Intellectually fierce reading for philosophically minded readers, especially dog lovers.



An exploration of the ways dogs help humans “reconsider the ethical life: the conscience it demands, the liabilities it incurs.”

For Dayan (Humanities, Law/Vanderbilt Univ.; The Law Is a White Dog: How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons, 2011, etc.), dogs are more than simply man’s best friends. They represent a “bridge that joins persons to things, life to death, both in our nightmares and in our daily lives.” As such, canines make humans aware of “the austere experience of nonrelation” that results from attachment to morality, which itself depends on privilege for its power. Dogs force humans to embrace “the discomfort of utter relatedness,” which Dayan believes has to do with ethics or “how individuals relate to what is not familiar.” In the first section of this three-part book, the author explores her own relationships to dogs, which began with a pet she loved and lost as a small child. Later on, other dogs that came into her life rekindled her joy and opened a connection to the divine while revealing hard truths—such as the violence that lived within her husband—that made her realize her own status as a fellow animal. In the second third of the book, Dayan examines three court cases involving owners and dogs falsely assumed to be involved in illegal dog fighting. For the author, each story not only offers evidence of “canine profiling,” but also of just how fragile constitutional rights become when confronted by the “unholy alliance of intolerance and state power.” In the last section of the book, Dayan examines representations of canines in two independent films from Turkey and Mongolia. “Through the dogs’ eyes,” she writes, “we sense a world devoid of spirit, ravaged of communion.” Stimulating and lyrical, her book suggests a unique, trans-species approach to understanding ourselves as well as the limits of human cognition and the hubris that inheres in all the things we create.

Intellectually fierce reading for philosophically minded readers, especially dog lovers.

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-231-16712-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...


Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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