point in time, from a long-ago past that required humans to kill in order to survive, then why haven't we evolved past our primitive leanings?

Humans: The Most Dangerous Animals of All Time

Why do we resort to violence to resolve differences? Examples are given of genocide, terrorism, lust for war and killing, hostility to those who are different xenophobia , and what could be called thirst for power. Humans try to justify war based on moral or religious grounds, the fight between good and evil, but who decides? The truth is some like killing as, "The act of killing is supremely rich in sensory input. Smith gives the reader much to think about, even if you don't buy all of his arguments.

He also tries to give hope for the future, but with the deadly weapons we have now, I wonder if humans will destroy each other before we can fully understand and control the complex causes that lead to war? A very honest and thorough evolutionary psychology answer to the question of why people fight. Livingston traces the evolution of humans who have a latent and natural fear of the unknown predation.

In addition to the natural selection that lead those with the warrior spirit to be better able, are also the sexual selection th A very honest and thorough evolutionary psychology answer to the question of why people fight. In addition to the natural selection that lead those with the warrior spirit to be better able, are also the sexual selection that comes when men capture women, and as women are more likely to sexually select the successful warrior.

At the same time, humans have a natural aversion to killing their own species, which must be overcome through a self-delusion in which individuals imagine their enemy as the predatory beast or the infected diseases of he days when we were hunted by animals. A solid, well written, well argued read. Oct 01, Joel Crofoot rated it it was amazing. This is the single best book I have ever found on the subject of the bad side of human nature.

It covers the topic very thoroughly from many different perspectives, such as evolutionarily, psychodynamically, neurologically, etc. Some of the atrocity descriptions are horrendous to read, but serve to make the author's point about the evil side of human nature. I believe that this should be mandatory reading for psychologists as we deal with the effects of evil in our work on a daily basis. Dec 13, Nathan rated it liked it Shelves: aquinas-library , sociology.

Engaging and accessible. David Livingstone Smith prefaces his book with a claim that he is not a pacifist, yet his powerful blend of evolutionary history and contemporary anecdote will most likely be read as at least moderately anti-war. Most of the material will be repetition to those familiar with basic sociology, but for those new to the subject, a better introduction can hardly be imagined, especially as a great many other pertinent books are referenced for further reading.

May 04, B Doyle rated it really liked it. The author establishes an interesting framework for conceiving of war, and a decent exploration about human ambivalence towards it. The book ends with an exploration of common human response mechanisms, such as disgust, which seem readily malleable to dehumanize opponents in war.

I found the book limited in it's emotional based approach.

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The Most Dangerous Animal : Human Nature and the Origins of War

However, it seems like a good starting point for others to develop the theory implicitly developed in the work. I believe there is plenty of evidence out there, anthropological and otherwise, to suggest that Smith may be off base with his "man the killer ape" theory. Every politician should read this book before deciding on war. The result is a discerning, insightful, highly original, and very disturbing book. Believing that truth is the best medicine, I recommend for every thinking person a full dose of this fiercely argued and deeply insightful book.


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Professor Smith's keen psychological analysis reveals how we unconsciously deploy self-deceptive strategies to override our horror at human bloodshed in order to indulge our universal penchant for inter-group violence. A must read for anyone interested in the psychological depths of human nature. Held, Barry N. It weaves together a wealth of insights from science, history, literature, philosophy and contemporary affairs into an accessible, lucid, and cogently argued defense of the role of human nature in war.

He and his wife live in Portland, Maine. Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.