THE SECRET HISTORY OF KINDNESS

LEARNING FROM HOW DOGS LEARN

Though the prose is often florid, Pierson convincingly demonstrates that when it comes to relating to man’s best friend, one...

Pierson (The Man Who Would Stop at Nothing: Long-Distance Motorcycling's Endless Road, 2011, etc.) delivers a fascinating if sprawling exposition on the history and science of animal behavior.

Beginning with a close examination of methods she had to learn—and unlearn—when training her own dogs, the author probes the history of how humans have attempted to relate more closely to animals with whom they feel an affinity but find a daunting challenge when attempting to domesticate (“it is rarely a good idea to own a dog much smarter than you are”). How to bridge that communicative chasm is the main thrust of the book, which is rooted in the findings of behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner. Skinner’s animal experiments from the mid-1930s, though pointed at illuminating the human condition, revealed the absolute power of reward. “There is no more powerful motive to learning, or survival, than fulfillment of essential needs,” writes the author, and animal trainers coming from Skinner’s camp have since believed positive reinforcement is key to need fulfillment achieved through operant conditioning, or “the manner in which learned behavior is acquired.” Pierson’s account is provocative since this line of thinking bucks the traditional behaviorist school of thought found in dog training in particular, which relies on a “classic conception of teaching as inseparable from threat and compulsion.” Punishment and deprivation of essential needs, as practiced by “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan and a number of zoos, Pierson shows, fly in the face of copious scientific evidence showing that animals learn most effectively through positive reinforcement. The author goes on to extrapolate this finding into broader realms of human commerce, such as politics, with varying degrees of success, creating at times a rambling discourse.

Though the prose is often florid, Pierson convincingly demonstrates that when it comes to relating to man’s best friend, one doesn’t have to be cruel to be kind.

Pub Date: May 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-393-06619-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 8, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

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NUTCRACKER

This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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TO THE ONE I LOVE THE BEST

EPISODES FROM THE LIFE OF LADY MENDL (ELSIE DE WOLFE)

An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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