A provocative though speculative thesis related in a chatty, occasionally repetitive style.

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MORAL ORIGINS

THE EVOLUTION OF VIRTUE, ALTRUISM, AND SHAME

Boehm (Anthropology and Biological Sciences/Univ. of Southern California in Los Angeles; Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior, 1999, etc.) probes the origins of human conscience and altruism.

Trained as an evolutionary biologist, the author is the director of the Jane Goodall Research Center. He questions why altruistic behavior—“being generous to people lacking any blood ties to the generous party”—is a matter of everyday human practice, theorizing that generosity and other moral virtues evolved genetically according to the principle of natural selection as a byproduct of social selection, which rewarded impulse control and punished aggressive behavior. Boehm suggests that egalitarian hunter-gatherer groups would have needed strong social controls to ensure cooperation and equitable sharing of the kill. This, he contends, could have caused a biological shift. While highly competitive Chimpanzee alpha males dominate and receive disproportionate shares of food and sexual favors—thus gaining competitive advantage for the perpetuation of their genes—in hunter-gatherer societies such behavior could not be tolerated and would confer a reproductive disadvantage. The universal existence of blushing as an expression of shame exists only among humans; therefore, writes the author, it must be genetically based rather than just a cultural phenomenon. Boehm cites recent work establishing the existence of empathy, undoubtedly a precursor to morality, in primates, but he contends that altruism and shame are distinctly human qualities. People recognize virtue and feel shame; animals seek approval and fear disapproval. Boehm also cites instances in which Inuits and Pygmy tribes have used gossip and shaming to discipline would-be freeloaders, and even harsher methods to deal with bullies, thieves and murderers.

A provocative though speculative thesis related in a chatty, occasionally repetitive style.

Pub Date: May 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-465-02048-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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