A heartfelt call for compassion for all living species.




Why bonding with animals makes us better human beings.

Neurologist Akhtar (Animals and Public Health, 2012), deputy director of the Army’s Traumatic Brain Injury Program and a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Public Health Service, makes an impassioned and moving argument that empathy with animals deeply affects humans’ health. Drawing on interviews with a wide range of individuals, including prisoners, a serial killer, a vegetarian chicken farmer, animal researchers, and victims of PTSD; scientific studies; and her own experience as a sexually abused and bullied young girl who bonded with an abused dog, the author examines the physical, emotional, and psychological responses that occur when humans connect with any animal, not only common house pets. Animals, she writes, “calm us by lowering our blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones. We relax with animals” because they “defuse a lot of the human-generated pressure in our lives.” The beneficial response, one psychologist suggests, comes from the release of oxytocin, a hormone that “increases social interaction, generosity, bonding, and attachment. It also improves trust and decreases aggression, fear, and hyperarousal.” Many organizations, writes Akhtar, promote human-animal connection, such as K9s for Warriors, a nonprofit group that “pairs dogs with military veterans who have PTSD”; Feeding Pets of the Homeless; Rowdy Girl Sanctuary, which rescues farm animals; and FORWARD, an organization that establishes cat sanctuaries in prisons, where inmates care for and socialize abandoned or abused cats. The cats, Akhtar notes, “provide the only physical contact and affection many of the inmates receive.” The author’s research uncovers much animal cruelty at the hands of individuals and in the livestock industry, which she describes in sickening detail. “It is the same mind-set that encourages cruelty toward animals and toward other humans,” she asserts, whereas empathy encourages kindness: “Animals remind us that the world is larger than us. They can teach us to look beyond the racism, poverty, and cruelty in our lives.” A brief appendix offers readers suggestions for positive change.

A heartfelt call for compassion for all living species.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64313-070-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...


A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a...

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An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.

Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald (History and Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Falcon, 2006, etc.) tried staving off deep depression with a unique form of personal therapy: the purchase and training of an English goshawk, which she named Mabel. Although a trained falconer, the author chose a raptor both unfamiliar and unpredictable, a creature of mad confidence that became a means of working against madness. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life,” she writes. As a devotee of birds of prey since girlhood, Macdonald knew the legends and the literature, particularly the cautionary example of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his own painful battle to master his title subject. Macdonald dramatically parallels her own story with White’s, achieving a remarkable imaginative sympathy with the writer, a lonely, tormented homosexual fighting his own sadomasochistic demons. Even as she was learning from White’s mistakes, she found herself very much in his shoes, watching her life fall apart as the painfully slow bonding process with Mabel took over. Just how much do animals and humans have in common? The more Macdonald got to know her, the more Mabel confounded her notions about what the species was supposed to represent. Is a hawk a symbol of might or independence, or is that just our attempt to remake the animal world in our own image? Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0802123411

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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