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Publisher's Summary

“In this masterpiece, Jamil Zaki weaves together the very latest science with stories that will stay in your heart forever.” (Angela Duckworth, author of Grit)

Empathy is in short supply. We struggle to understand people who aren’t like us, but find it easy to hate them. Studies show that we are less caring than we were even 30 years ago. In 2006, Barack Obama said that the United States was suffering from an “empathy deficit.” Since then, things seem to have only gotten worse.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In this groundbreaking book, Jamil Zaki shares cutting-edge research, including experiments from his own lab, showing that empathy is not a fixed trait - something we’re born with or not - but rather a skill that can be strengthened through effort.

He also tells the stories of people who embody this new perspective, fighting for kindness in the most difficult of circumstances. We meet a former neo-Nazi who is now helping extract people from hate groups, ex-prisoners discussing novels with the judge who sentenced them, Washington police officers changing their culture to decrease violence among their ranks, and NICU nurses fine-tuning their empathy so that they don’t succumb to burnout. 

Written with clarity and passion, The War for Kindness is an inspiring call to action. The future may depend on whether we accept the challenge. 

Praise for The War for Kindness:

“A wide-ranging practical guide to making the world better.” (NPR) 

“Relating anecdotes and test cases from his fellow researchers, news events and the imaginary world of literature and entertainment, Zaki makes a vital case for ‘fighting for kindness.’ ...If he’s right - and after reading The War for Kindness, you’ll probably think so - Zaki’s work is right on time.” (San Francisco Chronicle

“In this landmark book, Jamil Zaki gives us a revolutionary perspective on empathy: Empathy can be developed, and, when it is, people, relationships, organizations, and cultures are changed.” (Carol Dweck, author of Mindset)

©2019 Jamil Zaki (P)2019 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“In a time when it seems empathy is a lost cause and compassion is a dying art, it may not be too late to revive the better angels of our nature. Jamil Zaki is one of the brightest lights in psychology, and in this gripping book he shows that kindness is not a sign of weakness but a source of strength.” (Adam Grant, author of Give and Take and Originals)  

"Lucid, stimulating...[The War for Kindness aims] to challenge antiquated views of the brain and human behavior.... Zaki issues a call for concerted action to build empathy in a world he sees as fractured and threatened by escalating tribalism, cruelty, and isolation.” (The American Scholar)

“Jamil Zaki makes the most entertainingly readable argument for cultivating empathy that I’ve read. Seamlessly stitching together his own experiences with fascinating stories and research from around the globe, Jamil lays out the irrefutable evidence for what we may already instinctively be sensing...that in these uncertain times, our ability to cultivate empathy for one another is not only possible, it’s necessary. A must read for anyone willing to peek under the hood of the human heart.” (Amanda Palmer)  

“With alarming evidence of our society's rapidly diminishing empathy, Zaki draws on decades of clinical research, along with experiments conducted at his lab, to consider the forces that impact our modern condition… [a] well-researched call to action and an urgent message.” (Kirkus Reviews

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What listeners say about The War for Kindness

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Inspiring, engaging, thoughtful

Loved this book! It's an easy-to-read, engaging, and thoughtful description of the latest psychological research on empathy alongside powerful stories of empathy in the real-world. Dr. Zaki has a very engaging writing style -- you can tell he was once a fiction writer, he uses a lot of evocative figurative language, and many of his stories read like sections from a novel. He's also a great scientist, who cites some of the most interesting research out there on empathy. He presents an interesting case for the idea that empathy is a skill that can grow through effort, and that even just believing that empathy is a skill can encourage us to empathize more when it is most difficult. He talks about how various things, like the arts, virtual reality, or contact with other groups can be used to help grow our empathy, and how we can leverage these tools to build empathy in a divided world.

I also loved Paul Bloom's "Against Empathy," and I'd recommend reading these two alongside each other. Bloom reviews some of the darker sides of empathy -- it's innumerate, biased toward our in-group, and having too much empathy toward our own groups can even encourage hate toward other groups. Zaki presents a more hopeful message. While he indeed covers some of the darker sides of empathy (he has a chapter on "compassion fatigue," and at times mentions Bloom's arguments in the book) Zaki's "mobilist" account of empathy, or belief that we can up-regulate or down-regulate our empathy to best fit the situation, is a potential solution to some of these darker sides of empathy. Would highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the psychology of empathy, or anyone who is simply interested in building a kinder world in divided times.

Also, Dr. Zaki narrates the book himself, and does a great job! Great to hear his words in his voice.

7 people found this helpful

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I wanted to like it.

It wasn’t what I was expecting. I felt like most of the book became a social lecture rather than a helpful analysis of how we could become more empathetic.

Up through chapter 5 I was riveted. Seriously broken at chapter 5. With how well it ripped at ones hear strings. Then chapter six and seven went on a tirade of social issues of which he not only feels strongly about (which is obvious in the texts) but offers little more than “we know this … (fact here)” with little to offer on what he wants to do about it.

Which is what brings me to why this book truly fell so short. Aside from a social and philosophical lecture for the latter half of the book (which I am more than willing to listen to and learn from) there is no substance on what we need to do in order to better our own empathy. Stories and studies vaguely point to possible solutions, but on a personal level and one who is engrained in my community’s workings, I have little to actually implement other than cute stories, heart wrenching experiences and vague knowledge on what worked.

I really wanted to have a great book. But this one seriously wasn’t it.

6 people found this helpful

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State of Contemplation

There were moments that I laughed, there were moments when I was frustrated, there were moments when I was physically angry, and there were moments I cried. Although the emotions varied all of those moments brought me to a contemplative state.

I have recommended this book to several others; those working in healthcare, those working in social justice, and anyone else I know that wants to facilitate change for us all.

Thank you for the time and study, thank you for acknowledging those that are working to make changes and those that may need to be striving harder. I did a self check several times while listening to the book; even skipped backwards to let things sink in.

3 people found this helpful

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Building Empathy in an Audible World

I chose this book because I was a teaching assistant when Jamil Zaki was teaching intro psych at Stanford. He gave insightful feedback about how to engage students with the material and modeled that advice in his lectures and demonstrations. Anyone who is curious about the scientific process will be interested to hear Zaki’s description of the narrative behind his research. I was also excited to see how Erika Weisz’ work was incorporated and how the overall message came together. Highly recommend!

2 people found this helpful

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Everyone should read or listen to this book

Jamil Zaki, the director of Stanford’s Social Neuroscience Laboratory, researches the cognitive and neural bases of social behavior focusing specifically on empathic accuracy, social influence, and altruism.

I️ have always found psychology, neurobiology, neuroscience, and neurological mechanisms fascinating and I️ love that Dr. Zaki’s research melds those areas with the active practices of kindness and empathy.

This book reviews studies that illustrate how active practices of empathy change our neuroplasticity and patterns of behavior and how, in case studies, it has changed how individuals approach situations and other people differently than they would have without focusing on empathy and kindness.

This book is imperative in today’s world. It focuses on social behavior and conflict surrounding police violence, recidivism, perceived conformity, extremist groups, and caretaker burnout, amongst many other topics. Dr. Zaki not only approaches this book with a professional level of presenting his and his colleagues’ findings, but also on a personal level with stories of his experience with doctors’ empathy in the treatment of his own daughter in the NICU.

I️ HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone who is willing to openmindedly listen (or if you’re not openmindedly approaching this book, then maybe you’ll at least pick up bits and pieces of useful information).

One of my best, most impactful reads in a long time.

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Thought provoking. Interesting, light read.

Very well written and dives into some thought provoking research about empathy.

It has an appendix that allows you to check the robustness of some of the claims the author discusses, which adds to the credibility and transparency of the book.

Only thing I would improve is the audio quality. While the author is a good narrator, the sound quality is not as good as in other audiobooks. It sounds a little bit muffled.

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Interesting and much-needed

This audiobook is packed with science, but is also very readable and engaging. I like how he included lots of stories and anecdotes. It held my attention all the way through. I learned about the science and psychology of empathy, both on an individual scale and on a societal scale. This book is also a great reminder of the importance of empathy and the power of getting to know people you don't agree with in this highly polarized world.

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A great read on empathy in our lives

A truly excellent read that explores empathy in its different forms in various contexts. The book is written for the public and is both engaging and chock-full of relevant and accessible examples. Of particular interest for those into (de)polarisation, conflict resolution, and self-development.

The audiobook is read by the author - he does a great job.

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everyone should read this

thank you for taking the time to explain empathy in a way that is educational and also from the heart and soul of who we are and can be.

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well written and interesting

certainly a lot of interesting information. well written and well narrated. Overall enjoyable. Harder to follow in own life but we should all make an attempt to be more empathetic to one another