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Macachiavellian Intelligence

How Rhesus Macaques and Humans Have Conquered the World

Judged by population size and distribution, homo sapiens are clearly the most successful primates. A close second, however, would be rhesus macaques, who have adapted to—and thrived in—such diverse environments as mountain forests, dry grasslands, and urban sprawl. Scientists have spent countless hours studying these opportunistic monkeys, but rhesus macaques have long been overshadowed in the public eye by the great apes, who, because of their greater intelligence, are naturally assumed to have more to teach us, both about other primates and about humans as well.

Dario Maestripieri thinks it is high time we shelve that misperception, and with Macachiavellian Intelligence he gives rhesus macaques their rightful turn in the spotlight. The product of more than twenty years studying these fascinating creatures, Macachiavellian Intelligence caricatures a society that is as much human as monkey, with hierarchies and power struggles that would impress Machiavelli himself. High-status macaques, for instance, maintain their rank through deft uses of violence and manipulation, while altruism is almost unknown and relationships are perpetually subject to the cruel laws of the market. Throughout this eye-opening account, Maestripieri weds his thorough knowledge of macaque behavior to his abiding fascination with human society and motivations. The result is a book unlike any other, one that draws on economics as much as evolutionary biology, politics as much as primatology.

Rife with unexpected connections and peppered with fascinating anecdotes, Macachiavellian Intelligence has as much to teach us about humans as it does about macaques, presenting a wry, rational, and wholly surprising view of our humanity as seen through the monkey in the mirror.

192 pages | 7 color plates, 23 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2007

Anthropology: Physical Anthropology

Biological Sciences: Behavioral Biology, Evolutionary Biology

Cognitive Science: Human and Animal Cognition

Psychology: Animal Behavior


“Rhesus monkeys and humans are highly successful survivors in a complex and sometimes cruel world. Macachiavellian Intelligence, a good read about the nitty-gritty details of how rhesus monkeys make it, tells us a lot about ourselves. It’s often not a pretty picture to read about manipulative social opportunism, but if we ignore the important message of this book we, not the monkeys or other animals, will be the big losers.”

Marc Bekoff, author of Minding Animals and The Emotional Lives of Animals

"Maestripieri tells the story with incisive prose, sharp wit and admirable brevity, and the book should appeal to a wide audience from cynical teenagers to economists who believe that the ’invisible hand’ of competition underlies all human society."

Alison Jolly | Times Higher Education Supplement

“Last year, a U.S. senator doomed his chances of reelection when he referred to a protestor as a ’macaca,’ a slur sometimes used for dark-skinned people. But ‘macaca’ is also a name for the rhesus macaque monkey, and Maestripieri writes, ‘If politicians knew more about the Machiavellian intelligence of rhesus macaques, they would probably call one another “macaca” all the time, but mean it as a compliment.’ Maestripieri goes on to describe the social lives and competitive society of macaques, who aren’t above using violence and manipulation to get ahead and stay there.”


Macachiavellian Intelligence provides deep insights into the fascinating psychology of both rhesus macaques and humans. Written in an engaging style with gripping examples that highlight key principles, it gives readers a profound understanding of the things we all care about—sex, status, dominance, aggression, kin, cooperation, and conflict. Macachiavellian Intelligence is a must-read for anyone interested in the strategies we primates use to navigate the complexities of social living.”--David M. Buss, author of The Evolution of Desire:  Strategies of Human Mating and Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind

David M. Buss

“Books devoted to the topic of primate behavior and its similarity to humans are dominated by studies of great apes. Dario Maestripieri fills that lamentable gap with Macachiavellian Intelligence, weaving an explanation of macaque evolution and social organization into a story that also helps to explain many aspects of human behavior. Maestripieri’s keen insights into both macaques and humans, presented with humor and personality, make MacachiavellianIntelligence a captivating read.”

William Hopkins, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University

"Primate books are good for us. They remind us that we’re primates, too. And the embarrassing primate books are best. Macachiavellian Intelligence is an excellently embarrassing primate book, and just the thing to make us blush and shuffle our feet."

Michael Bywater | Telegraph

"A salutary reminder that we are members of the Order Primates as much as of the Family Hominidae, and not all that different from our disquietingly nasty cousins."

Sarah F. Brosnan | Nature

"This is a book that will appeal to a wide audience, but without losing the science."

Michael Cuisin | Mammalia

Table of Contents

1. The Secret of Our Success
2. The Weed Macaque
3. Nepotism and Politics
4. Aggression and Dominance
5. Wars and Revolutions
6. Sex and Business
7. Parental Investment
8. The Business of Communication
9. Macachiavellian Origins of Love and Compassion

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