Book review: The Empathy Instinct: How To Create A More Civil Society

The most intriguing book dedications sometimes offer hints about the support other people have given the writer.

Peter Bazalgette

John Murray, €19.65;

ebook, €12.75

This one, however, is dedicated to the Nobel prizewinners Paul Lauterbur and Peter Mansfield, whose research led to the MRI scan — and so to a better understanding of the brain.

It does make sense. Magnetic resonance imaging brings new insights into what great thinkers have always known — that human beings have a highly evolved, but unreliable, capacity for imaginative sympathy. 

At one point Bazalgette, an ITV boss and former British Arts Council chair, actually comes close to arguing that artists have greater empathy.

That might come as news to, say, the abused and put-upon Countess Tolstoy, or the many victims of the music-loving failed painter Adolf Hitler. 

However, it’s the weakest part of what is otherwise an efficient canter through the current state of scientific knowledge about how our best selves are formed and maintained.


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