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Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals

3.94  ·  Rating Details ·  2,291 Ratings  ·  223 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.
Paperback, 246 pages
Published May 1st 2004 by Granta Books (UK) (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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Community Reviews

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Warwick
Dec 21, 2012 Warwick 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
...more
brian
Mar 14, 2013 brian 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 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
James
May 18, 2013 James rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
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
Tim
Aug 21, 2009 Tim 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
Jon Stout
Aug 30, 2010 Jon Stout 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,
...more
Szplug
Feb 01, 2010 Szplug 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
...more
Rob
Jul 17, 2011 Rob 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.

G
...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
David
Nov 27, 2015 David 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
Gail
Oct 28, 2010 Gail 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
...more
Adrian
Mar 06, 2008 Adrian 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
Matthew
Jul 19, 2010 Matthew 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
Murtaza
Sep 14, 2014 Murtaza 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
John
Jan 20, 2016 John 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
Yossie
Jun 14, 2013 Yossie rated it liked it
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
Bruce
Aug 03, 2012 Bruce 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
...more
Josepha
Sep 24, 2012 Josepha 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
...more
Bob Nichols
Sep 08, 2010 Bob Nichols 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
Rosie Reynolds
Jul 07, 2011 Rosie Reynolds rated it really liked it
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
Richard Reese
Mar 25, 2015 Richard Reese rated it really liked it
When the philosopher John Gray looks out over the world, he sees a bloody madhouse, a hell broth of deranged magical thinking. In his bestselling book, Straw Dogs, he turns into a ruthless vigilante who tirelessly pounds the stuffing out of ridiculous ideas that condemn us to mindless self-destruction. What might happen if we ever succeeded at clearing the decks of loony whims? Would this make it easier to think clearly, and move onto a path with a future?

By the time you get to the end of the bo
...more
Rick Harrington
Jun 06, 2009 Rick Harrington rated it it was amazing
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
Reid
Sep 13, 2014 Reid rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: homo rapiens
Straw Dogs shares a major theme of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, both pointing out the futility and harm of grand political utopian ideals, and the associated delusions. Gray points to two sources of our irrational faith in Progress, Christianity’s sin-to-salvation idea, and science’s faith that knowledge will result in advancement of the species. He briefly knocks many philosophers in this build up of faith in Knowledge, Truth and Progress, from Socrates through John Rawls, ...more
Jon
Jul 16, 2016 Jon 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
...more
Derek
May 17, 2014 Derek 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
Dpdwyer
Aug 09, 2010 Dpdwyer rated it really liked it
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
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
Joshuacitrak
Jan 13, 2009 Joshuacitrak 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
...more
Dylan Horrocks
Sep 04, 2013 Dylan Horrocks 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
...more
H Wesselius
Jul 26, 2011 H Wesselius rated it really liked it
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
Mark
Nov 10, 2015 Mark 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
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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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“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?” 35 likes
“We think our actions express our decisions. But in nearly all of our life, willing decides nothing. We cannot wake up or fall asleep, remember or forget our dreams, summon or banish our thoughts, by deciding to do so. When we greet someone on the street we just act, and there is no actor standing behind what we do. Our acts are end points in long sequences of unconscious responses. They arise from a structure of habits and skills that is almost infinitely complicated. Most of our life in enacted without conscious awareness. Nor can it be made conscious. No degree of self-awareness can make us self-transparent.” 28 likes
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