Eager reader of history, mystery, classics, biographies, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, and etc. My reviews are mostly positive--I rarely finish or write about books I don't enjoy. My TBR is too high for that.
People who live with or love animals know they are intelligent and have emotions, but our stories about the antics of our beloved pets are just anecdotes to scientists and don’t meet the exacting standards of rigorous experiment based proof. While not a scientist herself, science writer Virginia Morell spent many years visiting and interviewing scientists doing research on animal cognition and this book about what she saw and learned is fascinating. It’s also surprisingly moving considering how much science it contains. The experiments the scientists conduct are explained in some detail, but the results are so interesting and the animals’ abilities are so much more than what we often assume that it’s not dry reading.
Each chapter covers one animal species, from ants to fish, parrots, elephants, dolphins, apes and dogs, and the scientists who are investigating them. People have come up with many ideas for an exclusive skill or feature that separates humans from other animals, but at the very least the research done by the scientists in this book casts doubt on those speculations. While there are obviously differences, it may be more a matter of degree. Ants do a rudimentary kind of teaching, parrots call each other by something like names, dolphins have such complex social networks their brains are bigger than apes, rats laugh when tickled, and several animals have simple language-like ways of communicating that appear to be learned rather than inherited through their genes.
There are some quirky stories, like the woman who lived in a surprisingly intimate manner with a dolphin in a specially designed house, and though I learned a lot the book was fun to read. Virginia Morell’s has a knack for making hard to understand scientific concepts easier to grasp and her storytelling skills when describing the scientists and animals held me rapt.