A compelling, unsettling, provocative examination of the relation of beast to man.



Masson (The Dog Who Couldn't Stop Loving: How Dogs Have Captured Our Hearts for Thousands of Years, 2010, etc.) explores evolutionary history and the animal kingdom for the origins of human violence.

The title of the author’s latest philosophical treatise gets to the heart of the paradox of human cruelty. When compassionate, humans are said to be humane; when violent, they are often compared to ferocious beasts. Even the famous ancient Roman saying, “Man is a wolf to [his fellow] man,” attempts to characterize the human tendency to turn on a fellow creature via the metaphor of the predatory wolf. By looking at behavioral examples here and from elsewhere in the animal kingdom, Masson demonstrates a problem with this beastly association: Evidence suggests that wolves rarely turn on one another. Likewise, orcas, whose brains are much larger and whose life spans parallel ours, do not attack their own kind, and 170 years of field research has revealed only 10 to 20 chimpanzee-on-chimpanzee killings during that time. By contrast, Masson offers the example of the Battle of the Somme, where, by battle’s end, “both sides sustained 1.3 million casualties.” Masson persuasively presents his pacifist, staunchly pro-vegan agenda: Only humans “create artificial and arbitrary distinctions—different race; different language; different religion—for which we are willing to kill and die.” Though the author is quick to admit that no other animal is as likely to come to the aid of another species as humans, he also shows that no other species is as eager to kill for sport. He supports Jared Diamond’s theory that this unrelenting aggression may be traced back over 10,000 years to the advent of agriculture, which introduced multiple levels of social inequality and led to the domestication of animals; this, Masson argues, “has perpetuated a culture of cruelty and abuse. We watch animals who are our prisoners with no awareness of the suffering we have caused them.”

A compelling, unsettling, provocative examination of the relation of beast to man.

Pub Date: March 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60819-615-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

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


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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As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.


Undeterred by a subject difficult to pin down, Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity, 2017, etc.) explains his thoughts on time.

Other scientists have written primers on the concept of time for a general audience, but Rovelli, who also wrote the bestseller Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, adds his personal musings, which are astute and rewarding but do not make for an easy read. “We conventionally think of time,” he writes, “as something simple and fundamental that flows uniformly, independently from everything else, uniformly from the past to the future, measured by clocks and watches. In the course of time, the events of the universe succeed each other in an orderly way: pasts, presents, futures. The past is fixed, the future open….And yet all of this has turned out to be false.” Rovelli returns again and again to the ideas of three legendary men. Aristotle wrote that things change continually. What we call “time” is the measurement of that change. If nothing changed, time would not exist. Newton disagreed. While admitting the existence of a time that measures events, he insisted that there is an absolute “true time” that passes relentlessly. If the universe froze, time would roll on. To laymen, this may seem like common sense, but most philosophers are not convinced. Einstein asserted that both are right. Aristotle correctly explained that time flows in relation to something else. Educated laymen know that clocks register different times when they move or experience gravity. Newton’s absolute exists, but as a special case in Einstein’s curved space-time. According to Rovelli, our notion of time dissolves as our knowledge grows; complex features swell and then retreat and perhaps vanish entirely. Furthermore, equations describing many fundamental physical phenomena don’t require time.

As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.

Pub Date: May 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1610-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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