Wright's use of vocabulary is almost worth the book by itself. The case laid out in the book is largely well thought through even if it is (as the author often reminds the reader) speculative. The narrator has a vaguely condescending English accent. However, the condescension isn't so thick as to be annoying and given Wright's command of the English language the condescension almost seems appropriate. The downsides of the book are (1) the speculative nature of a lot of what is said, and (2) the extent to which it lionizes Charles Darwin. I can understand the use of Charles Darwin's life as a means of illustrating the points being made. It is nice that the books serves as a partial biography of Charles Darwin. But the one dimensional descriptions of his life are hard to swallow, if not hard to believe.
The author comes across as afraid to link science to morality. First he provides lots of interesting evolutionary evidence why morality is what it is, but then seems afraid of coming across as saying it is what it is and is eager to provide some 'policies' of how humans can improve the behaviour of humans by some humans coercing some other ones (progressive taxation to prevent too many alpha males and laws against polygamy, preventing many females to flock to one rich alpha male). That human nature can be improved by giving some humans coercive powers, is of course a logical fallacy. He seems to be to much haunted by the ghosts of social darwinism, genetic breeding and Skinner conditioning, to take the obvious scientific stance on this.
Of course what 'policies' do is just give alpha males even more coercive powers as is proven by ever growing government, growing income gaps, wall street bailouts, welfare single mother government run ghettos and beta males being send off to foreign wars in far away countries by the alphas.
This brings him into the spigot of saying others are perfectly free to opt out of the advantages of morality, but no doubt he would not be ok with opting out of his 'policies'.
He has some interesting thoughts about determinism and has spotted the problems with free will, revealing some interesting views of Darwin on this.
What I found the best part is an analysis of the evolution of Darwin's own moral claims in relation to his actions and how it was driven by his ambition and the strength of his personal position at the time of making these claims.
I also think that a scientific evaluation of morality would also benefit from taking Kant and Molyneux along besides evolution, but maybe that would become to elaborate for one book.
In The Moral Animal I found myself arguing with the anthropological evolution of (mostly) men because the logic is often in direct violation of American culture today. Remember the flack Newt Gingrich experienced when he said men were hunters? It was interesting to have a reason why some women want the “bad boys” and why men ask women to marry them (instead of women asking men). There are exceptions, of course, but humanity moves in generalities. This book has provided me with an understanding of human behavior. By looking at animals and applying their behavior to the animal side of humans, we can see that morals become the great divide. Men famously think about sex most of the time and will mate with any female, just as dogs will; however, if a man has “good” morals, he will remain faithful to his wife/girlfriend, whereas a dog won't remember that he just mated with a female an hour ago. If no or low morals, man will mate and perhaps think about any consequences later.
There are many examples in the book of various forms of primates to explain why behavior exists. In the early days of mankind, one man would have many wives and concubines and that is what helped populate the world. Today we no longer need to stress population, indeed, we focus on slowing it down through various methods of contraception and imposition of morals. Only man has morals; animals have instincts.
Sometimes the book drags on and I wanted to fast forward, but then there was that one nugget of information that was intriguing. The reader has a monotonous voice that I often struggled to stay with. If you are a thinker, analytical and are curious about human behavior, this is a must read. You won’t have to ask why someone behaved the way s/he did.
Boring (and I love to geek out on this kind of stuff).
I didn't feel that the other reviews and the description gave an accurate account of what I was getting.
No. Better books on the subject are available.
Not technical enough.
Yes. Appreciate just how good Richard Dawkin's "The Selfish Gene" and Matt Ridley's "The Red Queen" are in comparison.
I am far from a Feminist BUT this book made me feel like one. The author seemed to believe that all women are gold-diggers among many other shallow and naive assumptions. Too much personal and cultural bias and not enough science.
If the book were actually more about psychology and less of a biography of Darwin.
The irony of using Charles Darwin as a specimen in a scientific study on the theory of evolution. The humor, the charm, the humanity and the cold blooded analysis
The time and detail put in to quite simple but profound topics
His style suited the content of the book perfectly
Don't be afraid to look inside.
If I could have read the entire book--I would have likely rated the story higher I am sure--however the narration made it impossible for me to pay attention to the text and I could not complete the book.
Love to read. Love to write.
The science behind our motivations and behavior, a lot of it based up Darwin’s theories which basically boils down to most of what we do being driven by our genetic pre-disposition for survival and propagation. A lot of it makes a lot of sense – interesting material. I enjoyed every minute of it.
If you'd appreciate a detailed history of the life of Darwin, then you'd rate this book higher than I did. But most of us would probably prefer a book half as long with less Darwin biography. Most of the widely spaced ideas are excellent, but I was terribly bored with most of the book.