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

The Most Dangerous Animal: Human Nature and the Origins of War
Author: David Livingstone Smith
ISBN 13: 9780312537449
ISBN 10: 312537441
Edition: 1 Reprint
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: 2009-02-17
Format: Paperback
Pages: 288
List Price: $16.99

Almost 200 million human beings, mostly civilians, have died in wars over the last century, and there is no end of slaughter in sight.

The Most Dangerous Animal asks what it is about human nature that makes it possible for human beings to regularly slaughter their own kind. It tells the story of why all human beings have the potential to be hideously cruel and destructive to one another. Why are we our own worst enemy? The book shows us that war has been with us---in one form or another---since prehistoric times, and looking at the behavior of our close relatives, the chimpanzees, it argues that a penchant for group violence has been bred into us over millions of years of biological evolution.

The Most Dangerous Animal takes the reader on a journey through evolution, history, anthropology, and psychology, showing how and why the human mind has a dual nature: on the one hand, we are ferocious, dangerous animals who regularly commit terrible atrocities against our own kind, on the other, we have a deep aversion to killing, a horror of taking human life. Meticulously researched and far-reaching in scope and with examples taken from ancient and modern history, The Most Dangerous Animal delivers a sobering lesson for an increasingly dangerous world.

Publishers Weekly

Right now, as you read this, somebody, somewhere, is planning a war": from its opening sentence, Smith's book demands the reader's attention. A professor of philosophy and the cofounder and director of the Institute for Cognitive Science and Evolutionary Psychology at the University of New England, Smith has written a stark study of human nature, examining how we are biologically wired to fight. The human need for war is based on two powerful evolutionary factors: an innate aggressiveness born of a need to fight for food, shelter and the right to breed, and the human craving to belong to a group. Dispelling illusions of the peaceful, noble savage, Smith discusses anthropological and archeological evidence of war, raids, terrorism and genocide between hunter-gatherer societies: mass graves of people executed by blows to the head; human bones scarred by butchering or with arrow and spear points lodged in them. Human settlement brought wars of conquest and industry devoted to making weapons. Now we attempt to disguise the facts of war with euphemisms like "target" (instead of person), "friendly fire" and "collateral damage." Smith's writing, reinforced by one grim example after another, is crisp and sobering, never blunting the fact that we are "our own worst enemy." (Aug.)

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