Tuesday, May 19, 2009

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

Every human in earth knows wars as catastrophic events. Why we humans engage in them anyways?

This fantastic book by Dr. David Livingstone Smith offers a somber hypothesis from the perspective of evolution, anthropology and psychology: evolution may have shaped our human brains in that way.

According to the author we have a strong and intrinsic disgust for killing each other, yet through evolution the brains of our ancestors have acquired the trait of being able to deceit others and even ourselves. Surprisingly, this self-deceit process appears to be even unconscious. Add to that our ability to imagine threats and the list of ingredients for the recipe of the "Most Dangerous Animal" is almost complete.

To explore the possible roots of our same-species violent behavior and to find an explanation to it, this book will take you back and forth in time and space, from a cave millions of years ago to present day Iraq. Well documented, accessible to the lay reader, this is book written in an engaging style.

A small warning: this book is not a light reading neither it has a happy ending. The vignettes of wars and other violent acts are very graphic and quickly brings the point to you that we tend to sanitize, romanticize and glorify war. The book wraps it up with a final chapter explaining why, alas, there is apparently no end in sight for the terrible custom of war.


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