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Basic Books
  • Hardcover
  • $26.99 / $33.99 CAN
  • ISBN 13: 978-0-465-03300-3
Bookforum
"Timed almost perfectly, Rick Shenkman's Political Animals seeks to explain our erratic political behavior using a different lens, one that focuses on the role evolution plays in how we choose our leaders.... [Shenkman's] conclusions are far from flattering to our intellectual vanity, but he draws on a wealth of evidence, demonstrating just how abject our dependence on our Stone Age brain can be.... Telling self-proclaimed rational voters they unknowingly punished a politician for an act of God or an NFL franchise's post-season collapse seems ludicrous and insulting, but Shenkman's case is compelling."

Washington Post
"Shenkman mixes history with evolutionary psychology to illuminate why American voters so often misread their leaders, resist politicians who offer hard truths and succumb to facile arguments."

Kirkus
"Readers will appreciate [Shenkman's] personable, chatty tone and will delight in the broad allusions and the wide variety of historical incidents he cites to help make his point- he makes a convincing case about our hard-wired infirmities and how they work to undermine our democracy. An amiable tour of the socioscientific evidence that accounts for our political miscalculations."

Scientific American
"A timely look into psychological patterns that drive political behavior."

Political Animals

How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics

By Rick Shenkman

A bestselling historian holds our political choices up to the glare of social science to show just how illogical our voting habits are—and how we can fix them, and by extension, our democracy

Can a football game affect the outcome of an election? What about shark attacks? Or a drought? In a rational world the answer, of course, would be no. But as bestselling historian Rick Shenkman explains in Political Animals, our world is anything but rational. Drawing on science, politics, and history, Shenkman explores the hidden forces behind our often illogical choices.

Political Animals challenges us to go beyond the headlines, which often focus on what politicians do (or say they'll do), and to concentrate instead on what's really important: what shapes our response. Shenkman argues that, contrary to what we tell ourselves, it's our instincts rather than arguments appealing to reason that usually prevail. Pop culture tells us we can trust our instincts, but science is proving that when it comes to politics our Stone Age brain often malfunctions, misfires, and leads us astray.

Fortunately, we can learn to make our instincts work in our favor. Shenkman takes readers on a whirlwind tour of laboratories where scientists are exploring how sea slugs remember, chimpanzees practice deception, and patients whose brains have been split in two tell stories. The scientists' findings give us new ways of understanding our history and ourselves—and prove we don't have to be prisoners of our evolutionary past."

In this engaging, illuminating, and often riotous chronicle of our political culture, Shenkman probes the depths of the human mind to explore how we can become more political, and less animal.

Rick Shenkman is an award-winning investigative reporter, a New York Times best-selling author, and the publisher and editor of the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. An elected fellow of the Society of American Historians, he appears regularly on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC. He lives in Seattle, Washington.
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