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Summary and book reviews of Animal Wise by Virginia Morell

Animal Wise

The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures

by Virginia Morell

Animal Wise
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Feb 2013, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2014, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Christian Tubau

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Book Summary

Noted science writer Virginia Morell explores the frontiers of research on animal cognition and emotion, offering a surprising and moving exploration into the hearts and minds of wild and domesticated animals.

Did you know that ants teach, earthworms make decisions, rats love to be tickled, and chimps grieve?  Did you know that some dogs have thousand-word vocabularies and that birds practice songs in their sleep? That crows improvise tools, blue jays plan ahead, and moths remember living as caterpillars?

Animal Wise takes us on a dazzling odyssey into the inner world of animals, from ants to elephants to wolves, and from sharp-shooting archerfish to pods of dolphins that rumble like rival street gangs.  With 30 years of experience covering the sciences, Morell uses her formidable gifts as a story-teller to transport us to field sites and laboratories around the world, introducing us to pioneering animal-cognition researchers and their surprisingly intelligent and sensitive subjects.  She explores how this rapidly evolving, controversial field has only recently overturned old notions about why animals behave as they do.  She probes the moral and ethical dilemmas  of recognizing that even "lesser animals"  have cognitive abilities such as  memory, feelings, personality, and self-awareness--traits that many in the twentieth century felt were unique  to human beings.

By standing behaviorism on its head, Morell brings the world of nature brilliantly alive in a nuanced, deeply felt appreciation of the human-animal bond, and she shares her admiration for the men and women who have simultaneously chipped away at what we think makes us distinctive while offering a glimpse of where our own abilities come from.

introduction

Our organ of thought may be superior, and we may play it better, but it is surely vain to believe that other possessors of similar instruments leave them quite untouched.
stephen walker

Animals have minds. They have brains, and use them, as we do: for experiencing the world, for thinking and feeling, and for solving the problems of life every creature faces. Like us, they have personalities, moods, and emotions; they laugh and they play. Some show grief and empathy and are self-aware and very likely conscious of their actions and intents.

Not so long ago, I would have hedged these statements, because the prevailing notion held that animals are more like zombies or robotic machines, capable of responding with only simple, reflexive behaviors. And indeed there are still researchers who insist that animals are moving through life like the half dead, but they're so . . . 1950s. They've been left behind as a flood of new research from biologists, animal ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Animal Wise is a very interesting starting point for further investigations in the field of animal cognition and ecology, and the information it offers is essential for a new respectful and conscientious approach to our knowledge and relationship with our non-human brothers.   (Reviewed by Christian Tubau).

Full Review Members Only (597 words).

Media Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle

Virginia Morell sheds light on the many surprises of cognitive awareness of animals.

Smithsonian magazine

This charming book about animal intelligence….has a nice arc to its structure—working from generally more basic (although still remarkable) cognitive abilities of creatures like adventurous ants to the complex thinking of chimps—and it is threaded through with philosophical questions that are as thought-provoking as the creatures and experiments she chronicles.

Bark magazine

This enthralling book might change the way we perceive other species who share the planet with us….A compelling read.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Tempering her enthusiasm and delight for her material, Morell is a gifted writer with a deep knowledge base that never talks down to the reader or the academic community—no small feat.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Although human cognition remains uniquely profound, evolution guarantees that it has a long history, and Morell makes a fascinating, convincing case that even primitive animals give some thought to their actions.

Author Blurb Temple Grandin, author of Animals in Translation and Animals Make Us Human
After you read this book, you will be convinced that many different animal species have true thoughts and emotions.  You will take a journey to the center of the animal mind.

Author Blurb Hal Herzog, author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat
From real-estate appraising ants and wife-beating parrots to laughing rats, grieving elephants, and dogs that play Simon Says, Virginia Morell's Animal Wise is a fascinating and intellectually sweeping overview of the new science of animal cognition...this extraordinary book is an impressive treatment of animal minds and a must read for anyone who has ever wondered what is going on in the heads of the creatures we share our world with.

Author Blurb Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of The Hidden Life of Dogs
Animal Wise is thoroughly and meticulously researched.  And it's a page-turner – a window to the natural world that will change the way we view other species...Animal Wise is fabulous!

Author Blurb Irene Pepperberg, author of Alex & Me
Morell's Animal Wise is science writing at its best.  Here she not only translates scientists' jargon and data into enviable prose, but transmits her love of the field to her audience.

Author Blurb Frans de Waal, author of The Age of Empathy
From chimpanzees playing computer games to amorous dolphins, Virginia Morell takes us on a lively tour of what we have learned about the emotions and intelligence of animals.

Author Blurb Jennifer S. Holland, author of Unlikely Friendships
These animals have incredible minds. Now thanks to Morell they have a voice. I love this book. It makes me even prouder to share this Earth with our non-human kin.

Author Blurb Richard E. Leakey, FRS, Stony Brook Professor of Anthropology and author of The Sixth Extinction
Anyone who reads this book will be changed forever in their view of life on earth.

Author Blurb Bernd Heinrich, author of Life Everlasting
The scientific expertise Virginia Morell provides to this very important subject, and the way she ties this in with the researchers who know their animals – because knowing them is their life work – make this an important book and a great read.

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Beyond the Book

Ayumu, the Chimpanzee

In Virginia Morell's Animal Wise, the reader learns many surprising things about a chimpanzee's skills. The book features one chimpanzee in Japan, Ayumu, who was has been extremely successful at sequence-memory tests. Ayumu lives with his mother Ai at the University of Kyoto's Primate Research Institute, headed by Professor Tetsuro Matsuzawa. In a test, the chimpanzee was shown a randomly distributed sequence of numerals over milliseconds, a blink of an eye, on a touchscreen. Then the numbers were hidden behind white blocks and Ayumu was expected to remember the location of the numerals and touch the white blocks in the correct ascending order. As the video of the experiment below, shows, the quickness and precision of Ayumu's responses ...

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