Smith writes clearly for the lay reader, so a background in the sciences is not required—though a strong stomach is.

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THE MOST DANGEROUS ANIMAL

HUMAN NATURE AND THE ORIGINS OF WAR

The roots of war lie in the evolutionary history of our species, according to arguments forcefully presented here by the director of the University of New England’s Institute for Cognitive Science and Evolutionary Psychology.

Smith (Philosophy/Univ. of New England; Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind, 2004) draws on anthropology, psychology, archeology and philosophy to speculate about the link between violent conflict and human nature. He posits that, like chimpanzees today, early hominids probably formed small hunting bands. Skills first used against predators evolved into organized raiding parties against rival communities; this was the first step in the evolution of warfare. Those able to kill their neighbors and capture their resources flourished, passing on their warlike nature to future generations. However, once humans mastered conceptual thought and recognized that we are all members of a single species, the inhibition against killing same-group members was activated. The way we overcome this aversion to killing other human beings, Smith asserts, is by persuading ourselves that they are not truly human. This dehumanization of the enemy can be accomplished by demonizing them as monsters; by viewing them as prey to be hunted down and killed; or by portraying them as disease-carrying vermin that must be exterminated. Smith provides dozens of examples of these mindsets from ancient Greece to the present day. Some are blatant wartime propaganda (for example, posters depicting the enemy as a nonhuman predator), but others are simply quotes from soldiers recounting their attitudes and actions in the field. The best hope of stopping war, avers the author, is ending the self-deception that allows us to see others as not human.

Smith writes clearly for the lay reader, so a background in the sciences is not required—though a strong stomach is.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-312-34189-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2007

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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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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