Once again, the eminent primatologist takes readers deep into the world of animals to show us that we humans are not the unique creatures we like to think we are.
In his latest highly illuminating exploration of the inner lives of animals, de Waal (Psychology/Emory Univ.), the director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, provides a companion piece to his prizewinning Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? (2016), which revealed the sophistication of animals’ brains. Here, it is their emotions that take center stage. One of our keenest observers of emotional expressions, body language, and social dynamics, the author demonstrates that pride, shame, guilt, revenge, gratefulness, forgiveness, hope, and disgust all exist in other animals, not just humans. A dying chimpanzee matriarch’s farewell to her longtime caretaker provides the title of the book, but this is just the first of many stories about the immense—and unique—emotional capacities of animals. “I don’t expect to ever again encounter an ape personality as expressive and inspiring as Mama’s,” he writes. De Waal is impatient with scholars who assert that language lies at the heart of emotions, that feelings cannot be expressed without language. Sometimes he names names; sometimes he simply dismisses their ideas as nonsense. Most of the author’s observations involve the spontaneous behavior of chimpanzees, bonobos, and other primates, but readers will also be rewarded with tales of birds, dogs, horses, elephants, and rats. As he has shown in nearly all of his books, de Waal is a skilled storyteller, and his love for animals always shines through. His examples of the actions of certain humans—e.g., Donald Trump, Sean Spicer—lend color to his argument, and the simple drawings that illustrate behaviors and facial expressions are exceptionally clear and effective.
De Waal turns his years of research into a delightful and illuminating read for nonscientists, a book that will surely make readers want to grab someone’s arm and exclaim, “Listen to this!”