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A Human History of Emotion: How the Way We Feel Built the World We Know

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A sweeping exploration of the ways in which emotions shaped the course of human history, and how our experience and understanding of emotions have evolved along with us. "Eye-opening and thought-provoking!” (Gina Rippon, author of The Gendered Brain)   We humans like to think of ourselves as rational creatures, who, as a species, have relied on calculation and intellect to s A sweeping exploration of the ways in which emotions shaped the course of human history, and how our experience and understanding of emotions have evolved along with us. "Eye-opening and thought-provoking!” (Gina Rippon, author of The Gendered Brain)   We humans like to think of ourselves as rational creatures, who, as a species, have relied on calculation and intellect to survive. But many of the most important moments in our history had little to do with cold, hard facts and a lot to do with feelings. Events ranging from the origins of philosophy to the birth of the world’s major religions, the fall of Rome, the Scientific Revolution, and some of the bloodiest wars that humanity has ever experienced can’t be properly understood without understanding emotions. Drawing on psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, art, and religious history, Richard Firth-Godbehere takes readers on a fascinating and wide ranging tour of the central and often under-appreciated role emotions have played in human societies around the world and throughout history—from Ancient Greece to Gambia, Japan, the Ottoman Empire, the United States, and beyond.   A Human History of Emotion vividly illustrates how our understanding and experience of emotions has changed over time, and how our beliefs about feelings—and our feelings themselves—profoundly shaped us and the world we inhabit. 


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A sweeping exploration of the ways in which emotions shaped the course of human history, and how our experience and understanding of emotions have evolved along with us. "Eye-opening and thought-provoking!” (Gina Rippon, author of The Gendered Brain)   We humans like to think of ourselves as rational creatures, who, as a species, have relied on calculation and intellect to s A sweeping exploration of the ways in which emotions shaped the course of human history, and how our experience and understanding of emotions have evolved along with us. "Eye-opening and thought-provoking!” (Gina Rippon, author of The Gendered Brain)   We humans like to think of ourselves as rational creatures, who, as a species, have relied on calculation and intellect to survive. But many of the most important moments in our history had little to do with cold, hard facts and a lot to do with feelings. Events ranging from the origins of philosophy to the birth of the world’s major religions, the fall of Rome, the Scientific Revolution, and some of the bloodiest wars that humanity has ever experienced can’t be properly understood without understanding emotions. Drawing on psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, art, and religious history, Richard Firth-Godbehere takes readers on a fascinating and wide ranging tour of the central and often under-appreciated role emotions have played in human societies around the world and throughout history—from Ancient Greece to Gambia, Japan, the Ottoman Empire, the United States, and beyond.   A Human History of Emotion vividly illustrates how our understanding and experience of emotions has changed over time, and how our beliefs about feelings—and our feelings themselves—profoundly shaped us and the world we inhabit. 

30 review for A Human History of Emotion: How the Way We Feel Built the World We Know

  1. 4 out of 5

    Morgan Blackledge

    DISCLOSURE STATEMENT: The publisher of this book gave me an advanced copy to review (for free). That being said, I liked it so much I bought the Audible version (for cash). I do not feel that my experience of this book was unduly influenced by the afore mentioned transaction. But I do understand enough about human psychology to know that people are influenced in their opinions by this type of thing without being explicitly aware. Please bare all of this in mind when reading this review. - Thanks DISCLOSURE STATEMENT: The publisher of this book gave me an advanced copy to review (for free). That being said, I liked it so much I bought the Audible version (for cash). I do not feel that my experience of this book was unduly influenced by the afore mentioned transaction. But I do understand enough about human psychology to know that people are influenced in their opinions by this type of thing without being explicitly aware. Please bare all of this in mind when reading this review. - Thanks REVIEW: This is author researcher Richard Frith-Godbehere’s (a dope as fuck name if ever I have heard one) popularization of recent exciting developments in the interdisciplinary field of (you guessed it) the History of Human Emotions (HoHE) I have to admit, I was unaware that the study of the HHoE was even a thing. Although I am a therpaist with doctoral training in psychology, and I have even designed and taught courses on the psychology of emotions, I was unaware of this field of study and very pleasantly surprised at the wealth of super cool insights that are emerging from it. Richard Frith-Godbehere does a really good job of presenting the theoretical constructs and findings of the field in concise and accessible terms. Early in the text, Frith-Godbehere offers the following theoretical framework for understanding emotions in a historical context. Emotional Regime: refers to the implicit and explicit expectations and injunctions of a given culture, subculture, or family system regarding emotional regulation and display. For instance, in Victorian England it was considered unmanly to express emotions (except for within a very limited range). Men we’re expected to keep a stiff upper lip in the face of hardship and even unspeakable privation and trauma. Keep calm and carry on as it were. This is an emotional regime. And we all live in one. Recall living in Donald Trump’s America, or think about growing up gay or trans in the Midwest if you need more contemporary examples. Emotional Labor: refers to the amount of energy needed in order to live and work, or simply function in a given emotional regime. When referring back to the Victorian example, imagine how difficult it was to suppress all those emotions. Or simply recall the last time you visited your Trump supporter family in Ohio with your same sex partner. This is emotional labor. Emotional Refuge: refers to other people with whom you can get emotionally real with. People who are safe. Your best Judy. Or your irritabilibuddy (a portmanteau comprised of irritability + buddy, a term of art that I personally coined, referring to a friend that you feel safe grousing with). Now I hope we all have one of these. Jackie Leven is my irritabilibuddy. She’s the GREATEST. If you don’t have one of these, get one. A good therapist counts. Bad ones don’t. Emotional Community: refers to whole GROUPS of people who you can get emotionally real with. NOTE: all of these constructs come from the Marxist tradition. Ok, see how he smuggled a little Marxism in there? Gotcha!!! Anyway. Marxist’s asserted that emotional refuge and emotional community could be revolutionary. Just think about #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, Trans Lives Matter, Queer Pride and Narcotics Anonymous. All I got to say to that is… HELL to the YEAH to ALL that. After dropping all that science, Richard Frith-Godbehere goes deep into the history of emotion. Beginning with the ancients and progressing to our contemporary world. Spoiler Alert: the very construct of emotions originates in western (English speaking) culture, and is relatively recent. Other cultures and other epoch‘s thought about, discussed and experienced their feelings in very different ways than we do now. That insight alone is worth reading the book for. But there is so much more for than that awaiting the curious reader. This one is a real satisfying and fascinating gem of a read. FIVE STARS

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Boissonneault

    Are emotions innate or culturally constructed? Many psychologists/social scientists choose one side or the other, but a new field of research, known as the history of emotions, views things differently. Historians of emotion (I didn’t know this job existed either) acknowledge that humans share an evolutionary predisposition to experience certain emotions, but that those emotions are interpreted and acted upon differently depending on the culture and historical time period. In answering the quest Are emotions innate or culturally constructed? Many psychologists/social scientists choose one side or the other, but a new field of research, known as the history of emotions, views things differently. Historians of emotion (I didn’t know this job existed either) acknowledge that humans share an evolutionary predisposition to experience certain emotions, but that those emotions are interpreted and acted upon differently depending on the culture and historical time period. In answering the question of nature versus nurture, then, the historian of emotion would reply, “both.” This turns out to be an interesting way to interpret the events, religions, and philosophies of world history. It doesn’t assume that humans are rational or irrational; rather, it presents our history as determined mostly by the complex interplay between emotions and reason, and, more specifically, by the ways we have decided to interpret, control, and leverage our emotions. To take just a few examples, the philosophies of Buddhism and Stoicism can be said to have arisen primarily (and ironically) out of the desire to curb desire, whereas the fear of God created Islam and the fear and digust for the eccentric behaviors of others launched the witch trials of the early modern period. From the rise of Greek philosophy to the American Revolution and beyond, each historical event can at least be partially explained by how people dealt with an underlying set of emotions. Of course, it’s not always so simple to isolate a single emotion as being responsible for the rise of an entire religion or philosophical school of thought, and this is where the book will probably face its biggest criticism. For example, one of the chapters is titled “Crusader Love” (yes, you read that correctly). When thinking about the history of the Crusades, love is not the emotion that first comes to mind, but was, for some reason, what the author decided to go with. The rise of Christianity itself is a similar case in point. If you really wanted to, you could take certain aspects of the religion and its history and attribute its rise to the extension of universal love to all members of humanity. On the other hand, you could just as easily highlight the fear and intolerance for outsiders of the religion that led to Christianity’s more oppressive and violent aspects. History is messy in this way, and the author doesn’t exactly make it clear how his field can disentangle the complex mix of emotions that drive the rise of complicated belief systems and events. You may get the sense that each chapter represents a nice story to tell, but leaves out more than it includes. If emotions are not universal (or at least not universally experienced and acted on), as the author claims, then is it even possible to comprehend the emotions experienced in another time or culture? And how does this new field of study determine which emotions were most prominent as the cause of an event or religion? Sure, a big part of Stoicism, for example, is the suppression of negative emotions like fear and anxiety. But other aspects of the philosophy might be just as critical to its development, such as its egalitarianism and universal love (which predates Christianity, by the way) or its emphasis on tranquility or happiness. Can we really make the case that it was only or primarily an urge to suppress desire that accounts for the rise and subsequent popularity of Stoicism? It seems like we could write any number of alternative chapters highlighting a different emotion. Overall, I agree that emotions are not the result of either nature or nurture entirely, and that our history is largely driven by how we’ve chosen to rationally modify them. But the reader should also be aware that disentangling these emotions and their associated responses is no easy task. The author’s presentation of each emotion as responsible for historical events is necessarily subjective and selective, and, as such, can only lead to partial explanations.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Maher Razouk

    بدأت كلمة «التذوق» في الظهور بشكل منتظم ومتزايد في أوروبا في أوائل القرن السادس عشر ، في الوقت الذي بدأ فيه عدد العناصر الفاخرة التي تدخل القارة في الارتفاع. من الواضح أن الناس كانوا يعرفون ماهية التذوق ؛ إذا عدنا إلى صديقنا القديم أرسطو ، نكتشف أن التذوق كان يعتبر من الحواس الدنيا. يعني ذلك ، إلى جانب اللمس والشم : لمس شيء ما في الطبيعة بقليل من الجسد. كان البصر والسمع أفضل بالنسبة لأرسطو : حواس أعلى. ضع في اعتبارك أن أرسطو ، على الرغم من تألقه ، لم يكن لديه أول دليل عن الإشعاع الكهرومغناطيسي أ بدأت كلمة «التذوق» في الظهور بشكل منتظم ومتزايد في أوروبا في أوائل القرن السادس عشر ، في الوقت الذي بدأ فيه عدد العناصر الفاخرة التي تدخل القارة في الارتفاع. من الواضح أن الناس كانوا يعرفون ماهية التذوق ؛ إذا عدنا إلى صديقنا القديم أرسطو ، نكتشف أن التذوق كان يعتبر من الحواس الدنيا. يعني ذلك ، إلى جانب اللمس والشم : لمس شيء ما في الطبيعة بقليل من الجسد. كان البصر والسمع أفضل بالنسبة لأرسطو : حواس أعلى. ضع في اعتبارك أن أرسطو ، على الرغم من تألقه ، لم يكن لديه أول دليل عن الإشعاع الكهرومغناطيسي أو الموجات الصوتية. نحن نعلم الآن أن إدراك اللون يحدث عندما تقوم أدمغتنا بفك تشفير الضوء المنعكس عن كائن ما ، بعد أن يدخل - ذلك الضوء - أعيننا. لكن أرسطو اعتقد أن اللون جزء من الكائن - شيء بداخله. لقد اعتبر أن ذلك يعني بأن الأصوات والمشاهد تذهب مباشرة إلى الروح دون لمس أي شيء. بعد كل شيء ، لا يضطر معظم الناس إلى لصق شيء ما في أعينهم لرؤيته أو في آذانهم لسماعه. لكن التذوق يعني لمس شيء بلسانك ، أي وضعه في أحد فتحات جسدك (الفم) ، ونحن البشر نميل إلى الشعور بالحساسية قليلاً عندما يتعلق الأمر بثقوبنا. . Richard Firth-Godbehere A Human History Of Emotions Translated By #Maher_Razouk

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

    I was sent a complimentary copy of this book by Hachette Books. Thank you...it looks fascinating and I look forward to reading it!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Rohit Kumar

    One piece of wrong info in the book, alexander did not just turned back and went home because he and his army was tired and homesick. He was defeated in india and wounded in battle because of which he died later. Later on a lot of his generals tried invading and one of them (seleucus) made as far as east india and there he was defeated by chandandragupt maurya who seleucus married his daughter with, for peace and business treaty. And a lot of greeks settled in east india too. We still have some o One piece of wrong info in the book, alexander did not just turned back and went home because he and his army was tired and homesick. He was defeated in india and wounded in battle because of which he died later. Later on a lot of his generals tried invading and one of them (seleucus) made as far as east india and there he was defeated by chandandragupt maurya who seleucus married his daughter with, for peace and business treaty. And a lot of greeks settled in east india too. We still have some of that lineage around here

  6. 5 out of 5

    Rory Fox

    One of the most comprehensive surveys of historical views about emotion, but at times the amount of detail felt unnecessary. For example, did we really need to be told how many times the Dutch and English fought wars? (36%). The central idea of the book was narrated thoughtfully, as a story of how ‘emotion’ was invented in the 19th Century, and emerged from older views about passions, sentiments and religious responses. To tell this story the first few chapters provide an overview of various reli One of the most comprehensive surveys of historical views about emotion, but at times the amount of detail felt unnecessary. For example, did we really need to be told how many times the Dutch and English fought wars? (36%). The central idea of the book was narrated thoughtfully, as a story of how ‘emotion’ was invented in the 19th Century, and emerged from older views about passions, sentiments and religious responses. To tell this story the first few chapters provide an overview of various religious views. The detail was informative, but it felt a little excessive in places. There were also occasional infelicities of nuance. For example, Dionysius of Athens is described as a Neoplatonist (18%). But it was Pseudo-Dionysius who was the Neoplatonist, several centuries later. I thought that the treatment of Christianity was a little odd. The focus on St Augustine seemed laboured, and at the cost of discussing other arguably more fundamental concepts, like the New Testament idea of ‘agape’ (a disinterested love which can include enemies). I found the second half of the book more interesting and more pacy, from where it started narrating ideas from the post Enlightenment era. The chapter on World War I was particularly informative, especially its discussion of how ‘hysteria’ was a female ailment, so even when soldiers seemed to have similar symptoms, their illness had to have its own name, ‘shell shock.’ In an aside, the author tells us that Psychologists were ‘almost completely wrong about everything’ (54%) in the first World War, but their speculations gave Psychology the academic legitimacy it needed, to develop as a serious discipline. The twentieth century disputes about nature vs nurture (Paul Ekland vs Catherine Lutz) are told clearly and thoughtfully. The story is brought into the contemporary era with an account of Lisa Feldman Barrett’s new models of emotion, at the end of the book. Overall I appreciated the author’s erudition and enjoyed the second half of the book. But the reader experience was marred by occasional annoyances of style and seemingly pointless footnotes. For example did there really need to be a footnote telling the reader not to get the author started talking about robots? (74%). I appreciate that modern books are trying to cultivate a more chatty style than the dry formalism of older books, but at times I wish it wasn’t at the expense of conciseness and relevance.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Paul Womack

    This book has introduced me to a new world of study and reflection on the universe of emotions across time and cultures and even within myself. Of great interest to me will be the use of emotions to interpret sacred texts… what, if such can be discerned, is a text commnicating emotionally? How does a listener emotionally “hear” a text, such as the 23rd Psalm, and why. I wonder how such an approach may empower virtues such as universal kindness? I found his early introduction to emotional regimes This book has introduced me to a new world of study and reflection on the universe of emotions across time and cultures and even within myself. Of great interest to me will be the use of emotions to interpret sacred texts… what, if such can be discerned, is a text commnicating emotionally? How does a listener emotionally “hear” a text, such as the 23rd Psalm, and why. I wonder how such an approach may empower virtues such as universal kindness? I found his early introduction to emotional regimes, emotional labor, emotional refugees, and emotional communities quite fascinating. A best book in 2021.

  8. 4 out of 5

    John Alshukri

    Amazing book.. I really enjoyed every part of it. I think I loved this book because it discuss emotions from different perspectives historical, cultural, philosophical, religious, political, and scientific. This gives the reader a wide view to the making of emotions. Richard believes that emotions are the sum of human experience. Every individual has his/her own unique experience of emotions. I guess it is one of hardest subjects have been studied and need to be studied.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Denise

    This was a random thing I picked up at the library and was admittedly only semi-interested in to start with, but even so it turned out to be less interesting than I'd hoped. After yawning my way through a succession of chapters heavy on religious babble there were at least a handful that briefly reawakened my attention, but it wasn't enough to keep me engaged. This was a random thing I picked up at the library and was admittedly only semi-interested in to start with, but even so it turned out to be less interesting than I'd hoped. After yawning my way through a succession of chapters heavy on religious babble there were at least a handful that briefly reawakened my attention, but it wasn't enough to keep me engaged.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Josh Maher

    If you're interested in how our relationship between culture and emotions have evolved, this is a good read. Not the science of emotion (read Lisa Feldman Barret for that), but how cultures around the world have viewed emotions over the centuries and how those views have re-inforced our understanding of emotions. Read this one before or instead of Nobody's Normal by Roy Grinker. If you're interested in how our relationship between culture and emotions have evolved, this is a good read. Not the science of emotion (read Lisa Feldman Barret for that), but how cultures around the world have viewed emotions over the centuries and how those views have re-inforced our understanding of emotions. Read this one before or instead of Nobody's Normal by Roy Grinker.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Wes

    It was an interesting book. It wasn't quite what I thought it was going to be, but it covered some worthwhile material. It isn't really a history of emotions; more like a survey of world history and how emotions played a role in big events. But then there is a fair bit of history of the development of psychology and emotions research. Then there is some garbage tossed in the end about post-modernism and constructionist ideas. Overall the book leans a bit left. I wish it would have focused more s It was an interesting book. It wasn't quite what I thought it was going to be, but it covered some worthwhile material. It isn't really a history of emotions; more like a survey of world history and how emotions played a role in big events. But then there is a fair bit of history of the development of psychology and emotions research. Then there is some garbage tossed in the end about post-modernism and constructionist ideas. Overall the book leans a bit left. I wish it would have focused more specifically on the actual history of emotions. I'm sure I didn't catch everything on the first pass, so this is going in my stack of books to read again.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Florin

  13. 5 out of 5

    Hemen Kalita

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ivo Bernardo

  15. 4 out of 5

    Beebee Pomegranate

  16. 5 out of 5

    Benedikt

  17. 5 out of 5

    Corum Bebb

  18. 4 out of 5

    Arthur

  19. 4 out of 5

    Xavier Bonilla

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Spachuk

  21. 5 out of 5

    Simone Barbera

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jesse Jenecke

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Woodhouse

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nithya

  25. 5 out of 5

    Javier

  26. 5 out of 5

    Samuel

  27. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Towne

  28. 4 out of 5

    Marce

  29. 4 out of 5

    Finn Smeets

  30. 5 out of 5

    Shriyansi

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