• The Moral Animal

  • Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology
  • By: Robert Wright
  • Narrated by: Greg Thornton
  • Length: 16 hrs and 30 mins
  • 4.3 out of 5 stars (1,821 ratings)

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The Moral Animal

By: Robert Wright
Narrated by: Greg Thornton
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Publisher's Summary

Are men literally born to cheat? Does monogamy actually serve women's interests? These are among the questions that have made The Moral Animal one of the most provocative science books in recent years. Wright unveils the genetic strategies behind everything from our sexual preferences to our office politics - as well as their implications for our moral codes and public policies.

©1995 Robert Wright (P)2010 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"An accessible introduction to the science of evolutionary psychology and how it explains many aspects of human nature. Unlike many books on the topic,which focus on abstractions like kin selection, this book focuses on Darwinian explanations of why we are the way we are--emotionally and morally. Wright deals particularly well with explaining the reasons for the stereotypical dynamics of the three big "S's:" sex, siblings, and society." (Amazon.com review)

What listeners say about The Moral Animal

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Ridiculously Insightful

The Moral Animal is THE book on evolutionary psychology. Robert Wright applies a straightforward game-theoretic analysis to theorize how natural selection shaped human psychology, and gets remarkably penetrating insights into human nature.

I feel like I am seeing human nature laid bare. I find myself shaking my head in awe, because after I hear Wright's characterization of some social dynamic, it seems so clear obvious in retrospect that I can't believe it's not common knowledge.

I also love the way Wright applies the principles of evolutionary psychology to analyze episodes in Darwin's life. Wright's Darwinian understanding of human nature enriches the book's view into Darwin's life.

This is one of the best books in the entire Audible collection. A must-listen.

61 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A Masterpiece of Science Writing

Robert Wright's 'The Moral Animal' is a phenomenal look at the science of evolutionary psychology, using Darwin's own life (and his published and unpublished writings) to organize and explain various ev. psych topics like: marriage, families, society and social status, and morality.

In a growing field of popular books on psychology, geology, economics, evolution, etc., Wright tends to stand apart (along with the likes of E.O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, Steven Leavitt, Michael Lewis, John McPhee, Oliver Sachs, Michael Shermer, etc).

It all tends to fit into Wright's 'big thesis' on non-zero sum relationships. If you haven't read Wright's 'NonZero', or 'Evolution of God', go pick those two up after you read/listen to this one. They are all fantastic.

Greg Thorton does a good job of narrating this masterpiece of science writing.

55 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Solid.

This book was written in 1994, and its underlying philosophy holds true today, even if a few other theories on evolutionary psychology have eclipsed what Wright has written here. (Just as what Charles Darwin has written is still powerful despite the work that has been done after his death, interestingly.) For those of us who are atheists, a book like the Moral Animal becomes extremely important because it shows that morality does not need to come from a deity, and instead likely comes out of our own interest in passing our genes to the next generation. Although I personally feel that at least some morality need not come out of clinical self-interest. Nor does it always need to be explained. The Moral Animal along with Wright's latest book, The Evolution of God, have, inadvertently or tangentially, done more for the cause of atheists than any works before, during or since.

31 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Older but Worthwhile Introduction

Robert Wright’s Moral Animal (1995) is not one of the new books on the topic of evolutionary psychology, but it is a start. Here Wright explains thinking associated with evolutionary psychology and links it to the life and teachings of Charles Darwin. The book is thought provoking and gently takes the reader into this relatively new psychological perspective. Wright’s consideration of kin-related altruism was of particular interest to me. For my taste, however, Wright spends more time on Darwin’s biography than on introducing evolutionary psychology per se. I will look further to learn more. Greg Thornton's reading is a plus.

22 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

not so consistent

The author comes across as afraid to link science to morality. First he provides lots of interesting evolutionary evidence why morality is what it is, but then seems afraid of coming across as saying it is what it is and is eager to provide some 'policies' of how humans can improve the behaviour of humans by some humans coercing some other ones (progressive taxation to prevent too many alpha males and laws against polygamy, preventing many females to flock to one rich alpha male). That human nature can be improved by giving some humans coercive powers, is of course a logical fallacy. He seems to be to much haunted by the ghosts of social darwinism, genetic breeding and Skinner conditioning, to take the obvious scientific stance on this.
Of course what 'policies' do is just give alpha males even more coercive powers as is proven by ever growing government, growing income gaps, wall street bailouts, welfare single mother government run ghettos and beta males being send off to foreign wars in far away countries by the alphas.
This brings him into the spigot of saying others are perfectly free to opt out of the advantages of morality, but no doubt he would not be ok with opting out of his 'policies'.
He has some interesting thoughts about determinism and has spotted the problems with free will, revealing some interesting views of Darwin on this.
What I found the best part is an analysis of the evolution of Darwin's own moral claims in relation to his actions and how it was driven by his ambition and the strength of his personal position at the time of making these claims.
I also think that a scientific evaluation of morality would also benefit from taking Kant and Molyneux along besides evolution, but maybe that would become to elaborate for one book.

20 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Wonderful and Insightful!

This is a profoundly insightful book that explores the inner evolutionary workings of the human being in regard to what we term moral behavior, particularly in the sexual realm, as Wright sees the reproductive urges and needs of the male and female animal as being perhaps the greatest inner (and thus often highly subconscious) motivators of almost all "moral/immoral" behavior and views them as the very source of the need for moral systems to start with. A fascinating read and a great introduction to the growing realm of evolutionary psychology.

18 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Life Changing Book

It may be the case, that any first book I were to read about the new Darwinian Paradigm would change my life - but the fact is that I read this one.
Wright's delivery is comprehensive, powerful, razor sharp, enjoyable, challenging, insightful, inspired and inspiring.
Truly a work that will go down in history as a herald of morality's future.

17 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Philosophy for the non-philosopher

The book is a Darwinian slant on Darwin the man and its new paradigm (evolutionary psychology). I only started to fully appreciate this book after I realized it was not a science book for non-scientist, but rather a philosophy book for non-philosophers.

The author coherently ties together through an overriding narrative on our human psychology and moral development. While I've listened to most of the more recent books on the same topic from various authors (Dawkins, Diamond, Pinker, Gazzaniga, Wilson,Kahneman, and Ridley) available on Audible, none of them tied together the story as well as this book and make you feel the philosophical implications of the theory of evolutionary psychology.

The book is dated (copyright 1994) but not out of date. Most of the stories told in the book I've heard versions of them in the more recent books. That's not a fault of the book. It's just that I read this book (in 2012) after having read the other books.

I enjoyed this book so much that after listening I started listening to his other book, "Nonzero".

Warning: this book has the ability to make you reassess you place in the universe and become more interested in philosophy. Enjoy.

15 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

One of the most intelligent books ever written

I was absolutely amazed that a theory of origin could so succinctly describe and explain the rationale for modern human behaviour. I am a born skeptic but, this work is very good. What a beautiful gift it was to learn from this book the true nature we hide from ourselves and by knowing, to gain power over it. Reading this book was an exercise in liberation. As some skeptics of evolution have said, "the truth will set you free" and so it does.
To make the information more readable and to explain his points, the author brings in stories from Darwin's life from his love for his wife to his devout faith in god. This does makes the book less academic and more personal. The narration was very well done and easy to listen to.

15 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Evolutionary Psychology and Charles Darwin

Evolutionary Psychology was a new topic for me and I found the presentation to be interesting and understandable. The last part of the book, where the author attempts to deal with the moral/ethical issues raised in the first part, was not nearly as interesting to me as the 1st part.
There were 2 aspects of this book that made it memorable. First is the excellent narration. This is the first book that has prompted me to look for others by the same narrator, and sadly there is only one. Greg Thornton has a pleasant voice with a slight accent. It reminds me of Ray Romano's voice. And the delivery helped to keep my attention from wandering (as sometimes happens with audiobooks) without being overdone or distracting.
Secondly, the author's frequent use of material from the life of Charles Darwin to illustrate the material he was presenting was a bonus. I never expected to find a biography of Darwin embedded in this book.

14 people found this helpful

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  • Greg Gauthier
  • 01-12-17

Fascinating, and Frustrating

Wright's book is essential reading on, and a monument to the aspirational leanings of early evolutionary psychology. He does an excellent job of benchmarking the scientific understanding of evolution and psychology in the waning years of the 20th century. But the book was much more a work of yearning, than one of sober scientific understanding. Wright intertwines the personal biography of Charles Darwin amidst a continuous stream of speculative theories about the purposive role of reciprocal altruism, relatedness, kin selection, and social 'fitness', in our genetic heritage, using Darwin as a kind of "patient zero" role model for these theories. The goal of all of it, as the title of the book exclaims, is to understand "why we are the way we are".

But Wright doesn't stop there. Despite numerous cautions against the urge to derive rules for living from natural purposes, even appealing directly to G. E. Moore late in the book, he still couldn't help himself but turn the book into an attempt to derive some sort of "moral of the story" from the various theories he'd sketched in the previous chapters. This, I think, was a mistake. It was as if Wright was confused about the purpose of his own book. Is it science, or philosophy?

After a long trek through the psychological and biological literature, suddenly we're thrust into a long discussion on Mill's Utilitarianism, and Darwin's particular flavor of it. And in the end, a meander into the religious tradition to ponder on questions of self-sacrifice, brotherly love, and self-denial. Ultimately, Wright ignores his own warnings, and seems to counsel for a kind of detente between the rational and the biological self, in which we seek self-awareness, but not *too much* self-awareness, and follow Darwin's role model of a psychology cynical of the self, but generous toward others.

As a founding document in the literature of evolutionary psychology, this work is definitely worth the read, but don't go into it expecting much in the way of answers. It's so early in the game, all it has to offer is a long string of questions. Maybe that's it's greatest strength, actually.

44 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Jordan Valdma
  • 08-17-18

Read selfish gene instead.

Lacks science focus. Story is based on Darwin life and lacks coherence in terms of presenting scientific materials

13 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Dusty
  • 01-30-18

Couldn’t get through it.

When I read the synopsis of this book I was so excited to get stuck in and learn but unfortunately I’ve not been able to finish it. The narration is so dull and boring I found it painful to listen to. I’m sure he’s a lovely person but he made me want to pull all of my fingernails out one by one. Not what you want from a bedtime story.

I would advice anyone who is thinking of getting this book to listen to the short clip and see if you can handle his style. I wish I had.

12 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Simon
  • 03-27-15

The best book I've read in a long time

The best book I've read/listened to in a long time. So many important and valid points, it's almost overwhelming.

4 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 12-20-20

Outdated view of modern marriage and love

The author has NO idea about modern men or women and their attitudes. Avoid.

3 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Rebecca M.
  • 01-23-19

Interesting but a bit dry

I thought the way that Robert Wright uses Darwin himself as a case study for the behaviours discussed was very clever, although it felt in many ways to be a biography rather than an exploration of evolutionary psychology. He does however cover quite a lot of material. Whether it's "new" I'm not sure. The narrator was probably the worst part of the experience so if you don't mind him then you will likely find this interesting and Informative.

3 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • duncan
  • 12-06-14

Brilliantly engaging book

Would you listen to Moral Animal again? Why?

Yes. So much information within this book it will defiantly be worth a second and third listen.

What did you like best about this story?

Well its not so much a story but a insightful look at how and why we do things.
Very eye opening and enlightening, helps you understand your own and others actions.

Which scene did you most enjoy?

N/A

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

Staring arnold schwarzenegger as the selfish gene. No... N/A

Any additional comments?

Really enjoyed listening to this and would definitely recommend it. Especially if you have any interest in psychology, evolution or anthropology.Helps to explain our own and others actions.

2 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Lee
  • 10-22-20

A Moral Animal

An insightful book, and one definitely worth the effort to read.

It combines the contemporary sciences with Darwin's theories; it includes his personal/family and professional lives... there's so much to digest that it may well take another read (at the very least) before the information begins to settle.

Excellent.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • have.patience
  • 07-31-20

Yes. Get it.

nice history and story of Darwin laced with details and breakdowns of his work and evolutionary biology and even psychology. yes. if you're a beginner get it.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • interseller_uk
  • 07-30-18

Excellent thought provoking book

One of the best books I have read. Explains evolutionary psychology in an enjoyable and detailed way.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 09-25-21

Great book!

Very pleasent to listen to.

Gave me a lot to think about. Bases of emotions and behavior originating from genes. I have a behaviorism background so lisyining to the other perspective was very engaging.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 10-03-20

Strikes at the core of behaviour

I could feel my genes running for cover as they were exposed by Darwin’s theory on their evolution.
Not long into the narration, a deep sense emotional inevitability mixes with a foreboding power of eons of subconsciously driven behaviour to show just who we all really are...Basic animals relying on a thin veneer of free will to prove to ourselves we’re in control.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 08-28-19

Great book - lots of good info

Good info on evolution and human behavious but way too long. Some fluff and stories could be removed.

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Miss Alana C Smith
  • 08-19-18

Awful narrator voice :(

Terrible narration voice for such a good book. Very disappointed, he sounds a bit strangled, why do so many audiobooks use such poor narrator voices?!?