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Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  3,718 ratings  ·  377 reviews
'Straw Dogs' is a radical work of philosophy that challenges our most cherished assumptions about what it means to be human. John Gray explores how the world and human life look once humanism has been finally abandoned. ...more
Paperback, 246 pages
Published September 1st 2003 by Granta Books (first published 2002)
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Dallas Page 172 -

"Old cities are descendants in a line that goes back to the Labyrinth at Knossos in Bronze Age Crete.
In cities, persons are shadows cast by…more
Page 172 -

"Old cities are descendants in a line that goes back to the Labyrinth at Knossos in Bronze Age Crete.
In cities, persons are shadows cast by places, and no generation lasts as long as a street. In the post-urban sprawls that are replacing cities, streets come and go as quickly as the people who pass through them. As cities are deconstructed into sites for traffic, the settled life they once contained is fading from memory."

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Bill Kerwin
Jul 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing

If you are an agnostic with few illusions who seeks the consolations of philosophy; if you are fortified by Ligotti’s bleak analysis (A Conspiracy Against the Human Race) and sustained by Cioran’s grim maxims (A Short History of Decay); if the fiction of J.G. Ballard, Will Self, and Jim Crace is congruent with your assumptions, congenial with your attitudes; then John Gray’s Straw Dogs may be the book for you.

The atheist Gray, who rejects the assumptions of Christianity, here targets the contemp
Dec 20, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy
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
Oct 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Hemlock for the Masses

Straw Dogs is an intellectual meal and a half to digest. And it’s a fusion of styles and subjects that makes it a cuisine awkward to classify - classical philosophy, sociology, technological analysis and forecasting, with a soupçon of New Age mysticism. Having just had another substantial meal in Terry Eagleton’s Culture and the Death of God, which uses some of the same ingredients (with an extra helping of philosophy and hold the New Age), I feel compelled to compare the t
Jon Stout
Aug 30, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  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,
Mar 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 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 from mars, women ar
Feb 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 01, 2011 rated it did not like it
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.

Jan 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
The central tenet of this book is that secular humanism is built off a worldview that - despite its protestations - comes entirely from religion. Darwinism suggests that we are animals, and while tendentiously accepting this humanists nonetheless insist on a special place and dispensation for humans. The idea of "progress", entirely a superstition, is in fact based on the Christian concept of salvation which has been transmuted into a secular worldview. Secular humanism as it has been created in ...more
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
Oct 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 05, 2012 rated it did not like it
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. Why would anyone who agrees with those points find the gaia hypothesis appealing??? Also, if humans are inevitably going to do what they will do as it is all determined (I agree with this), then why in the world would you ma ...more
Mar 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 15, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: english
Three stars, because I'm entirely sympathetic to Gray's argument that humans are in all important respects mere animals, and that humanism is a sham, a holdover from Christianity that wrongly insists that humans are uniquely perfectible and that true progress is possible. Still...what is this mess?

Largely disorganized, uneven (elegant passages shuffled with ones that are extremely poorly written), full of unbacked claims and faulty assertions, inaccurate readings of Eastern religions, undercook
Jan 19, 2016 rated it did not like it
My concern is less with the poor logical form of Gray's arguments (which I will touch on), and more with the morbid indulgence in pessimistic nihilism this work purports. Gray seems to revel in being the bearer of bad news- something akin to a schoolmate who grimly stares you down to notify you that the teacher wants to see you- (i.e. using titles like "the poverty of consciousness"), Gray supports himself with biased and one-sided arguments (like citing the work of Benjamin Libet and ignoring h ...more
Jul 28, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
In a nutshell we are all doomed. Humans are a plague which will ultimately exceed the worlds ecological limits. Religion has been replaced by science and progress will solve all our problems. A bleak pessimistic view of philosophy and its evolution. I am so glad me and my wife do not have children.

On the positive side I like that early Greek philosophers were not focused on truth but happiness or perhaps a more relevant word would be contentment. This book is all about how messed up the world i
Jan 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Tristram Shandy
Nov 25, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
”Today liberal humanism has the pervasive power that was once possessed by revealed religion.“

This sentence from page xi sums up pretty well the point that John Gray wants to make in his slim volume Straw Dogs. Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals. Now do yourself a favour and don’t mix up John Gray, the British philosopher, with John Gray, the writer of books such as Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus because if you do that you will get a roller-coaster ride through the tunnel of horror wh
Aug 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Dylan Horrocks
Jan 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
John Vibber
Aug 13, 2020 rated it liked it
I experienced “Straw Dogs” by John Gray as a provocative dose of pessimism.

Gray argues that humanism is a religion founded on hollow assumptions about our biological nature. According to him, human nature is fixed; therefore our mistakes inevitably echo those of our ancestors. He tells of history’s littered trail of failed civilizations and calls societal progress an illusion that humanists inherited from Christianity. He says that, given our nature, technology is more likely to seal our fate t
Bob Nichols
Sep 08, 2010 rated it liked it
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
May 16, 2014 rated it did not like it
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
Nov 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book should be required reading for all people who believe in progress in humanity. That is, anybody who reads the Economist, anybody who believes in the value of "an education", anybody who advocates for human rights, anybody who decries religious fundamentalism, anybody aghast at Donald Trump, anybody who cherishes the democratizing effects of technology, anybody pro-globalization, anti-exploitation, any child of the Enlightenment. In short, anybody who self-consciously holds *progressive ...more
Sep 23, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Richard Newton
Apr 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
I feel this is one of those books you are either going to like to hate. If you are open to quite challenging ideas, presented in a fairly passionate and opinionated style then you may well like this book. If you want to see full arguments, no assumptions, and no jumps in logic then you may not. But given that these are thoughts (see title) - the flaws in his arguments are forgiveable.

This is a book which is pretty pessimistic about humanity, but at the same time has a positive tone - well positi
Jul 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Desert rat Edward Abbey once said, "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." Well, progress for the sake of progress seems also to be a very human ideology. We separate ourselves from the other animals, but we are merely a different species of animal, albeit the most destructive species. We like to think of ourselves as exalted and intelligent persons, who have dominion over all the other animals, but the truth is that we are deluding ourselves. Thanks to evolution thou ...more
Jim Coughenour
Oct 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone insufficiently hopeless
Shelves: thinkingcap
Yes, it's extreme – and often impossible to take seriously – but it's still one of my favorites. The philosophical equivalent of electroshock therapy. Stomps where trendy atheists fear to tap dance.
Feb 11, 2013 rated it liked it
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
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John Nicholas Gray is a English political philosopher with interests in analytic philosophy and the history of ideas. He retired in 2008 as 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 the lead book reviewer.

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