An impressive overview of modern neurology and the still-unanswered issues raised by our treatment of our fellow living...

WHAT IT'S LIKE TO BE A DOG

AND OTHER ADVENTURES IN ANIMAL NEUROSCIENCE

Berns (Neuroeconomics/Emory Univ.; How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain, 2013, etc.) reveals how his training to be a doctor shaped his life in unexpected ways.

The author was using MRI to study the processes involved in decision-making when the death of a beloved dog led him to ponder the human-dog relationship. After viewing photographs of the capture of Osama bin Laden in which dogs were jumping from helicopters under chaotic conditions, the author believed if he could train a dog to enter an MRI machine voluntarily, he could compare the functioning of human and dog brains. One of his motives was to refute the rationale that dogs are unaware of their own suffering, a view that was used to justify the medical school practice of dissecting them without anesthesia while still alive. Dogs (and other animals) can be conditioned to respond to hand signals or spoken words, but Berns asks, to what extent do they understand that these signals are intended to convey a meaningful message? A first step in the investigation involved figuring out if dogs share “the same basic structures for emotion” as humans. “Animals can represent and communicate knowledge in nonverbal ways,” but more is involved than just the structures. The connectivity between regions of the brain is also a determining factor in the level of consciousness and self-awareness of animals. By providing the “roadmap for the level of consciousness that is possible,” animals as diverse as dogs, apes, and whales can understand spoken commands and hand signals. As pet lovers already know, such experiments confirm that dogs also recognize and respond to body language that indicates the emotional states of other dogs and humans. The author explains that his purpose in writing this book is “to raise awareness of the mental lives of the animals with whom we share the planet.” In that, he succeeds.

An impressive overview of modern neurology and the still-unanswered issues raised by our treatment of our fellow living creatures.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-465-09624-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

THE BOOK OF EELS

OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE MOST MYSTERIOUS CREATURE IN THE NATURAL WORLD

An account of the mysterious life of eels that also serves as a meditation on consciousness, faith, time, light and darkness, and life and death.

In addition to an intriguing natural history, Swedish journalist Svensson includes a highly personal account of his relationship with his father. The author alternates eel-focused chapters with those about his father, a man obsessed with fishing for this elusive creature. “I can’t recall us ever talking about anything other than eels and how to best catch them, down there by the stream,” he writes. “I can’t remember us speaking at all….Because we were in…a place whose nature was best enjoyed in silence.” Throughout, Svensson, whose beat is not biology but art and culture, fills his account with people: Aristotle, who thought eels emerged live from mud, “like a slithering, enigmatic miracle”; Freud, who as a teenage biologist spent months in Trieste, Italy, peering through a microscope searching vainly for eel testes; Johannes Schmidt, who for two decades tracked thousands of eels, looking for their breeding grounds. After recounting the details of the eel life cycle, the author turns to the eel in literature—e.g., in the Bible, Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind, and Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum—and history. He notes that the Puritans would likely not have survived without eels, and he explores Sweden’s “eel coast” (what it once was and how it has changed), how eel fishing became embroiled in the Northern Irish conflict, and the importance of eel fishing to the Basque separatist movement. The apparent return to life of a dead eel leads Svensson to a consideration of faith and the inherent message of miracles. He warns that if we are to save this fascinating creature from extinction, we must continue to study it. His book is a highly readable place to begin learning.

Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296881-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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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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