The Dark Side of Man: Tracing the Origins of Violence
by Michael P. Ghiglieri
Published 1999 by Perseus Books, Reading Massachusetts
ISBN 073820076x

Michael Ghiglieri served in Vietnam and went on to study primatology. Both his combat experience, and his time spent observing chimpanzee troops in the wild inform this dark and deeply troubling work.

This is a wide ranging book and Ghiglieri does not shy away from criticizing people he believes harm our understanding of violence by portraying a world they wish existed, instead of the one that we in fact live in. He is impatient with what he describes as feminist accounts of rape (rape as power), liberal accounts of violence (blaming society rather than the criminal), gun control laws, and socialism. He supports the death penalty by arguing that lex talonis (eye for an eye retributive justice) is both justified and effective at reducing violence in societies. Ghiglieri describes the reproductive advantages of aggression, rape, murder, war and genocide. He seeks to demonstrate why the advantages realized by aggressive, violent males (in all species of the great apes) inevitably lead to magnification of these traits in populations. He is not prepared to let men get by with this sort of behavior however, he devotes the end of his book to a discussion of cooperation and retributive justice as means of inhibiting violence.

Whether or not one shares Ghiglieri’s social or political views, his theory of justice, or believes that his description of violence is accurate or adequately portrayed; this book demands more than comfortable cliches and responses based on naive Rousseauian views of human nature. I recommend this book to anyone interested in deepening their understanding of violence.

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