Synopses & Reviews
Noted science writer Virginia Morell explores the frontiers of research on animal cognition and emotion, offering a surprising and moving exploration into the hearts and minds of wild and domesticated animals.
Did you know that ants teach, earthworms make decisions, rats love to be tickled, and chimps grieve? Did you know that some dogs have thousand-word vocabularies and that birds practice songs in their sleep? That crows improvise tools, blue jays plan ahead, and moths remember living as caterpillars?
Animal Wise takes us on a dazzling odyssey into the inner world of animals, from ants to elephants to wolves, and from sharp-shooting archerfish to pods of dolphins that rumble like rival street gangs. With 30 years of experience covering the sciences, Morell uses her formidable gifts as a story-teller to transport us to field sites and laboratories around the world, introducing us to pioneering animal-cognition researchers and their surprisingly intelligent and sensitive subjects. She explores how this rapidly evolving, controversial field has only recently overturned old notions about why animals behave as they do. She probes the moral and ethical dilemmas of recognizing that even “lesser animals” have cognitive abilities such as memory, feelings, personality, and self-awareness — traits that many in the twentieth century felt were unique to human beings.
By standing behaviorism on its head, Morell brings the world of nature brilliantly alive in a nuanced, deeply felt appreciation of the human-animal bond, and she shares her admiration for the men and women who have simultaneously chipped away at what we think makes us distinctive while offering a glimpse of where our own abilities come from.
“[A] delightful exploration of how animals think....Morell makes a fascinating, convincing case that even primitive animals give some thought to their actions.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“After you read this book, you will be convinced that many different animal species have true thoughts and emotions. You will take a journey to the center of the animal mind.” Temple Grandin, author of Animals in Translation and Animals Make Us Human
“From real-estate appraising ants and wife-beating parrots to laughing rats, grieving elephants, and dogs that play Simon Says, Virginia Morell’s Animal Wise is a fascinating and intellectually sweeping overview of the new science of animal cognition. With Morell’s unusual ability to capture the passion and humanity of these scientists, this extraordinary book is an impressive treatment of animal minds and a must read for anyone who has ever wondered what is going on in the heads of the creatures we share our world with.” Hal Herzog, author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat
“Why is it that until very recently, many scientists claimed that animals can’t think? Every pet owner knows better, and Virginia Morell is our champion. But she’s not going on guesswork and opinion — Animal Wise is thoroughly and meticulously researched. And it’s a page-turner — a window to the natural world that will change the way we view other species. We place ourselves at the top of the evolutionary ladder. Of course we do. We invented the ladder. In her marvelous book, Morell displays the folly of this viewpoint. Animal Wise is fabulous!” Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of The Hidden Life of Dogs
“Morell’s Animal Wise is science writing at its best. Here she not only translates scientists’ jargon and data into enviable prose, but transmits her love of the field to her audience. Novice readers will be enthralled to learn about the intelligence of the creatures in this book, and experts will be extremely pleased to see how she makes their work and that of their colleagues accessible to everyone.” Irene Pepperberg, author of Alex & Me
“From chimpanzees playing computer games to amorous dolphins, Virginia Morell takes us on a lively tour of what we have learned about the emotions and intelligence of animals. By inviting scientists to tell their personal side of the story, she not only brings the animals closer but also the thrill of discovery.” Frans de Waal, author of The Age of Empathy
“These animals have incredible minds. Now thanks to Morell they have a voice. I love this book. It makes me even prouder to share this Earth with our non-human kin.” Jennifer S. Holland, author of Unlikely Friendships
“Anyone who reads this book will be changed forever in their view of life on earth.” Richard E. Leakey, FRS, Stony Brook Professor of Anthropology and author of The Sixth Extinction
“The scientific expertise Virginia Morell provides to this very important subject, and the way she ties this in with the researchers who know their animals — because knowing them is their life work — make this an important book and a great read.” Bernd Heinrich, author of Life Everlasting
“Animal Wise brings the reader into the lab and field to learn firsthand from the scientists that marvel over the minds of other animals. Using the sharp pen of an investigative reporter, Morell exposes the expected brilliance of apes, dolphins, and parrots, but also surprises us with simple discoveries of genius among fishes and ants, and even laughter among rats. Each page allows you to anticipate, sweat, grieve, and celebrate with dedicated scientists as you discover and experience their worlds, and those within the minds of the astounding animals that they study. Your journey causes reflection; a consideration of how we treat other species and what they think about us.” John Marzluff, Professor of Wildlife Science, University of Washington and author of Dog Days, Raven Nights and Gifts of the Crow
“Animal Wise is a thought-provoking and highly engaging set of essays that captures the changing views of scientists toward the minds and emotional lives of animals. It is sure to have broad impact on attitudes towards other species and our treatment of them. Thank you, Virginia Morell, for adding legitimacy to what we have so painstakingly observed.” Joyce Poole, PhD, Co-Director of ElephantVoices, member of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, and author of Coming of Age With Elephants
“In sprightly and clear prose Virginia Morell enters the world of animals with respect and insight and with the compelling argument that our lives differ only in degree. The recognition that we are bound in mind to many other creatures, all of them dependent on us for survival, will, I hope, arouse our compassion and assure them a future. This is a fascinating, timely, and important book.” George B. Schaller, Panthera and Wildlife Conservation Society
“From ants to apes, Animal Wise covers wide-ranging scientific research on the cognitive and emotional capacities of many different non-human animals. Noted author Virginia Morell writes clearly and concisely, and this easy read will surely be good for animals because we must use what we know about them to make their lives better in an increasingly human dominated world.” Marc Bekoff, author of The Emotional Lives of Animals and The Animal Manifesto and editor of Ignoring Nature No More
“It is nice to see a science writer of Virginia Morell’s distinction take on this increasingly important topic, and it is good to have her calm and careful voice added to the conversation. She has a great deal to teach us about the latest research on the frontiers of this fascinating new world. Animal Wise is a fine book.” Jeffrey Masson, author of When Elephants Weep
About the Author
Virginia Morell is a prolific contributor to National Geographic, Science, and Smithsonian, among other publications. She is also the author of Ancestral Passions, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; Blue Nile; and coauthor with Richard Leakey of Wildlife Wars.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1. The Ant Teachers
Chapter 2. Among Fish
Chapter 3. Birds with Brains
Chapter 4. Parrots in Translation
Chapter 5. The Laughter of Rats
Chapter 6. Elephant Memories
Chapter 7. The Educated Dolphin
Chapter 8. The Wild Minds of Dolphins
Chapter 9. What It Means to Be a Chimpanzee
Chapter 10. Of Dogs and Wolves