Virginia Morell: Animal Wise

ANIMAL WISE: How We Know Animals Think and Feel

Crown: Hardcover, February 26, 2013, $26; paperback, March 25, 2014, $14.95
ISBN-10: 0307461459; ISBN-13: 978-0307461445

Morell reports:

Most of us have probably wondered what it is like to be a fish, a bird, a dolphin — or as Thomas Nagel did, a bat. Do they have thoughts that are similar to ours, or feelings of joy, love, and grief? Can such questions ever be answered? Nagel says, “No.” But that hasn’t stopped the pioneering animal behaviorists readers meet in Animal Wise.

Animal Wise takes readers on an odyssey into the labs and out to the field sites of researchers studying the animal mind around the world. They’ve dispensed with the view of strict behaviorists who once denied animals, other than humans, any thought or emotion, aside from anger or fear. Instead, following in Charles Darwin’s footsteps, they frame their questions in evolutionary terms to explain why animals behave as they do.

Virginia Morell with Buckaroo
Animal Wise 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 humans.

My book grew out of my article Minds of Their Own in the March 2008 issue of National Geographic.

If I could change one thing, I would change the subtitle on the 2013 hardcover edition — The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures — to the one I’m using on the 2014 paperback: How We Know Animals Think and Feel. The new subtitle more accurately captures the essence of the book, which is not an encyclopedia of scientific discovery, but rather a narrative about how scientists decide to ask questions.

By the end of the book, readers have (hopefully) experienced a bit of the life of an animal behaviorist, and understand what drives these researchers, and why their questions are important. Animal Wise paints portraits of both the scientists and their study animals, and reflects on what it means to be a human animal in the midst of the world’s many other animal minds.

Contact info:

Awards for ANIMAL WISE:

  • Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist
  • American Library Association 2014 Notable Nonfiction Book
  • A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2013

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