The Kindness of Strangers: How a Selfish Ape Invented a New Moral Code



"A fine achievement."--Peter Singer, author of The Life You Can Save and The Most Good You Can Do
A sweeping psychological history of human goodness -- from the foundations of evolution to the modern political and social challenges humanity is now facing.
How did humans, a species of self-centered apes, come to care about others? Since Darwin, scientists have tried to answer this question using evolutionary theory. In The Kindness of Strangers, psychologist Michael E. McCullough shows why they have failed and offers a new explanation instead. From the moment nomadic humans first settled down until the aftermath of the Second World War, our species has confronted repeated crises that we could only survive by changing our behavior. As McCullough argues, these choices weren't enabled by an evolved moral sense, but with moral invention -- driven not by evolution's dictates but by reason.

Today's challenges -- climate change, mass migration, nationalism -- are some of humanity's greatest yet. In revealing how past crises shaped the foundations of human concern, The Kindness of Strangers offers clues for how we can adapt our moral thinking to survive these challenges as well.

Product Details

$30.00  $27.60
Basic Books
Publish Date
July 21, 2020
6.1 X 1.3 X 9.3 inches | 1.25 pounds

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About the Author

Michael McCullough is a professor of psychology at the University of California, San Diego. The winner of numerous distinctions for his research and writing, he is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. He lives in La Jolla, California.


A deliciously provocative analysis of an entirely admirable human quality.

An inspiring and engrossing new look at human goodness. Without sentimentality or glibness, and wearing his depth and erudition lightly, McCullough enlightens us on when and why we care for others.--Steven Pinker, author of Enlightenment Now
This is a controversial book, but McCullough's arguments are smart, clear, and ultimately persuasive.--Paul Bloom, author of Against Empathy
Enlightened by evocative anecdotes and well-explained theory, The Kindness of Strangers is as original as it is persuasive.--Richard Wrangham, author of The Goodness Paradox
A fine achievement. McCullough expertly braids together the distinctive strands of evolutionary psychology, history, and philosophy to explore and explain a characteristic unique to our stage of development: kindness to strangers. An important book that looks at the whole of human history, and more, and thereby offers a valuable counterweight to the all-too-common view that everything is getting worse.-- Peter Singer, author of The Life You Can Save and The Most Good You Can Do