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Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave and Exterminate Others

Winner of the 2012 Anisfield-Wolf Award for Non-Fiction

“In this powerful and original work—ranging widely and with impressive interdisciplinary scope over different epochs and cultures while remaining compellingly readable—David Livingstone Smith demonstrates that our practice of representing our fellow-humans as subhuman is both inhuman and all too human. He forces us to recognize that monstrous atrocities are routinely carried out not by monsters but, alas, by ourselves.”

− Charles W. Mills, CUNY Graduate Center

"This is a beautiful book on an ugly topic. David Livingstone Smith uses the newest research in cognitive science to address the problems of racism, genocide, and atrocity, presenting a provocative theory as to why we come to see others as less than human. There are deep and important ideas here, and this engaging book should be read by anyone interested in the worst aspects of human nature − and how we can come to transcend them."

− Paul Bloom, Yale University

"Smith is a philosopher with a strong interest in cognitive science and evolutionary psychology. His book offers a gripping history of the horrific ways in which human beings have turned other humans into “sub-humans” and “beasts in human form,” from American rhetoric rationalizing African slavery, to the Nazi persecution of the Jews, to the justifications offered for the genocide in Rwanda. He identifies a key thematic in all these campaigns of dehumanization: namely, convincing the persecutors that, when it comes to the persecuted, there is a difference between being essentially human and merely appearing human....[H]is synthesis of the ways in which the essence/appearance distinction figures in the rhetoric of hatred and genocide throughout history insightful and memorable."

− Brian Leiter, University of Chicago Law School

"Smith's accomplishment is stunning. He has written a book that is strikingly original, clearly and eloquently written, and − for anyone who believes that truth is preferable to untruth, no matter how ugly this truth − an absolutely 'essential' read."

− LTC Douglas A. Pryer, The Military Review.

"Books like Smith's should be required reading for all with a social conscience, and his ideas ought to find their way into every school curriculum."

− Valerie Curtis, Journal of Evolutionary Psychology

"As this far-reaching and inter-disciplinary study by David Livingstone Smith amply demonstrates, it is a recurrent historical phenomenon extending back millennia, and it seems to be a necessary precondition for the perpetration of sustained injustices, especially slavery, genocide, and racial subjugation."

−  Peter C. Grosvenor, The Humanist

"Smith's theory is both sweeping in scope and practical for purposes of genocide prevention."

− Edwin Hodge, Journal of Genocide Research

"David Livingstone Smith... provides a breathtaking panorama, with an impressive range and depth, of the history of dehumanization."

− Henning Melber, Executive Director, The Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation.

“One part detective story, one part horror story, one part evolutionary philosophy, Less Than Human is actually a book about what it means to be human. As such, there are few of us who can afford to miss it.”

Peter Swirski, University of Missouri, and Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies

"Dehumanization is a thoroughly human behavior. It is a tool we have used for millennia to bolster our self-esteem, to justify slavery and exploitation, to get ourselves to kill and exterminate. Yet, despite its terrible significance, surprisingly little scholarly attention has been trained on the phenomenon -- on its origins, how it works, and how we might avoid its dreadful toll. Bringing enviably acute skills as a philosopher to bear on the subject, David Livingstone Smith draws on an impressive range of sources to argue that dehumanization emerges from the very core of our humanity, our ability to reflect upon our own thoughts. Writing in an engaging and accessible style, he uses an incisive logic to pare away the layers of his subject to reveal this troubling conclusion. This is an important book for anthropologists, who are interested in ethnocentrism, and for any human concerned about our capacity to harm one another."

− Paul Roscoe, University of Maine.

“David Livingstone Smith produces a clear and illuminating vision of why human beings are the way we are and how we got this way. The scholarship is broad, the insight is deep and the prose is compelling.  Less Than Human will change the way you think about things that matter profoundly. This is dazzling stuff.”

−  Steven E. Landsburg, University of Rochester

“Warning: This book will challenge you! Not that it’s hard to understand -- in fact, it's wonderfully accessible -- but it raises some terrible realities. For this reason, it is all the more important that you read Less that Human. It is brilliantly written, carefully researched, and a wonderful and much-needed opportunity for us to explore what it might mean to be ‘truly human’.”

−  David P. Barash, University of Washington