Synopses & Reviews
For the first time, a historian of science draws evidence from across the world to show how humans and other animals are astonishingly similar when it comes to their feelings and the ways in which they lose their minds.
Charles Darwin developed his evolutionary theories by looking at physical differences in Galapagos finches and fancy pigeons. Alfred Russell Wallace investigated a range of creatures in the Malay Archipelago. Laurel Braitman got her lessons closer to home — by watching her dog. Oliver snapped at flies that only he could see, ate Ziploc bags, towels, and cartons of eggs. He suffered debilitating separation anxiety, was prone to aggression, and may even have attempted suicide. Her experience with Oliver forced Laurel to acknowledge a form of continuity between humans and other animals that, first as a biology major and later as a PhD student at MIT, she'd never been taught in school. Nonhuman animals can lose their minds. and when they do, it often looks a lot like human mental illness.
Thankfully, all of us can heal. As Laurel spent three years traveling the world in search of emotionally disturbed animals and the people who care for them, she discovered numerous stories of recovery: parrots that learn how to stop plucking their feathers, dogs that cease licking their tails raw, polar bears that stop swimming in compulsive circles, and great apes that benefit from the help of human psychiatrists. How do these animals recover? The same way we do: with love, with medicine, and above all, with the knowledge that someone understands why we suffer and what can make us feel better.
After all of the digging in the archives of museums and zoos, the years synthesizing scientific literature, and the hours observing dog parks, wildlife encounters, and amusement parks, Laurel found that understanding the emotional distress of animals can help us better understand ourselves.
"In this illuminating contribution to the burgeoning field of animal studies, senior TED fellow Braitman suggests that the key to understanding mental illness might lie in our pets. Humans, she reveals, are not the only ones who experience emotional turbulence or mental problems that break daily routine. Bears can endure heartbreak, elephants can form intense social attachments, and gorillas can die from homesickness. Few species escape her discussion. Braitman's delightful balance of humor and poignancy brings each case to life as she draws on her own experience, research, and the theories of Darwin, Descartes, and others. We have always described animal behavior using human terminology, and analyzing these accounts in historical context leads to revelations about the human species and larger issues of language and communication. Yet emotion is in part contingent upon the ability to express it, so the varied capacities for self-awareness and language within the animal world are perhaps the only possible loopholes to Braitman's logic. But analytical scrutiny would not be the way to approach this book, whose continuous dose of hope should prove medicinal for humans and animals alike. Agent: Barney M. Karpfinger, Karpfinger Agency. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"A riveting, thoughtful exploration of the 'emotional thunderstorms' and physiological imbalances other species can experience as intensely as humans do....Compelling."
"Braitman assembles the shattered pieces of others' minds into a thoroughly considered and surprising realization that many familiar animals possess the same mental demons that haunt us. This insight challenges us to accept that our ancient kinship with other animals is as apparent in our psyche as it is in our physique."
John Marzluff, Author of Gifts of the Crow
"Charming as the sketches of individual animals can be, the book is at its best in plumbing the history of how we humans have understood the emotional and mental lives of other animals. From Darwin, who wrote eloquently about his dog's facial expressions, to mid-20th-century behaviorists who disdained anthropomorphism, scholars have argued about the capacities of animal minds, a process Braitman compares to 'holding up a mirror to the history of human mental illness.'...It's clear that what soothes troubled animals — patience, sympathy, consistency — helps humans, too."
Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe
"There is much here that will remind readers of Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson — a gift for storytelling, strong observational talents, an easy familiarity with the background material and a warm level of empathy....Engaging....Sparks curiosity."
"This is a marvelous, smart, eloquent book — as much about human emotion as it is about animals and their inner lives. Braitman's research is fascinating, and she writes with the ease and engagement of a natural storyteller."
Susan Orlean, bestselling author of Rin Tin Tin, Saturday Night, and The Orchid Thief
About the Author
MIT PhD in the history of science, Laurel Braitman has written for Pop Up Magazine, The New Inquiry, Orion, and a variety of other publications. She is a TED Fellow and an affiliate artist at the Headlands Center for the Arts. Laurel lives on a houseboat in Sausalito, California, and can be reached at AnimalMadness.com.