The Bonobo and the Atheist

  • by Frans de Waal
  • Narrated by Jonathan Davis
  • 9 hrs and 9 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

In this lively and illuminating discussion of his landmark research, esteemed primatologist Frans de Waal argues that human morality is not imposed from above but instead comes from within. Moral behavior does not begin and end with religion but is in fact a product of evolution.
For many years, de Waal has observed chimpanzees soothe distressed neighbors and bonobos share their food. Now he delivers fascinating fresh evidence for the seeds of ethical behavior in primate societies that further cements the case for the biological origins of human fairness. Interweaving vivid tales from the animal kingdom with thoughtful philosophical analysis, de Waal seeks a bottom-up explanation of morality that emphasizes our connection with animals. In doing so, de Waal explores for the first time the implications of his work for our understanding of modern religion. Whatever the role of religious moral imperatives, he sees it as a "Johnny-come-lately" role that emerged only as an addition to our natural instincts for cooperation and empathy.
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.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful


I had very high hopes for this book - and found them sorely disappointed. Frans de Waal is no doubt a great expert on animal behaviour and has countless interesting observations and anecdotes to draw from. Sadly he is not a deep and careful thinker, and has a tendency to over-generalize and jump to unjustified and unjustifiable conclusions. A typical example might be the passage where the author blames "science" and "scientists" for the atrocities committed during Hitler's holocaust. Not only is this utter nonsense, it is insulting to scientists. And that is not an isolated example of dubious assertions made in this book in areas where the author is hardly an authority being presented as fact. All this in order to investigate the "biological mystery" of pro-social behaviours, which really isn't that hard to understand at all. (If creatures need to reproduce to persist down the generations, and if reproducing is easier in groups where we watch each others backs rather than stabbing them, the evolution of pro-social behaviours is hardly unexpected. What's the big deal?) All in all a laboured and unconvincing treatment of a non-problem, and the odd interesting story about our closest relatives was not enough to save it. I could not make it past the first half of the book. If you are interested in this sort of subject, you are likely to be much better off with Steven Pinker's "Better Angels of Our Nature".
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- Jan W. H. Schnupp

Sheds light upon our beautiful Bonobos!

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes, we are not alone in having a sense or morality in the world. Bonobos are clearly very intelligent and should be cared for and protected (as the rest of the animals on this earth should be) by us humans.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Bonobo and the Atheist?

The stories of the Bonobos lives were amazing as they showed that Bonobos have a sense of Morality.

What does Jonathan Davis bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

Allowed me to listen whilst on the go. Perfect narration.

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- Yas

Book Details

  • Release Date: 28-05-2013
  • Publisher: Audible Studios