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It may not always seem so, but day-to-day interactions between individual humans are extraordinarily peaceful. That is not to say that we are perfect, just far less violent than most animals, especially our closest relatives, the chimpanzee and their legendarily docile cousins, the Bonobo. Perhaps surprisingly, we rape, maim, and kill many fewer of our neighbours than all other primates and almost all undomesticated animals. But there is one form of violence that humans exceed all other animals in by several degrees: organized proactive violence against other groups of humans. It seems, we are the only animal that goes to war.
In The Goodness Paradox, Richard Wrangham wrestles with this paradox at the heart of human behaviour. Drawing on new research by geneticists, neuroscientists, primatologists, and archaeologists, he shows that what domesticated our species was nothing less than the invention of capital punishment which eliminated the least cooperative and most aggressive among us. But that development is exactly what laid the groundwork for the worst of our atrocities.
Richard Wrangham is Ruth B. Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology, Harvard University. He is the author of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, and Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence (with Dale Peterson). Professor Wrangham is a leader in primate behavioral ecology. He is the recipient of the Rivers Memorial Medal from the Royal Anthropological Institute and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the British Academy.
"A fascinating new analysis of human violence, filled with fresh ideas and gripping evidence from our primate cousins, historical forebears, and contemporary neighbors"
– Steven Pinker
"A brilliant analysis of the role of aggression in our evolutionary history"
– Jane Goodall
"Magisterial [...] [an] extraordinarily detailed, cogently argued, hugely important book"
– Paul Levy, Spectator
"Nobody knows more, thinks deeper, or writes better about the evolution of modern human beings than Richard Wrangham. Here he reveals a rich and satisfying story about the self-domestication of our species, drawing upon remarkable observations and experiments"
– Matt Ridley
"In this revolutionary, illuminating, and dazzling book, Wrangham provides the first compelling explanation for how and why humans can be so cooperative, kind, and compassionate, yet simultaneously so brutal, aggressive, and cruel. His brilliant self-domestication hypothesis will transform your views of what it means to be human"
– Daniel E. Lieberman, author of The Story of the Human Body