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"Overall, most men can become murderers if given sufficient provocation."
That's the startling statement made by Michael P. Ghiglieri in his fascinating new book, "The Dark Side of Man: Tracing the Origins of Male Violence" (Perseus Books, $26).
The author is an anthropologist and protege of the late Jane Goodall, famous for her studies of gorillas. Ghiglieri makes a serious and reasoned argument that males and females have evolved to behave differently. He contends that the problem of violence can be traced back to our evolutionary origins.
Early in the book, he states that the basic premise he puts forth is that we are understandable both from a biological perspective and in an environmental context. "Nature equipped each of us with a complex brain ruled by chemical nejuro-transmitters that spur in us instinctive emotional responses to situations, which in turn influence our behavior," he writes.
"This may not be a comfortable way to look at ourselves, but biology tells us that this is the only accurate way and, more to the point, that it is the onloy way that offers us any real hope of understanding our behavior, including our use of violence," he continues.
He sees a link between the great apes and today's humans, arguing they offer mpore than just "an eerie glimpse of the basic behavorial software from which humanity emerged." He contends that the apes provide insights into the origins of human violence--"insights that help make it possible to understand the male psyche."
The author is not afraid to tackle the big question: are men born to be lethally violent? "The answer is yes," he states emphatically. "Aggression is programmed by our DNA. A Dutch team even identified a gene for hyperaggression in men. But even normal men are born killers."
Because of man's "jungle legacy of testosterone-induced aggression," Ghiglieri believes that "emotions such as rage, jealousy, fear, lust, love, grief, and gluttony inspire men to kill." He says that violence erupts because "men do not understand themselves."
In a long chapter on rape, Ghiglieri states that "men did not invent rape. Instead, they very likely inherited rape behavior from our ape ancestral lineage."
Another chapter deals with murder, with statistics showing that the United States continues to lead the world in the number of homicides. Roughly one in 15,000 Americans is murdered each year, he says, which computes to one is every 200 Americans being murdered during an average 75-year life span.
The book puts forth the thesis that human murder is no accident. "Instead,m murder is encoded into the human psyche. People who murder do so deliberately based on their own personal decisions favoring their own ultimate self-interests. They do not murder because they themselves are hapless victims of a society gone haywire."
Is there a solution, an answer to the gloomy statistics rattled off with authority in this disturbing book? Yes, Ghiglieri says. "The antidote to men's violence in America is for the vast majority of U.S. citizens to cooperate as a group to achieve two processes not currently happening."
He urges that all children be taught, from day one, "self control, self-discipline, and self responsibility in a world where we ourselves show that offensive violence is wrong. We must make the teaching of fairness, justice, and human values our primary goals."
He also says that only by establishing a system of justice that makes violence not only "not pay," but that that system bring pain to the pepetrators of such violence. Only by taking action as individuals to fight to male proclivities to their dark side can there be a solution.
This is a book worth your time.
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I have been writing about books for more than four decades. My initial book reviews appeared in the Sunday editions of The Herald-Advertiser in Huntington, W. Va. in 1958. I find that writing about books is almost as much fun as reading them.
And then there a periods when I can't seem to find a good book, despite a tall stack of new releases brought to my door by the postman and the UPS lady. That's been the case recently.
Rosanne Daryl Thomas's second novel, "Awaiting Grace" (Picador USA, $22) supposedly is a comic romp in which God Himself acts as the narrator. The problem with the book is its wacky characters and their sad situations hardly are the stuff that would elicit chuckles.
David Treuer's second novel (maybe that's what's wrong with these books: the curse of the sophomore slump) is a grim visit to American Indians in Minnesota. "The Hiawatha" (Picador USA, $24) examines struggles with poverty that create a downbeat defeatism that can't be overcome by Treuer's mastery of language and deep knowledge of the plight of the Ojibwes who are portrayed in these tough pages. Gloomy stuff, no matter how well written.
Ella Leffland's new novel, "Breath and Shadows" (Morrow, $24) is being labeled a masterpiece (by its publisher) and received a rave notice from Publisher's Weekly. The book follows three generations of the Rosted family across centuries, continents, and the span of human destiny. (I stole that from the press release.) I tried, but found it impossible to get caught up in the narrative. So much for the masterpiece.
When Carrie Brown's "Rose's Garden" came out a while ago, I was so entranced by its magic that I interviewed the author for one of my columns. Brown's second novel, "Lamb in Love" (Algonquin Books) possesses none of the magic so abundant in the unforgettable pages of "Rose's Garden." This is one of those love stories that isn't wrapped up until the final pages, but I had lost interest in these dull characters long before the end of their slow-paced adventures. A major disappointment is this one.
Newcomer Robert Clark Young has a potentially powerful story in "One of the Guys" (Cliff Street Books, $24). The unconventional plot has a porn shop attendent assuming the identify of a customer who died on the premises. That leads to some unexpected adventures when his new identity is that of a Navy chaplain who was a closeted gay man. Some interesting situations develop, but the book never moves beyond the obvious. Again, this one is getting some good reviews within the booksellers' trade magazines.
David Foster Wallace made lots of noise a couple of years ago with his bombastic novel, "Infinite Jest," which turned out to be one of those fat novels that many bought but few read. Wallace returns with a collection of short stories, "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" (Little, Brown, $24). There are moments of good writing within these pages, but not enough of them. It's bound to be another book that many purchase, but few complete.
My Irish ancestry normally makes me appreciate writers who deal with the Irish in one way or another. However, Anne Haverty's novel, "One Day As a Tiger" (Ecco Press, $15) didn't capture my fancy. It deals with a young student at Dublin's Trinity College who returns to his family's farm after his parents die in a tragedy. The novel won prizes and rave reviews when originally published in hard covers.
G.K. Wuori's new book, "Nude in Tub" (Algonquin Books, $18.95) contains stories that never wander the familiar paths of fiction. Wuori insists on being different. Your reaction to his style might be welcoming. I didn't like it.
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