After this edifying book, a trip to the zoo may never be the same.

ARE WE SMART ENOUGH TO KNOW HOW SMART ANIMALS ARE?

Intrigued by the search for intelligent life? No need for space travel—it’s happening right here on Earth, and the results are amazing.

De Waal (Psychology/Emory Univ.; The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates, 2013, etc.), the director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, tells us that it takes human ingenuity and respect to comprehend the level of intelligence of an animal. In example after example, he entertainingly demonstrates how researchers with those qualities have revealed surprising things about animal cognition and the porousness of the wall between human and animal cognition. First, for the nonscientist, the author provides some background on scientific thinking about animal behavior, putting paid to the bygone notion that animals are simply stimulus-response mechanisms or are solely driven by genetically endowed instincts. In recent years, scientists have begun to recognize the many surprising abilities of animals. The author’s field is primate behavior, and most of the examples come from that field, but elephants, octopuses, squirrels, and magpies are among the many other animals to appear in these pages. He shows us many animals both in the wild and in captivity solving challenging problems, planning future actions, having better-than-human memories, making and handling tools, communicating, and demonstrating empathy and cooperation. De Waal is persuasive in arguing that the difference between the cognition of the human and those of other animals is one of degree, not of kind, and the clarity of his writing makes for a highly readable book. A welcome bonus is the inclusion of rather charming, simple drawings by the author that give the essence of an activity better than a photograph might. For general readers, he includes a helpful glossary, and for those who want more details about the research cited, there is an extensive bibliography.

After this edifying book, a trip to the zoo may never be the same.

Pub Date: April 25, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-24618-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2016

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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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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H IS FOR HAWK

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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