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See Inside October 2009

Recommended: The Age of Empathy

Scientific American also suggests The Sibley Guide to Trees


The Sibley Guide to Trees
by David Allen Sibley. Knopf, 2009
Naturalist and illustrator David Allen Sibley, best known for his guides to birds, turns his attention to the bark, leaves, fruits and flowers of more than 600 species of North American trees, such as the shagbark hickory.

EXCERPT
The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society
by Frans de Waal. Harmony Books, 2009
Grieving elephants, sympathetic bonobos, grateful whales—nature is not always red in tooth and claw. In his latest book primatologist Frans de Waal draws on numerous examples from our fellow fauna, such as the chimpanzee in the anecdote below, to make his case that humans are hard-wired to be humane.

“… don’t believe anyone who says that since nature is based on a struggle for life, we need to live like this as well. Many animals survive not by eliminating each other or by keeping everything for themselves, but by cooperating and sharing. This applies most definitely to pack hunters, such as wolves or killer whales, but also our closest relatives, the primates. In a study in Taï National Park, in Ivory Coast, chimpanzees took care of group mates wounded by leopards, licking their blood, carefully removing dirt, and waving away flies that came near the wounds. They protected injured companions, and slowed down during travel in order to accommodate them. All of this makes perfect sense given that chimpanzees live in groups for a reason, the same way wolves and humans are group animals for a reason. If man is wolf to man, he is so in every sense, not just the negative one. We would not be where we are today had our ancestors been socially aloof.

“What we need is a complete overhaul of assumptions about human nature. Too many economists and politicians model human society on the perpetual struggle they believe exists in nature, but which is a mere projection. Like magicians, they first throw their ideological prejudices into the hat of nature, then pull them out by their very ears to show how much nature agrees with them. It’s a trick for which we have fallen for too long. Obviously, competition is part of the picture, but humans can’t live by competition alone.”

MORE NOTABLE BOOKS
The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science
by Richard Holmes. Pantheon, 2009

The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution
by Richard Dawkins. Free Press, 2009

Uranium Wars: The Scientific Rivalry That Created the Nuclear Age
by Amir D. Aczel. Macmillan, 2009

Rising Plague: The Global Threat from Deadly Bacteria and Our Dwindling Arsenal to Fight Them
by Brad Spellberg. Prometheus Books, 2009

Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens: Frank Oppenheimer and the World He Made Up
by K. C. Cole. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009

Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything
by Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell. Dutton, 2009

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