Orcas (or killer whales) are one of the planet's supreme predators. Alongside humans, they have the most complex brains to be found in nature. But while one of these two species has killed 200 million members of its own kind in the twentieth century alone, the other has killed none. This is where Jeffrey Masson's fascinating new book begins: there is something different about humans. Masson has shown us that animals can teach us much about our own emotions – about love (dogs), contentment (cats) and grief (elephants). But they have much to teach us about the negative emotions such as anger and aggression as well, and in unexpected ways.
In Beasts he demonstrates that the violence we perceive in the 'wild' is mostly a matter of projection. We link the basest human behaviour to animals, to 'beasts', and claim the high ground for our species. We are least 'human', we think, when we succumb to our primitive, animal instincts. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Animal predators kill to survive, but there is nothing in the annals of animal aggression remotely equivalent to the violence mankind has inflicted upon itself. Humans, and humans in our modern industrialised world in particular, are the most violent species in existence. We lack what all other animals have: a check on aggression that serves the species rather than destroys it. And it is here that animals have something vitally important to teach us about ourselves.
Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson is a former psychoanalyst who was, briefly, director of the Freud Archives. He has taught the history of psychoanalysis and journalistic ethics at the University of Toronto and the University of Michigan. At present he is an honorary research associate in the department of sociology at the University of Auckland, in New Zealand. He is the author of numerous books, most recently Dogs Make Us Human, and bestselling books on animal emotions, including Dogs Never Lie About Love, When Elephants Weep, and The Dog Who Couldn't Stop Loving.
"Most of us see humans as morally superior to animals in every respect, while describing our bad behaviour (war, torture, enslavement, extermination) as 'brutish, animalistic, inhuman, subhuman' – as if it reflected 'animal' origins. But Jeffrey Masson has made me aware that we in fact are the only animals that exhibit this behaviour, and do so frequently and massively. A groundbreaking book"
– Daniel Ellsberg
"Stand yourself in front of a full-length mirror. You are looking at the more dangerous, aggressive, murderous species on Earth. You may well ask: 'Who? Me?' This book demonstrates in appalling detail that yes, it's us all right [...] Will we change in time to save the world's animal population, including ourselves? These are the questions that make this an important, if gloom laden book"
– Daily Mail
"A compelling look at what animals at the top of the food chain can teach us about anger, aggression and the history of human violence"
– BBC Wildlife
"Masson presents complex psychological and philosophical aspects of the way we perceive and relate to animals in an accessible way [...] A powerful reflection on an issue with far-reaching consequences"
– The Lady
"Masson reveals how we shortchange ourselves with our narrow view of community, by laying down an almost impassable and rocky road between ourselves and "others". Beasts reminds us of the unforgivable things humans do to dominate animals."
– Ingrid Newkirk, founder of PETA
"Beasts is a tour de force that takes us on a journey of human nature, from the organized violence of war, to our individual cruelty toward solitary humans and animals, to the love, compassion, and altruism that we can show toward one another. After reading this book, you will never view human nature the same."
– Con Slobodchikoff, author of Chasing Doctor Dolittle
"Beasts is profoundly wise, deeply compassionate, and filled with insights and understanding that can reshape the way we think about ourselves and our relationship to life itself. Inspiring and a joy to read."
– John Robbins, author of Diet for a New America
"Jeffrey Masson is a forward-thinking writer who's not afraid to take on some of the most entrenched ideas and revered thinkers of our age. A provocative book!"
– Jonathan Balcombe, author of Pleasurable Kingdom
"A gentle, thoughtful and remarkably wide-ranging book that explores the nature of humanity and the nature of violence and hatred, suggesting paths we humans might take to turn toward peace and kindness. Beasts deserves to be widely read and widely pondered."
– Pat Shipman, author of The Animal Connection
"A noble pursuit [...] intriguing."
– New York Times Book Review
"This one will make you think about the definition of human."
"Masson's writing is easily accessible to both a general audience and those already familiar with the subject. With a personal, passionate, and sympathetic style, Masson makes an imperative case [...] Beasts implores us to rethink our long-entrenched beliefs regarding the nature of non-human animals, in hopes that by more accurately perceiving the world around us, we may learn to treat not only other species with greater kindness and compassion, but perhaps our own as well."
– The Oregonian
"A compelling, unsettling, provocative examination of the relation of beast to man."
– Kirkus Reviews