Are we our brothers' keepers? Do we have an instinct for compassion? Or are we, as is often assumed, only on earth to serve our own survival and interests? In this thought-provoking book, the acclaimed author of Our Inner Ape examines how empathy comes naturally to a great variety of animals, including humans.
By studying social behaviors in animals, such as bonding, the herd instinct, the forming of trusting alliances, expressions of consolation, and conflict resolution, Frans de Waal demonstrates that animals – and humans – are "preprogrammed to reach out." He has found that chimpanzees care for mates that are wounded by leopards, elephants offer "reassuring rumbles" to youngsters in distress, and dolphins support sick companions near the water's surface to prevent them from drowning. From day one humans have innate sensitivities to faces, bodies, and voices; we've been designed to feel for one another.
De Waal's theory runs counter to the assumption that humans are inherently selfish, which can be seen in the fields of politics, law, and finance, and which seems to be evidenced by the current greed-driven stock market collapse. But he cites the public's outrage at the U.S. government's lack of empathy in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as a significant shift in perspective – one that helped Barack Obama become elected and ushered in what may well become an Age of Empathy. Through a better understanding of empathy's survival value in evolution, de Waal suggests, we can work together toward a more just society based on a more generous and accurate view of human nature.
Written in layman's prose with a wealth of anecdotes, wry humor, and incisive intelligence, The Age of Empathy is essential reading for our embattled times.
Frans de Waal has been named one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People. The author of Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, among many other works, he is the C. H. Candler Professor in Emory University's Psychology Department and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
"Kindness and co-operation have played a crucial role in raising humans to the top of the evolutionary tree [...] We have thrived on the milk of human kindness."
"His writing and science are infectiously good"
– Adam Rutherford, Guardian
"There is a widely held assumption that humans are hard-wired for relentless and ruthless competition [...] Frans de Waal sees nature differently – as a biological legacy in which empathy, not mere self interest, is shared by humans, bonobos and animals"
– Ben Macintyre, The Times
"A pioneer in primate studies, Frans de Waal sees our better side in chimps, especially our capacity for empathy"
– Wall Street Journal
"Freshly topical [...] a corrective to the idea that all animals – human and otherwise – are selfish and unfeeling to the core"
"Warm, engaging and empathetic [...] the more we learn about nature, the more richly we're able to imagine a better society"