Summary and book reviews of Mama's Last Hug by Frans de Waal

Mama's Last Hug

Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves

by Frans de Waal

Mama's Last Hug by Frans de Waal X
Mama's Last Hug by Frans de Waal
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2019, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2020, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Erin Lyndal Martin
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About this Book

Book Summary

New York Times best-selling author and primatologist Frans de Waal explores the fascinating world of animal and human emotions.

Frans de Waal has spent four decades at the forefront of animal research. Following up on the best-selling Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, which investigated animal intelligence, Mama's Last Hug delivers a fascinating exploration of the rich emotional lives of animals.

Mama's Last Hug begins with the death of Mama, a chimpanzee matriarch who formed a deep bond with biologist Jan van Hooff. When Mama was dying, van Hooff took the unusual step of visiting her in her night cage for a last hug. Their goodbyes were filmed and went viral. Millions of people were deeply moved by the way Mama embraced the professor, welcoming him with a big smile while reassuring him by patting his neck, in a gesture often considered typically human but that is in fact common to all primates. This story and others like it form the core of de Waal's argument, showing that humans are not the only species with the capacity for love, hate, fear, shame, guilt, joy, disgust, and empathy.

De Waal discusses facial expressions, the emotions behind human politics, the illusion of free will, animal sentience, and, of course, Mama's life and death. The message is one of continuity between us and other species, such as the radical proposal that emotions are like organs: we don't have a single organ that other animals don't have, and the same is true for our emotions. Mama's Last Hug opens our hearts and minds to the many ways in which humans and other animals are connected, transforming how we view the living world around us.

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Franz de Waal draws evidence from scientific texts and his own innumerable hours observing chimpanzees, proving his credentials as someone who has both researched and directly engaged. By focusing on the traits we share and telling captivating stories, [he] gets us closer to knowing one another, and our fellow primate species, a little bit better...continued

Full Review (716 words).

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(Reviewed by Erin Lyndal Martin).

Media Reviews

NPR
Through colorful stories and riveting prose, de Waal firmly puts to rest the stubborn notion that humans alone in the animal kingdom experience a broad array of emotions...Occasionally, de Waal overgeneralizes...[he] is also more sanguine about the well-being of animals in zoos than I think is warranted.

People
De Waal’s eye-opening observations argue for better treatment and greater appreciation of animals, even as he ensures that you’ll never look at them—or yourself—the same way again.

Library Journal
Applying wide-ranging examples, from primates to schools of fish, he skillfully illustrates that emotions are an essential part of intellect for all species... Recommended for readers with an interest in the crossroads of animal and human life.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Making clear that 'instead of tiptoeing around' emotions, researchers must now "squarely face the degree to which all animals are driven by them," de Waal's masterful work of evolutionary psychology will leave both fellow academics and intellectually curious lay-readers with much food for thought.

Booklist
Starred Review. A captivating survey of animal and human emotions.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. De Waal turns his years of research into a delightful and illuminating read for nonscientists, a book that will surely make readers want to grab someone's arm and exclaim, 'Listen to this!

Author Blurb Carl Safina
Before I realized Frans de Waal's connection to Mama's actual last hug, I sent the online video link to a large group of scientists saying, 'I believe it is possible to view this interaction and be changed forever.' Likewise, I believe that anyone reading this book will be changed forever. De Waal has spent so many decades watching intently and thinking deeply that he sees a planet that is deeper and more beautiful than almost anyone realizes. In these pages, you can acquire and share his beautiful, shockingly insightful view of life on Earth.

Author Blurb Robert Sapolsky
Frans de Waal is one of the most influential primatologists to ever walk the earth, changing the way we think of human nature by exploring its continuity with other species. He does this again in the wonderful Mama's Last Hug, an examination of the continuum between emotion in humans and other animals. This subject is rife with groundless speculation, ideology, and badly misplaced folk intuition, and de Waal ably navigates it with deep insight, showing the ways in which our emotional lives are shared with other primates. This is an important book, wise and accessible.

Author Blurb Yuval Noah Harari
A captivating and big-hearted book, full of compassion and brimming with insights about the lives of animals, including human ones.

Author Blurb Desmond Morris
Another fascinating book from Frans de Waal. Once again, he makes us think long and hard about the true nature of animal emotions.

Author Blurb Jonathan Balcombe
In Mama's Last Hug, Frans de Waal marshals his wealth of knowledge and experience, toggling expertly between rigorous science and captivating anecdote to explain animal behavior - humans included. While doing so, he rebukes the common conceit that we are necessarily better, or smarter, than our closest relatives.

Author Blurb Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
I doubt that I've ever read a book as good as Mama's Last Hug, because it presents in irrefutable scientific detail the very important fact that animals do have these emotions as well as the other mental features we once attributed only to people. Not only is the book exceedingly important, it's also fun to read, a real page-turner. I can't say enough good things about it except it's utterly splendid.

Author Blurb Temple Grandin
After you've read Mama's Last Hug, it becomes obvious that animals have emotions. Learn how they resemble us in many ways.

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Beyond the Book

Chimpanzee Sanctuaries

Hugo, a chimpanzee living at the Chimp Haven sanctuaryIn Mama's Last Hug, Frans de Waal details the observation of chimpanzees in places like Burgers' Zoo in the Netherlands. Chimps there enjoy a relatively peaceful existence with large enclosures mimicking their natural habitat. In the United States, a number of organizations are working to establish a similar quality of life for chimps that were bred in captivity for research purposes.

Research chimps were commonly bred for medical experiments, especially those related to treating hepatitis and HIV. As we have achieved a growing awareness of chimpanzee intelligence—and the knowledge that we share 96% of our DNA with them—the ethics of these research methods have been called into question. In 1997, the National Anti-Vivisection...

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