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Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  3,435 ratings  ·  522 reviews
New York Times best-selling author and primatologist Frans de Waal explores the fascinating world of animal and human emotions.

Frans de Waal has spent four decades at the forefront of animal research. Following up on the best-selling Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, which investigated animal intelligence, Mama’s Last Hug delivers a fascinating exploratio
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published March 12th 2019 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published November 14th 2018)
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Brambley The audio book is narrated very capably by L.J. Ganser. Highly recommended.

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Will Byrnes
As a student, realizing that my biology books were of little help explaining chimpanzee behavior, I picked up a copy of Machiavelli’s The Prince. It offered an insightful, unadorned account of human behavior based on real-life observations of the Borgias, the Medici, and the popes. The book put me in the right frame of mind to write about ape politics at the zoo.
We know our own inner states imperfectly and often mislead both ourselves and those aro
Mario the lone bookwolf
It´s interesting, if one gets a score of over 90 percent or even, let´s just say, hm 98,8 percent, the person would say that this is close to absolute. No matter if it is a test, a comparison or whatever. But as soon as it goes like "You know, those missing 1,2 percent are the difference between you and a sh$§trhowing chimpanzee, the person goes like WTF and so on. So, as I always say, we are naked apes and each emotional and brain reaction that is explored in monkeys gives deep insights into ou ...more
Diane S ☔
Oct 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 5000-2019
Animal emotions. Human emotions. Can they, in any way share commanalties? The author makes a convincing and illuminating arguement, that yes they can, and they can also tell us much about ourselves. He shares the relationship between various chimp behaviors, the emotions they have and how they are shown in various situations. While most of the book cover this group, their are also sections on birds, horses and even comparisons of human behavior, notably Trump and Spicer, that directly correlates ...more
Two or three stars--which represents best how I react to this book? Is the book good or is it OK? As a whole, it feels more OK than good--so two stars it will be. I will explain why I react in this way.

I have trouble with how the book is told, and I am not referring in any way to the narration of the audiobook. It is not the central content concerning animals’ emotions that is the stumbling block for me. I am certain that animals do have emotions and the similarity between human and animal emoti
Dec 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: giveaways
Frans de Waal’s latest book, Mama’s Last Hug: Animal and Human Emotions, is a survey of various emotions — what they are, when they arise, and how they are identified — in both animals and humans. Each chapter covers a different set of emotions or concepts related to them, such as emotional intelligence and sentience, described with a plentiful assortment of de Waal’s firsthand anecdotes from his decades studying primates as well as summaries of other scientific publications. In short, he assert ...more
Jul 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Frans DeWaal is a primatologist who has studied animal emotions for decades. This fascinating book explores the rich emotional lives of animals. Relating observations and laboratory experiments we are told of emotions found not only in primates, but rats, moles, and fish. Due to a lack of language in these groups (at least a language humans understand), science has been skeptical about the existence of emotions. They can't tell us when they are sad, joyful, envious. They, unlike humans, cannot l ...more
Mar 07, 2020 rated it liked it
Frans de Waal is one of that generation of biologists who, when starting in their field, had to struggle with an intellectual climate more or less opposed on principle to thinking about the inner lives or emotions of animals. Like Jane Goodall (who violated norms by naming, rather than numbering, the chimpanzees she was observing), he was somewhat of a revolutionary for advocating the patently obvious position that humans are not the only mammals to have emotions and distinct personalities. But ...more
Mar 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I recently went to the zoo at the behest of a friend of mine (I hadn’t been to a proper zoo since I was a child) and was reminded why I hadn’t been in such a long time. Animals in small enclosures, appearing listless with nothing to stimulate them, was for me the opposite of entertaining. It was profoundly moving but not perhaps in the sense that my acquaintance might have wished. Particularly disturbing to me was seeing the macaques, gorillas, chimpanzees, and other primates. When my friend se ...more
Katie Long
Sep 09, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned-unread
An engaging examination of primate emotions (though, de Waal carefully distinguishes these from feelings) and social constructs and what they teach us about human emotions and interactions. Every now and then it seems his analogies oversimplify human reactions (ex. he compared Bonobo female reproductive jealousy to the majority of women who chose Obama over the McCain/Palin ticket, which of course disregards the many, MANY other reasons that a woman might choose to support Obama over Palin, and ...more
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Walking with the Great Apes: Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, Birute Galdikas

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I wanted to like this, I really did. De Waal is such a nice guy, and such a thoughtful writer, and a brilliant primate scientist. But Mama's Last Hug is not, IMHO, de Waal at his best. While I agree with the vast majority of the arguments he puts about the role of emotion and the social interactions that largely drive them, I found it increasingly difficult to abide the generalisations and exaggerations that pepper de Waal's approach to studies that are not his own. Consistently, de Waal makes a ...more
Tom LA
Jun 07, 2021 rated it it was ok
I was fooled by the deluge of positive reviews here on Goodreads. What a huge disappointment. De Waal is clearly a great self-promoter, with his confrontational and energetic style, but listen to me: this book is really vapid and weak.

The chimp “Mama” that we can see on the cover disappears after the first chapter.

The book provides some interesting, although very fragmented and superficially presented, tidbits of information about animal behavior, especially related to specific experiments. Un
Camelia Rose
Because I loved Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, I was delighted to find out that Frans de Waal was coming to the National Book Festival in D.C. in 2019. I attended to his talk and had my copy of Mama's Last Hug signed.

Mama's Last Hug is about animal emotions, while Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? is about animal intelligence. The author draws a line between emotions and feelings, where emotions are observable and "feelings arise when emotions penetrate our
Nancy Mills
Jul 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
I loved this book, although I found it very similar to another of Frans de Waal's books, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, which deals with animal intelligence while this one deals with emotions. As the author points out, the two are intertwined. Apparently the fact that other animals have feelings and emotions very similar to our own comes as a surprise to many people, including scientists. I, like the author, think it's obvious that they do, as would anyone who had any kind o ...more
Linda Robinson
Mar 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Educational, entertaining, enlightening, evidentiary. de Waal is devoted to his subject both intellectually and emotionally, and once you've read the book, you might believe (as I do) that that's the same fidelity. It took me all of the book to grasp that emotions are not feelings, and it's taken the behaviorist, psychologist, biologist schools decades to sort it as well. We (and this we perhaps has an arrow pointed at American studies for the perpetuation of this misconception) accept that anim ...more
Feb 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: giveaways
I won this in a Goodreads giveaway. What a wonderful book! I enjoyed it and would highly recommend it!
Apr 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Animal Emotions

Early ethologists studied animal behavior to understand a shared motivation. Their experimental setup was elegant and objective, but the underlying motivation for animal behavior was ignored. For example, fear and anger, and the animal reactions to it were carefully examined and conclusions were drawn. The prevailing assumption in these studies were that animals had instincts that gave inborn actions triggered by a situation. Behavioral biologists have changed this approach becau
Jun 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wonderfully written book about animal emotions. The main focus is on apes, but lots about other animals as well. He has a good way of labeling some things as not quite facts but as well-supported scientific conjectures.
Mike Schoonderwoerd
Jul 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nature
The second Frans de Waal I read, after our inner ape. Long chapters with great subjects makes the book very pleasant to read per chapter. Good thorough knowledge on all sorts of emotions on a vary of animals builds a good foundation.
Apr 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, nonfiction, 2020
“Mama’s Last Hug” was a surprising treasure that I stumbled across and am so happy to have read! To motivate me to read more this year I found a quirky themed reading competition and one of the themes was a book that won or was nominated for an award this year. I found an article talking about recent book award winners and what caught my eye was the winner for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science award for 2020. “Mama’s Last Hug” is about animal emotions and is a nonfiction topic I have never re ...more
Feb 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I won an ARC of Mama’s Last Hug in a Goodreads giveaway and I am so glad I did! I laughed, I cried and laughed again. Incredibly informative , I ended up using an entire highlighter on this book. It’s an absolutely fascinating view on human and animal emotions and the big question “do animals have feelings?”. My first thought whenever I hear someone ask that is ‘they’ve never had a pet before’, as I think most of us dog (and/or cat) people have a hard time believing that anyone could believe ani ...more
Apr 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Good book dealing with animal emotions. For those of us who have animals in our lives, it is not surprising that animals are able to express human emotions and do that regularly. Mama, the animal of the book's title, was the matriarch of the chimpanzee colony at Burgers Zoo in Arnhem, the Netherlands who exerted a great deal of influence over her tribe.

The author developed a long term relationship with the ape over decades and his studies formed the basis for this heart warming book.

Jul 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Mama’s Last Hug” is not, in fact, a reference to familial bonding, and I’m actually grateful for that. The compassion any species shows for individuals related to them seems to me as close to common sense as one can get, if you’re to believe a common sense exists, but apparent love for others that not only don’t share genes, but are not even of the same species, was an enlightening topic for me. It’s hard to believe that true altruism could have evolved through natural selection given how count ...more
Cody McCoy
May 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I bought this book because I loved Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are. In that book, de Waal covered massive ground in our understanding of animal intelligence. He is a true expert and I LOVED that book.

This book, a companion book about emotions, was also compelling, easy to read, and fascinating. I thought it was not quite as outstanding as the previous book, partly because this book focused almost exclusively on primates and partly because there was more of a window into de Waal
Sep 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The stronger story in the book was in its title. The story of Mama the chimpanzee and her last human encounters before her death. Very sweet!

This book focuses on the range of animal emotions, which is a topic that is not new to the author and thus not 100% original (to me as a reader of his books). I still enjoyed reading the book because I always enjoy Frans de Waal's books. He is a very engaging writer.

de Waal goes around the animal kingdom hitting the varied emotional lives of animals. I was
Cristina Smith
Mar 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: animals
If you want to understand some of the whys of how our human society works, read this book. If you love animals and want a deeper understanding of our planet mates, this will give it to you. If you are interested in increasing your emotional intelligence, this is a fascinating guide.

Frank de Waal is a master observer, scientist and storyteller. Mama’s Last Hug is an exquisitely delivered perspective filled with enlightening wisdom emerging from the truth that we are all creatures, equal and uniq
Elizabeth Theiss
Jul 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Why do we assume that animals lack emotions and feelings? Frans de Waal argues persuasively that animals have emotions similar to our own and that there is a good probability that they also have feelings. I had not realized prior to reading this book how similar the human physiology of emotions is to that of animals. We share neurotransmitter systems, hormonal systems, and complex neurological routines.

DeWaal is a primatologist who has spent his career studying primate behavior. He’s also an en
Karen Chung
May 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting insights into the internal life of animals, especially primates. I think what I liked about it most is something I’ve long considered obvious and common sense, something that anybody who’s interacted at all with animals inherently knows: that emotionally, other animals are just not that different from us humans.
Kim Bakos
Dec 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: giveaways
A very interesting book. As a person who has always had animals, I already "know" that they have emotions and feelings. I also know that they are able to read the feelings of other species, especially us humans. It was quite educational to see how this has been documented over the years in numerous species - not only those that have been domesticated, or widely observed in lab settings such as mice and monkeys, but even fish!
Because of the academic feel of the book, it wasn't a quick read, but o
Jun 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
For some 40 years the author has studied animal behavior and emotions. In his latest book, Mama's Last Hug were are introduced to a Mama, a 59 year old matriarch chimp who was dying. Mama and biologist Jan van Hooff had formed a bond over the years so he decided to visit her for one last time before her death. Mama's keen facial recognition and happiness at seeing Jan's face resulted in smiles, and her patting his neck repeatedly in a hug, much as we'd see in human to human interactions. The int ...more
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Frans de Waal has been named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. The author of Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, among many other works, he is the C. H. Candler Professor in Emory University’s Psychology Department and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Articles featuring this book

Nonfiction readers know there's nothing more fascinating than the truth and nothing more compelling than reality. This year...
73 likes · 42 comments
“Emotions help us navigate a complex world that we don’t fully comprehend. They are our body’s way of ensuring that we do what is best for us.” 4 likes
“Emotions evolved, in short, for their capacity to induce adaptive reactions to danger, competition, mating opportunities, and so on. Emotions are action-prone. Our species shares many emotions with the other primates because we rely on approximately the same behavioral repertoire.” 3 likes
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