Using Charles Darwin’s survey of emotions as a starting point, Stuart Walton’s A Natural History of Human Emotions examines the history of each of our core emotions—fear, anger, disgust, sadness, jealousy, contempt, shame, embarrassment, surprise, and happiness—and how these emotions have influenced both cultural and social history. We learn that primitive fear served as the engine of religious belief, while a desire for happiness led to humankind’s first musings on achieving a perfect utopia. Challenging the ...
Using Charles Darwin’s survey of emotions as a starting point, Stuart Walton’s A Natural History of Human Emotions examines the history of each of our core emotions—fear, anger, disgust, sadness, jealousy, contempt, shame, embarrassment, surprise, and happiness—and how these emotions have influenced both cultural and social history. We learn that primitive fear served as the engine of religious belief, while a desire for happiness led to humankind’s first musings on achieving a perfect utopia. Challenging the notion that human emotion has remained constant, A Natural History of Human Emotions explains why, in the last 250 years, society has changed its unwritten rules for what can be expressed in public and in private. Like An Intimate History of Humanity and Near a Thousand Tables, Walton’s A Natural History of Human Emotions is a provocative examination of human feelings and a fascinating take on how emotions have shaped our past.
From Laurel and Hardy's comedic surprise to the social unrest reflected in art and music, historians, anthropologists, and philosophers have long investigated the gamut of human emotions; here their conjectures and influences coalesce. Cultural historian and journalist Walton (Out of It: A Cultural History of Intoxication) wades into these murky waters using Darwin's basic emotions-happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust-as a springboard for arguing for the inclusion of four additional emotions: jealousy, contempt, shame, and embarrassment. Drawing on a spectrum of rich references, including modern, ancient, popular, and religious, he then explores each emotion in an effort to expose its cultural manifestations and implications. Emotions, he demonstrates, have evolved from physiological reactions grounded in basic survival to moral responses that dictate the expression, resolution, and suppression of emotions. Although he does not resolve the mystery and controversy surrounding emotions, Walton sheds light on how we have arrived at an age where Sir Thomas More's utopia comes in pill form. Recommended for all collections.-Heather O'Brien, Ph.D. student, SLIS, Dalhousie Univ., Halifax, N.S. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
A British journalist and cultural historian pays tribute to, and expands upon, Charles Darwin's thoughts on emotions. Specifically, Walton focuses on The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), which postulated that the ways in which human beings communicate the six basic emotions of fear, anger, disgust, sadness, surprise and happiness are innate and universal. Walton (Out of It: A Cultural History of Intoxication, 2002) adds embarrassment, jealousy, contempt and guilt or shame to Darwin's core emotions and then explores the psychological dynamics of these ten and how they have been evoked in our cultural lives. Each of his chapters opens with a relevant quote-e.g., Montaigne on fear, Benjamin Franklin on contempt, Cervantes on embarrassment-followed by an array of dictionary definitions, and where applicable, Darwin's list of physical indicators, (spitting, shuddering and dilation of the nostrils, for example, indicate disgust). Walton follows the same pattern in discussing each emotion: First, he tackles the nature of the emotion itself and traces its semantic history; next, he examines the ways in which the emotion can be induced in others; and third, he looks at how it impacts the individual experiencing it. Thus, the chapter on shame, for example, begins with the mythical origins of shame in Genesis, looks at the link between shame and conscience, and examines representations of the shame of nakedness in literature and painting; next is a discussion of the intentional infliction of shame through public humiliation, with references to medieval methods of punishment and Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter; finally, he turns to the desire to bring shame and humiliation upononeself, a discussion that ranges from the martyrdom of early Christians to Krafft-Ebbing's work on masochism. Lest this sound unnervingly academic, Walton frequently draws on pop culture, citing the movies of Woody Allen, British sitcoms and Hollywood gossip columnists to make his points. Not a deep analysis, but a fresh and entertaining survey.