The Chimp Paradox, by Steve Peters


The Chimp Paradox says we’re not so different to monkeys and computers – and understanding that is the key to contentment.

Is crazy-eyed rage your party trick? Do you leave passive aggressive sticky notes for colleagues? Feel discontented, but don’t know why? That’ll be your ‘inner chimp’ – and The Chimp Paradox aims to show you how embrace the ape.

What is The Chimp Paradox about?

In a theory that’ll enrage creationists everywhere, Peters suggests we’re all still a little bit monkey. He says part of our brains hasn’t evolved beyond animal instincts, urges and irrational fears.

When our responses get the better of us or we have uncomfortable emotions, that’s the chimp shouting to be heard. Sometimes it literally results in adults shouting and screaming when they don’t get their way.

Peters says it’s possible to accept, nurture and manage your inner chimp and – in turn – to understand other people’s monkeying around.

Once you’ve mastered this, you’ll be happier, more contented and more successful.

It isn’t a difficult read. But you may either love or hate the cack-handed illustrations, astrology metaphors (“The Moon of Chronic Stress”) and endless social dilemmas.

“Imagine that you are going for a coffee with a friend and the friend says, ‘Would you like a piece of cake with your coffee?’ If you are trying to watch your weight then the Human will answer, ‘No, thanks.’ However, if you happen to like cake, then the Chimp will answer, ‘Yes, please.’ Who will actually answer then, the Human or the Chimp?”

This is a hefty book at 300+ pages, much of it packed with practical exercises. Reading it feels a bit like being locked in a motivational Powerpoint seminar. Still, seeing as few of us learn how to be productive social animals or manage our feelings, it’s hard to knock the intention.

The Chimp Paradox: The Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness, by Prof Steve Peters

Quoted edition published by Vermilion, 2012

Book connections
  • The Fear Bubble, by Ant Middleton (self-help)
  • Happy, by Derren Brown (self-help)
  • Atomic Habits, by James Clear (self-help, behaviour change)
  • Counselling for Toads, by Robert de Board (self-knowledge, animal metaphors)

Picture credit: Jamie Haughton