But unlike the dogmatic neo-atheist of his book's title, de Waal does not scorn religion per se. Instead, he draws on the long tradition of humanism exemplified by the painter Hieronymus Bosch and asks reflective readers to consider these issues from a positive perspective: What role, if any, does religion play for a well-functioning society today? And where can believers and nonbelievers alike find the inspiration to lead a good life?
Rich with cultural references and anecdotes of primate behavior, The Bonobo and the Atheist engagingly builds a unique argument grounded in evolutionary biology and moral philosophy. Ever a pioneering thinker, de Waal delivers a heartening and inclusive new perspective on human nature and our struggle to find purpose in our lives.
- ISBN-13: 9780393073775
- ISBN-10: 0393073777
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
- Publish Date: March 2013
- Page Count: 289
- Dimensions: 9.54 x 6.4 x 1.02 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.29 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-01-07
- Reviewer: Staff
Primatologist De Waal (Our Inner Ape) seeks to move beyond the faith-vs.-science divide in this reflection on the origins of morality, drawing from his famed work studying apes. De Waal’s name is particularly associated with bonobos, which provide a matriarchal, relatively peaceful, and sexually uninhibited contrast to chimpanzees, a violently competitive and male-dominated ape not unlike human patriarchy. He compares aspects of both species to humans, finding glimmers of supposedly unique qualities of human intelligence in both bonobos and chimps. Bonobos, “primate hippies,” are unmistakably touchy-feely, but the book also finds traits like friendship, inhibition, and empathy in the less obviously sensitive culture of chimps, as well as other kinds of apes and mammals. Readers will enjoy De Waal’s affectionate, colorful accounts of animal behavior, and those of religious faith will especially appreciate the author’s respectful attitude. While De Waal argues that morality is derived “from within,” not “from above,” he depicts the dilemma between rationalism and religion as a false one, urging fellow atheists to be more conciliatory toward believers. His personal, even idiosyncratic book—Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights forms a recurring motif—will likely not be received as the last word on its subject, but readers shouldn’t miss De Waal’s specific form of expertise. 12 illus. Agent: Michelle Tessler, Tessler Literary. (Mar.)