Excerpt from Animal Wise by Virginia Morell, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Animal Wise

The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures

By Virginia Morell

Animal Wise
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Feb 2013,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2014,
    304 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Christian Tubau

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


Although there is no scale of nature and no Great Chain of Being, I've nevertheless organized my book beginning with animals whose brain anatomy is relatively simple and progressing to those that are more complex. I've not attempted to summarize everything that researchers now know about a given animal's cognition. Instead, I've selected specific discoveries that illustrate something new about animal minds and that show how scientists studying animal cognition go about their pursuit and why these researchers are drawn to their subjects. The book opens with a visit to an ant lab to illustrate how little neural tissue is required for impressive feats of cognitive processing; and it ends with my meetings with wolf and dog researchers, who are trying to tease apart why some of the cognitive abilities of our canine friends are more similar to those of humans than are those of our closest genetic cousins, the chimpanzees. I had also hoped to visit scientists investigating cats' mental talents, but unfortunately very few researchers have looked into the feline mind. Those I spoke with emphasized that cats are bright—they're quick observational learners, for instance—but because cats are independent creatures, getting them to repeat experiments (as is typically required in cognitive studies) is extraordinarily diffi cult. Immanuel Birmelin, an ethologist at the Society of Animal Behavior Research in Germany, explained how patient he'd had to be in order to run a test to see if cats can count: "One of the cats would do the test once in the morning—only!" he recalled. "Another would do it once in the afternoon—only!" It had taken him four years to show that cats can count to four. Nevertheless, I've added descriptions of studies about cats and how they think wherever possible.

As I wrote the book, I struggled with the use of pronouns, specifically whether to use "who" or "that" to identify an animal. It is standard practice to refer to an animal as "that" but I found myself unable to do this. Alex, the gray parrot, was not a "that"—a thing or an object—any more than was Frodo, the chimpanzee, or Betsy, the language-proficient smart dog. In the end, I settled for a halfway measure, using "who" when writing about known individual animals, and "that" for more general cases. It is not a perfect solution, but it does illustrate the larger question and issues we face as we begin to recognize fully the cognitive and emotional natures of animals.


If you're most interested in why our human minds are unique, you'll need to read a different book. I went in search of the minds of animals to better grasp how the other creatures around us perceive and understand the world. What do they think about and how do we know this? Why does it matter? I don't know if knowing more about animal minds will help improve the lives of humans, although this is usually the rationale scientists, particularly neuroscientists, must use to justify their research. But knowing more about the minds and emotions of other animals may help us do a better job of sharing the earth with our fellow creatures and may even open our minds to new ways of perceiving and thinking about our world.

We live at a time when far too many species are either going extinct or are in grave danger of doing so. Many species are dying or losing their homes and habitats, and the resources they need to survive, because of our actions. We are killing many others, from wild fish to elephants, in unsustainable numbers. As these animals disappear, so do their minds. It is a staggering loss, especially when we consider how unique the act of thinking is. We don't yet know of another planet that is as endowed with minds as is ours. There may be other planets with life (such a discovery would not surprise me), but as of now, ours is the only one we know about. Yet only in the last few decades have we seriously attempted to find out what is going on in the minds of our fellow creatures, and we've studied but a mere handful of the many millions of animal minds on our planet.

Excerpted from Animal Wise by Virginia Morell. Copyright © 2013 by Virginia Morell. Excerpted by permission of Crown. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Ayumu, the Chimpanzee

Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Hundred-Year House
    The Hundred-Year House
    by Rebecca Makkai
    Rebecca Makkai's sophomore novel The Hundred-Year House could just have easily been titled ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Valley of Amazement
    by Amy Tan
    "Mirror, Mirror on the wall
    I am my mother after all!"


    In my pre-retirement days as a professor ...
  • Book Jacket: A Man Called Ove
    A Man Called Ove
    by Fredrik Backman
    Reading A Man Called Ove was like having Christmas arrive early. Set in Sweden, this debut novel is ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

Tomlinson Hill
by Chris Tomlinson

Published Jul. 2014

Join the discussion!

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.