The Human Animal

Through interviews with more than fifty scientists from Europe, North America, and the Middle East, Phil Donahue sought expert advice on our interior world of thoughts and feelings. The two years of travel and research resulted in five sections examining our evolutionary development: the relationship between male and female, the reasons for violence, the results of heredity and environment, and the future of mankind. Although the questions certainly have moral, philosophic, and religious aspects, the intent of this book is to present the evidence of science, to sift and summarize so that we may better understand the physical basis for our behavior.

Two major themes run throughout this work. The first is the ongoing dispute over the relative influence of nature and nurture (heredity and environment). The second theme is the uniqueness of human adaptability, the way in which we learn from experience and pass on that learning.

In each section, the author separates what is known from what remains unclear or in dispute. For example, he finds a consensus in scientific opinion that extremes of parental behavior (nurture), whether love or abuse, can override a child’s genetic characteristics. He also notes the dangers of oversimplifying both the questions and the answers, and he points out the areas where scientists disagree with one another.

The book is a lot like Donahue’s television program and should appeal to the same audience. It is conversational, wide-ranging in topics and sources, full of authoritative information skillfully presented and attractively packaged. It does not delve very deeply into any one topic but moves quickly from one to the next, asking questions we have all asked at one time or another.