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The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society

3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  898 ratings  ·  96 reviews
"An important and timely message about the biological roots of human kindness."
—Desmond Morris, author of The Naked Ape

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 nat
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Hardcover, 304 pages
Published September 22nd 2009 by Crown (first published January 1st 2009)
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Community Reviews

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Riku Sayuj

Our Animal Nature: A Glass Half-full Approach

This book is primarily a detailed exploration of animal emotions (such as empathy) and on how they stunningly correspond to the human.

Two main threads of thought emerge from this correspondence:

1. The need to recognize animals as much closer to us and to treat them with that respect, empathy and humaneness.

2. An optimism that the better angels of our nature are as deep-wired in us as the baser instincts that we call ‘animal instincts’. Both aspects
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Cameron
Reading this book constantly reminded me of our arrogance to consider that animals are not conscious, feeling beings. The author, a primatologist, does a great job recounting decades of animal research to back up his claim that both humans and our related animal cousins have a long history of community, social structure and organization, and responsibility to that community. He does an excellent job providing empirical research evidence that demonstrates that many species, particularly the great ...more
Tyler
You've got to love a book about primates that has chapter headings with quotes by Adam Smith and Immanuel Kant. And that's why this book is so exceptional, it makes you reconsider what is so special about our species in the first place and whether the Western concept of human exceptionalism is even a healthy trait to begin with.

Are concepts of justice, equality and empathy really glorious creations of the enlightenment or are they simply labels for phenomena that occur across the animal kingdom?
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Francisco
Every once in a while, when your heart is heavy with all the fighting and hatred and envy and competition and the nastiness of your fellow humans, it is good to read about the kindness of other animals (besides man). Yes, there is plenty of cruelty in nature but there is also cooperation, compassion and loyalty. It's so fascinating (and so healing) to read example after example of animals caring for each other. Oh, and Franz de Waal, a biologist, writes with humor and clarity.
Stephen
Is it just me, or does current non-fiction contain way too many personal anecdotes. Do I really care about something that happened to your brother-in-law? "Hot, Crowded, and Flat" was chock full of them. The difference between that work and "The Age of Empathy" is that there is some actual science behind de Waal's work. The "Age of Empathy" is really about several different emotions and traits thought to be uniquely human like empathy, sympathy, self awareness, sense of fair play, and egalitaria ...more
Richard Williams
borrow the book, read chapter 7, "crooked timber" for an excellent summary of what the author intents us to understand from his book. then read the whole thing. worthwhile reading.

the genre: science with a social purpose. first, to show us the latest science of empathy, and second to dispel the idea that humans are so unique to be a mountain range emerging from the plains of other creatures, but rather we are like a high peak surrounded by smaller ones, then foothills, then lower hills. those cr
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Jenni Holland
The Age of Empathy delves into social, economic, and political concerns of our time. By unlocking the the science of empathy in all mammals, Frans de Waal challenges the notion that greed and aggression are the dominate forces of human biology and survival. He gives of a new story of mammalian evolution, in which cooperation and empathy play a prominent role. Empathy becomes a much older and primal instinct, and much more relevant to our species.

Waal knocks down those who use the idea of "survi
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Murali Behara
Indeed it is extraordinary how the horses and sled-dogs cooperate with each other and act in unison drawing the carriage or the sled at breakneck speeds, on cross-country pathways! Especially the blind-husky, Isobel who ran the lead tandem?! In Dutch bicycle-culture, it is very common for boys to offer girls a ride, because the girls have to hold on tight, and also lean with the rider says, Dr. Frans de Waal, who is a Dutchman himself, who continues, "On motorcycles this is even more critical. T ...more
Nick
Frans de Waal is (almost) singlehandedly turning upside down the long-held notion of humans (and other animals) as supremely selfish, concerned only with their own survival, and perhaps survival of their offspring. de Waal finds instead huge amounts of empathy, cooperation, and concern amongst species, amongst tribal and other groups, and amongst families. de Waal has studied primates for years, and just about everything we thought was unique to humans also shows up in monkeys. They can count, t ...more
Kelly
This is the first book I’ve read by Frans de Waal. It is written in simple, accessible language and is positively stuffed with provocative ideas and anecdotal stories. The premise, that empathetic behaviors and tendencies predate our evolutionary pedigree, directly addresses underrepresented views in both evolutionary biology as well as popular conceptions of our own animal nature. I found his unapologetic attitude about the political implications of his work to be personally refreshing and scie ...more
Cara
A lot of people assume that humans are naturally selfish (see: classic economics, social darwinists, Ayn Randians, etc.) Frans de Waal tries to prove that this is not really the case, that though we may be selfish sometimes, empathy is a natural emotion that occurs in humans and even some non-humans. De Waal being a primatologist, this book focuses primarily on primates, though he does cover some other species (dolphins, whales, elephants, dogs) and humans. He makes a very convincing argument th ...more
Lauragais
Frans de Waal and Tanja Singer - The book "The Age of Empathy" is a light in the dark - there is no justification treating another living creature in contemptuous ways. Tanja Singer proves that empathy can be trained and learned and become part of our thinking and acting. We do not need to treat others badly to have personal gain. A very worthwhile thought, giving us hope that there is indeed a way to improve ourselves and make life more peaceful.

Nick Klagge
I loved this book, and it was an interesting contrast to read it immediately after another popular-consumption book by a biologist (which I didn't like), "Why We Run" by Bernd Heinrich. Frans de Waal comes across as warm, engaging, the kind of guy who would be welcome at your dinner party. I laughed aloud at his somewhat odd Dutch humor a couple of times. His little hand-drawn sketches are also a charming touch.

The subject matter, of course, is what interested me in the first place, and I wasn't
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David
Nature is well known as "red in tooth and claw." Yet many organisms exhibit remarkable cooperative behavior:

1. A cat makes daily rounds in a geriatric clinic in Providence, Rhode Island, sniffing and observing each patient, and then selecting one to curl up and purr beside. The cat has nurtured at least 25 patients, sensing with uncanny accuracy when one is about to die .

2. In an experiment at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, chimpanzees at a sanctuary in Uganda were shown a human u
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Laura
Chimps have it. Elephants have it. Wolves have it. De Waal suggests the reason we don’t recognize that empathy imbues at least the mammalian world is because of the Western world’s religious insistence that humans are outside of nature. He reports that when Queen Victoria first saw apes, she called them “frightful, and painfully and disagreeably human.’” (207). Lot lurking in that queenly observation.

De Waal believes that “empathy is a part of a heritage as ancient as the mammalian line. Empath
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Kendra
I should have written this review a month ago when I first read this book; there are certain benefits to waiting, and allowing thoughts to percolate and constellate, but I have this problem where I forget things as I sleep on them. So ... I guess ... here goes?
I'm not a biologist, and I'm not a psychologist, although I love both of those fields. I took biology (and chemistry, and physics) all of the way through high school (hurrah for Australian/NSW study tracks!), and I only turned down entry
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Lauren
Empathy, argues Dr. De Waal, is not unique to humans. It is, instead, something that can be found throughout the animal kingdom in a variety of forms, and we humans are remiss to not look at the positive traits we share with animals. I’ve heard plenty about the negative traits we share with animals, and it was fascinating (and refreshing) to read the opposite spin – that getting in touch with our animalistic instincts can, in fact, be a very good thing. This book was enlightening to me, especial ...more
Jennifer
I read this for our "science book club" meeting, and we all agreed that this book was not up to snuff. It was like they sat the author down in a comfy chair and said "Just start talking, we'll put your ramblings together into a book." There was not structure or framework to the book -- no overriding thesis (other than maybe "empathy is good, chimps have empathy, people should be more empathetic" -- so it was difficult to pull apart and analyze his arguments. He doesn't present enough scientific ...more
Mel
I am so grateful that a scientist took it upon himself to write this book. It is an up-to-date explanation of the root of human empathy, its widespread existence among other animals, and its implications for human society. Most notably, this book concludes that there are two hands guiding human society: 1) the invisible hand of the market and 2) the hand of compassion. Scientific investigations have time and again concluded that people tend toward cooperation, a sense of fairness, and sharing mo ...more
Shonna Froebel
The author is a biologist who uses his studies of social behaviours in animals as a basis for the study of empathy. He argues that empathy comes naturally to humans as well as many animals. Acknowledging that there is far more research that needs to be done, he nevertheless shows that there is a solid base for further research on a variety of animals.
While many have argued that humans are, by nature, selfish, looking out for themselves at the expense of others, de Waal argues against this, and
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Michel
May 04, 2011 Michel rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Michel by: Doug Simpson
Shelves: eleole, pol
After the Xmas 06 tsunami, European psychologists flocked to the sites in an attempt to help survivors with their PTSD.
They discovered that talking with afflicted people one-on-one was in fact INCREASING their stress, further isolating them from their social responsibility.
They eventually realized they had to treat villages as a whole as the social unit, facilitating their taking care of each other, rather than helping individuals.
Because we forgot that our happiness is heavily dependent on that
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Fernando del Alamo
"La edad de la empatía" es el título de este libro en castellano. Es prácticamente una continuación natural a "El mono que llevamos dentro".

Analiza las razones de que seamos empáticos, o sea, el ponernos en la piel de los demás, y sus ventajas evolutivas. Y la empatía no sólo se da en el ser humano, sino en muchos otros animales. El autor, una vez más, guiándonos por numerosos ejemplos, nos muestra la cara del comportamiento del hombre estudiando el comportamiento de los animales.

Es una opinión
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Bob Prophet
This has become one of my favorite books, purchased in audiobook format, listened to twice. Excellent! Gave it as a gift to two people this year. This book discusses the origins of empathy and illustrates its importance in the evolution of human beings and other animals. We certainly didn't get this far by preying on one another and competing incessantly, even if that is the version of "human nature" we're peddled these days to justify and rationalize the systems and institutions currently in pl ...more
Heather Denkmire
There were so many variations on qualities related to empathy, it was a little overwhelming. Overall, though, the key point I appreciated was that empathy began (as did the more studied aggression and play) as a physical response. It's not some higher level function only humans possess. I'm most interested in the resistance people have to considering empathy a strength and this addresses that issue quite well.
Bobby
The Age of Empathy, now the third book by famed primatologist Frans De Waal I have read, visits some somewhat familiar territory among his writings, namely shared characteristics of some of humankind's evolutionary kinfolk. This time the emphasis is on empathy, our ability to feel another's pain, so to speak. While human's often like to blame our own bad behavior (wars, murder, etc.) on our "animal side," and claim altruism and empathy as uniquely human, that is just not born out in the behavior ...more
J. D.
A rewarding read, especially for those who wish to reach a reasonable middle ground between the half-truths of both the economically ignorant "collectivists" and the self-righteously greedy "social Darwinists".
Srinivas Kowtal
The "Us v Them" mentality burned in the core of humanity by eons of evolution will never go away. This has been made abundantly clear, in the not too distant past, by the bringing down of the twin towers and the resulting war in middle east, massacre of million Rwandans by their own neighbors, Godhra and the ensuing riots, or the genocide in erstwhile Yugoslavia. And more recently the killing of 100s of innocent children in Peshawar or the brutal murder of cartoonists. Some experts have claimed ...more
Luc
Understanding human behaviour is not an easy task. And probably also a never ending task. In the recent decades biologists and neuroscientists have been claiming their place alongside psychologists and sociologists in the debate about the basic drivers of our behaviour. This book digs for the origins of empathy, a quality claimed by religions and ideologists of all sorts. "The age of empathy" has a double meaning. First: how old is the phenomenon empathy? And secondly: Is the era we are entering ...more
Derrick Trimble
Ok. I did not read this book. So why am I posting it as read? To remind myself not to check it out again.

The title of the book, The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society, caught my attention. Empathy is certainly a characteristic that demands our attention in an increasingly non-empathetic world. My expectation was to find a rich source of study on empathy, qualitative engagement on how to raise levels of empathetic awareness, and yes a bit of how-the-animal-kingdom-does-it-bett
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Morgan Blackledge
This book is really hard to rate. I liked this book and I love DeWaal so I feel like a dick for only giving it 3 stars, but there were so many cringeable moments that I can't in good conscious give it the 4 star ratting I would like. My big complaint is DeWaal relies so heavily on observational methods, which is very interesting and useful, but then dismisses critics (who regard observational findings as inconclusive) as big reductionistic meanies who are too un creative or tin hearted to unders ...more
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"Frans B.M. de Waal, PhD (born 29 October 1948, 's-Hertogenbosch), is a Dutch psychologist, primatologist and ethologist. He is the Charles Howard Candler professor of Primate Behavior in the Emory University psychology department in Atlanta, Georgia, and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and author of numerous books including Chimpanzee Politics an ...more
More about Frans de Waal...
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“So, don’t believe anyone who says that since nature is based on a struggle for life, we need to live like this as well. Many animals survive not by eliminating each other or keeping everything for themselves, but by cooperating and sharing. This applies most definitely to pack hunters, such as wolves or killer whales, but also to our closest relatives, the primates.” 4 likes
“Robin Hood had it right.Humanity's deepest wish is to spread the wealth.” 4 likes
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