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THE MORAL ANIMAL

EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY AND EVERYDAY LIFE

Many readers will feel uneasy reading Wright's dark and cynical portrayal of human nature, but he does a superb job of...

A provocative book by a senior editor of the New Republic, author of Three Scientists and Their Gods (1988), examining the vibrant new science of evolutionary psychology.

Even though, according to this science, natural selection has molded human nature into a deterministic pattern of selfish behavior, says Wright, there is still hope for developing a common moral outlook as long as we accept the ramifications of our evolutionary legacy. Natural selection insures that individuals are subconsciously preoccupied with the propagation of their genes. Although the cold, underlying logic of natural selection doesn't care about our happiness, it fools us into thinking that by pursuing goals that make us happy, we will maximize our genetic legacy. Lost in this pursuit is any genuine concern about community welfare. This volume covers much of the same ground as William Allman's superb overview The Stone Age Present. Wright extends Allman's arguments in much richer detail and a more authoritative tone, although he explains the science in a more roundabout manner. He weaves a complex and fascinating treatise in explaining the paradox of how society can engender moral and responsible actions when a strict Darwinian interpretation implies that human behavior is deterministic. Wright resolves this paradox by arguing that once people understand the Darwinian paradigm, they will understand their own subconscious motives, which is the first step towards addressing the bias toward self that natural selection instills in our minds.

Many readers will feel uneasy reading Wright's dark and cynical portrayal of human nature, but he does a superb job of anticipating questions and objections. He points to a growing body of evidence that says this is the way we are whether we like it or not, and he argues we're better off if we accept this fact.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-679-40773-1

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1994

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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