Mama’s Last Hug: Animal and Human Emotions

Frans de Waal. Norton, $27.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-393-63506-5
In this illuminating—and remarkably moving—treatise on animal empathy, Emory University primatologist de Waal (Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?) delivers some of his most damaging, and joyous, blows yet to human exceptionalism. Drawing on his own extensive experiences, de Waal recounts example after example of animals displaying humanlike emotions and “emotional intelligence.” Parrots, jays, mice, and apes can “time travel,” or project themselves into future events based on an awareness of the past, while monkeys and various bird species can delay gratification. This all makes sense, he argues, since “animals just can’t afford to blindly run after their impulses.” On a less lofty plane, chimps have been observed being cruel for fun, and rats can laugh (albeit ultrasonically). De Waal reflects that much has changed during his career. His proposal that animals can reconcile with each other after conflicts met with skepticism during the 1970s, but is now widely accepted. One remaining mystery—whether animals have “free will”—can’t be answered, he argues, until humans know if they themselves actually possess that trait. Making clear that “instead of tiptoeing around” emotions, researchers must now “squarely face the degree to which all animals are driven by them,” de Waal’s masterful work of evolutionary psychology will leave both fellow academics and intellectually curious layreaders with much food for thought. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 12/10/2018
Release date: 03/05/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
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