The Kindness of Strangers: How a Selfish Ape Invented a New Moral Code

Basic. May 2020. 368p. ISBN 9780465064748. pap. $30. PSYCH
McCullough (psychology, Univ. Calif. at San Diego; Beyond Revenge) reaches beyond his psychology credentials into the discipline of anthropology to analyze how humans developed the ability to care about other humans. He reasons that the kindness of strangers emerged over the past 10,000 years through seven different confrontations with mass suffering that created threats and opportunities that our ancestors responded to with the power of reasoning and developed compassion for others. Over time, continued progress in technology, science, and trade furnished humans with the strengthened attention to the needs of others. These ideas also surprisingly confounded by this reviewer’s understanding of the author’s seemingly mistaken concept that modern human primate behavior can be explained by instinct (nonlearned, inherited, genetically based patterns of action). Professional anthropologists and evolutionary scientists now agree that modern homo sapiens behavior is no longer driven by instincts but instead by a complex combination of emotional and biological drives, reflexes and reactions, innate capabilities and physical differences, rational reasoning, intelligent analysis, conscious free will, and an overall purposeful control of behavior. McCullough’s work can serve as a bookend for Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers.
VERDICT Recommended only for senior level students and researchers in anthropology and psychology curriculum.
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