Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals
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Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  1,349 ratings  ·  140 reviews
A radical work of philosophy, which sets out to challenge our most cherished assumptions about what it means to be human. From Plato to Christianity, from the Enlightenment to Nietzsche and Marx, the Western tradition has been based on arrogant and erroneous beliefs about human beings and their place in the world. Philosophies such as liberalism and Marxism think of humank...more
Paperback, 246 pages
Published September 1st 2003 by Granta Books (first published 2002)
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brian
1. although this does happen to crystallize and articulate much of what i believe, that's largely irrelevant. i recommend reading this wonderful nuthouse as the extended essay (read: rant) thomas bernhard never wrote. plus, it lays out the meaning of life and explains the secrets of the universe.*

2. a terrific antidote to the ubiquity of all that 'everything happens for a reason' nonsense.

3. makes me happy to imagine people who bought this wanting something else by the guy who wrote men are fro...more
Tim
Aug 21, 2009 Tim rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone. Anyone seeking questions and answers about mankind and life's meaning
Potentially life changing. I say potentially because this is not a book for someone who is scared of facing their fears and doubts about what they have believed about mankind and their life. For me, he has blown me away. I can't help jumping up and wanting to tell someone about so many particular sections that i read that are so striking. I will warn you though, be prepared to experience depression or despair if what he writes does speak to you deeply. I feel both liberated and utterly despairin...more
James
It’s always a good idea to be wary of intentionally provocative books. When someone sets out to burst intellectual bubbles they often forget about their own.

In John Gray’s case, the bubbles are not only thick but multi-layered—almost impervious to commonsensical inspection. We’d all like to hold onto cherished beliefs like God, the self, and immortality, but now we know these things are all just pipe-dreams dreamt up under the influence of Christianity, a massive ideological machine which nurtu...more
Jon Stout
Aug 30, 2010 Jon Stout rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fatalists and misanthropes
The irony is that I agree with John Gray on most of his large points, that we have reason for pessimism, that mankind will fail to handle some of the larger crises of our day such as population growth, that human history is replete with gratuitous savagery and violence in the name of religion and/or humanistic ideals, that we would do better to be aware of our animal natures, and so forth.

But there is something about the way he does it that turns me off. He wants to survey the history of ideas,...more
Warwick
This smallish book is one of the most depressing and pessimistic 200 pages I have read in a long time. John Gray has been getting darker and darker in his vision of the world and Straw Dogs finally brings him round to bleak nihilism.

The book has many virtues. It is written in an admirably simple and clear way, with thoughts broken down and laid out in Pascalian pensées, some of them only a sentence or two long. The content is never less than thought-provoking. In six broad chapters, he outlines...more
Szplug
Humans think they are free, conscious beings, when in truth they are deluded animals. At the same time they never cease trying to escape from what they imagine themselves to be. Their religions are attempts to be rid of a freedom they have never possessed. In the twentieth century, the utopias of Right and Left served the same function. Today, when politics is unconvincing even as entertainment, science has taken on the role of mankind's deliverer.

The above quote from Straw Dogs serves as a dece...more
Gail
Secular humanism is Christianity in a tracksuit. That's the book in a nutshell. Admittedly, a small and not particularly satisfactory nutshell. But a nutshell nonetheless.

I recommend this to you, dear reader. Gray writes about a vast array of ideas - from science, theology, philosophy and psychology - and, with tremendous economy, unravels the myth perpetuated by thinkers from each discipline in our so-called liberal secular humanist era: that we humans are higher than animals, and that our fan...more
Alexander
A bit too breezily aphoristic and dismissive at times, Gray's book is still an impressive nail-bomb of neo-Schopenhauerian polemic, veering between scorched earth and Taoist serenity, stoic good humor under reddening skies.

STRAW DOGS is a brazen "remix" of many familiar memes, but woven so artfully in barbed-wire fashion, covering so many rich topics and controversies, that it does what the best philosophical commentary does: provokes and stimulates both sympathizers and antagonists into enrichi...more
Adrian
A savage kick in the face of a book, a white hot iron poked into your brain by someone who is not interested in appealing to any of our notions about Western culture or civilization. Or at least that's what it felt like to me when I first read it. The premise of the book is simple. Human life has no over arching purpose, no meaning, no happy ending and no salvation. Gray spends his time trying to prove this point and to liberate the reader from the anxieties that hoping and wanting for more out...more
Rob
Just awful. A rambling, unconvincing argument by a terribly self-satisfied misanthrope.

Pretty disappointing, as I picked up the book hoping for a decent discussion on many of the ideas presented. The non-separateness of humans from the natural world, the illusory nature of the self and consciousness... these are ideas I care about. Indeed, if you have never spent time thinking about them, this book may serve valuable as a devil's advocate and catalyst. That's about the only value I found in it.

G...more
Josepha
Although interesting and complete this book had so many flaws.
- Opposition to Hegel's teleology and the goals of the enlightenment (The progress of mankind)
-That atheism is christian invention (He simply refers to it as post-christian)
-Replacing ethics with the mindnumbingly dumb views of Taoism and saying that morality is the disease of man
-The coming of mankind as a species IS the most important event in the history of the world since man has so radically altered and exploited it (extinct spec...more
Matthew
You get the sense reading Straw Dogs that if John Gray were ever to meet a nihilist he'd chide him for being unjustifiably optimistic. Unremittingly grim. A philosphical overview of the human condition that concludes it all started to go wrong for us somewhere around the invention of agriculture. Progress is measured only in the novelty of the tools we use for mass murder. Secular humanism is just Christianity-lite and scientific rationalism exhibits all the key features of a cult. We set oursel...more
Bruce
I remember the days when there weren't any reviews on goodreads... and so anything I had to say was of course very valuable! ;-) Nowadays thougthful people who write better than I do have covered the basic ground very well already, leaving nothing but the off kilter angles to me.

So I am going to compare this book to Rupert Sheldrake's The Science Delusion. Both authors do the very important and valuable work of demonstrating through their scholarship of the history of ideas that contemporary sci...more
David
I gave this book three stars, because I see it as thought provoking. However, I think that Gray is too misanthropic and he relies too much on the gaia hypothesis. He goes out of his way to talk about how the self is an illusion, free will is an illusion and even consciousness (or at least what we normally characterize as consciousness) is an illusion. While I basically agree with him about all of those points, why would anyone who agrees with those points find the gaia hypothesis appealing??? Al...more
girl
I did it! I finished!
I cannot find the words to express how pleased I am to meet the back cover of this book.
It took me longer than usual to finish this book, and I am drained. Appropriately so, might I add. This isn't a book you come out of feeling empowered, or 'happy'.
You reach the end and then you ask, “What, then? What am I to do? What is anyone to do? And, good sir, what do you propose we do about our apparent meaninglessness?”

My introduction to John Gray was at a public lecture at the Lon...more
Lee Simmons
The book contains many interesting ideas but none of them were explored satisfactorily. It seemed like a stream of one or two page pronouncements with no real explanation as to how the conclusions had been reached or why those arguments dismissed are wrong.

For example, Gray claims that humanism is a religion as much as Christianity or Islam. Salvation is provided by science and inescapable human progress which is a linear process. I do not know any humanist, on a personal level at least, who hav...more
Alex
Aug 07, 2011 Alex added it
If you're ever tempted to read Straw Dogs, by John Gray, don't.

I've read through (most of) it (I skipped parts that were run on sentences, after the first few times reading them through to the end taught me they had nothing interesting to say), and I can wholeheartedly recommend against anyone else repeating the experience.

I tried ignoring the poor quality of the science behind the book, ignoring the poor quality of the support for what seems to be the intended point, and even ignoring the thinl...more
Dpdwyer
Line by line there is much to think about here. I don't know enough philosophy to know if his short takes on a number of major schools have validity. He does not believe that history and evolution progress in the long run, and he feels the world would be less volatile if we did away with utopian ideals and promises in general and just set our sights lower. Endless harm is being done and has been done in the name of great goals. He also takes on the major religions and finds little to like, espec...more
Rosie Reynolds
When I started reading this book I really hated it. The fact that I felt so strongly about it encouraged me to read until the end, and now I've finished there are parts of it I want to copy out word for word and stick up on my wall. I still perhaps can't say I like it, but there are parts of it that are much more intelligent and ideas much more eloquently expressed than I gave the book credit for when I was a third of the way through.

I don't normally read any philosophy, but this is packaged up...more
Joshuacitrak
do not read this book! it will destroy your egocentric, small minded, action-oriented, "modern" view of the actuality of existence. go back to mindlessly consuming, seeking salvation through your christs (be it jesus, coca-cola, NFL football, technology, the environment, your career, whatever) and stand firm in your belief that humans are the most important species to ever exist. they are, they really are!!!

"The aim of life isn't the change the world, but to see it rightly."

however, if you have...more
Dylan Horrocks
This goes on that special shelf of books I will be thinking about and responding to for the rest of my life. I devoured it in a few days and was almost hopping with glee by the last page. Gray has a tendency to adopt a somewhat portentous tone, but I didn't care. Now I want to read a whole lot more Gray.

One small curiosity: aspects of Gray's discussion of the impact of written language on human culture reminded me of David Abram's The Spell of the Sensuous, which made me wonder if Gray has read...more
H Wesselius
Brilliant. A quick easy read since most of his premises agreed with me and echoed my own thoughts. He manages to successfully attack teleological thought, progress, modernism, post modernism, atheism, Judeo-Christian-Islamic thought, etc leaving you with an appreciation for an agnostic relaxed here and now enjoyment of the life we have. An equal opportunity critic he takes down both Plato, Paul, Augustine and Buddha, he manages to tear apart the foundations of western thought without embracing a...more
Derek
We get where's he going w/ it, but something about it rubbed us the wrong way ... felt like we were being lectured to ... dumbed down dribble distilled for mainstream (religious) audiences, for zombies that want to be perceived as liberal, but their brain capacities are better aligned to the tea party. Straw Dogs is a pompous mess of infomercialized dogshit, thinly spread all over the map, rehashing existing dogma but adding nothing to the conversation. And Gray speaks in absolutes, summarizing...more
Karl Steel
Probably unfair, but as soon as Gray described evolution as 'blind chance,' which is to say, 3 pages in, I put it down. Evolution lacks a telos, yes; it's nonhierarchical, yes; but it does not proceed by 'chance.' If it were random, evolution would have nothing to do with habitat; it would have nothing to say about the constitutive presence of life with/in its evershifting mutually affected habitat; etc. Maybe there's more here? I don't know.
Katja
For those who have long had the suspicion that the world is going to hell thanks to the humans, or have already noticed that morality is a handy tool in the hands of those who know what they want to get, "Straw Dogs" won't be an eye-opener. And those who could learn from it would probably close this book of pessimism at one of its very few optimistic passages, like this one: "Homo rapiens is only one of the very many species, and not obviously worth preserving. Later or sooner, it will become ex...more
Rick Harrington
Grim.

To look up and find not Jesus, but a dog. Nothing would be better, which seems to be the point of this book. Nothing is all that there is.

That's what I wrote after the first reading dimmed. I've just re-read the book, and it wears OK. I went from 3 to 5 stars.

But the entire work is written as if it were a challenge to prove the author wrong. It's a little bit hard, even, not to hear John Gray complaining that no-one really loves him. It seems that if someone did, or dared to try, he might...more
Tony61
Short review: Gray gives a cogent synopsis of the major philosophical thinkers from Plato and Socrates to Heidegger and Hegel and provides a critique of the human-centered sentiments imbued in all these schools of thought.

He is controversial in eschewing theism and salvation and likening morality to a disease, and pretty much calling humanism a scourge on the earth. Gray recognizes that science has been co-opted to serve humanity instead of the pure pursuit of knowledge.

The problem I had with t...more
David Rush
An Attack on the unthinking beliefs of thinking people.

I gather he intends it not to be a well laid out logical presentation of how Humanists, liberal humanism and the idea of progress,.have it all wrong. But instead is a collection of witty observations from a philosophical Oscar Wilde. And many of them really are clever and disarming and probably a few are even true.

My only problem is that he has no problem painting the subject he is skewering in it's most unreasonable light. That and the fact...more
Bob Nichols
This book is filled with one challenge after another to accepted belief and philosophical wisdom. Gray comments that humanism, science and green thinkers are secular versions of Christianity's quest for salvation. Socratic philosophy is the origin of Shamanism, a belief in an unchanging, eternal world that supersedes our material world that is an illusion. Nietzsche's Superman was a "ridiculous figure" who tried to transform humans into something they are not. Does meditation, he asks, heighten...more
Aras
Read this mostly on the raves by J.G. Ballard on the cover. Lesson to be learned is that often those are probably on there because of personal friendship or some sort of industry obligation, rather than an honest appraisal.

From religion to psychology to the hard sciences, the author can barely get a grasp on any field he touches, and yet believes he is the master of them all. This is the worst sort of shallow, mass-market pop philosphy, so dismissive of its audience the text doesn't even provide...more
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6600597
John Nicholas Gray (born 17 April 1948, in South Shields, then in County Durham) is an English political philosopher with interests in analytic philosophy and the history of ideas.[1] He is formerly School Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Gray contributes regularly to The Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement and the New Statesman, where he is...more
More about John Nicholas Gray...
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“Most people today think they belong to a species that can be master of its destiny. This is faith, not science. We do not speak of a time when whales or gorillas will be masters of their destinies. Why then humans?” 23 likes
“Today, for the mass of humanity, science and technology embody 'miracle, mystery, and authority'. Science promises that the most ancient human fantasies will at last be realized. Sickness and ageing will be abolished; scarcity and poverty will be no more; the species will become immortal. Like Christianity in the past, the modern cult of science lives on the hope of miracles. But to think that science can transform the human lot is to believe in magic. Time retorts to the illusions of humanism with the reality: frail, deranged, undelivered humanity. Even as it enables poverty to be diminished and sickness to be alleviated, science will be used to refine tyranny and perfect the art of war.” 15 likes
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