Friday, October 11, 2013

When Elephants Weep {book review}

When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals

by Jeffrey Masson and Susan McCarthy.


With chapters on love, joy, anger, fear, shame, compassion, and loneliness, When Elephants Weep is the first book since Darwin's time to thoroughly and effectively explore the full range of emotions that exist throughout the animal kingdom. Masson explores the 'sin of anthropomorphism' in science, both in terms of his own observations and those of other biologists and researchers. Do animals experience fear, love, friendship, grief, joy, and so on? Are they capable of suffering? From dancing squirrels to bashful gorillas to spiteful killer whales, Masson presents anecdotes and insights that offer proof of the existence of animal emotion.

My Thoughts

I found the book to be very insightful but slightly repetitive. Masson's writing style is engaging while still scientific. I have to admit I was slightly afraid to open this book at first thinking it would be overwhelming from an emotional standpoint, but since the book's roots are in science there is a certain level of detachment to the writing which helped keep my perspective clear. Most of the anecdotes were amusing and heartwarming although there were several scientific stories that were horrifying in their cruelty to animals under the guise of research.

One frustration I did have with the book was that it skimmed the surface of many points instead of selecting a handful and speaking directly to them in depth. But I think the book was very well-written and informative, giving an inside look at an otherwise untouched subject. All us pet owners know our animals have emotions- they communicate them every day to us in numerous ways. It's almost comical how long it will take science to catch up to us. I understand you can't precisely measure emotion so a quantitative scientific study of it is not possible (which makes scientists uncomfortable) and that we might not manifest emotions in the same way as different species, but just because we can't graph it is no reason to say that emotions cannot exist in other species. All in all, When Elephants Weep is a great read and I highly recommend it.

For More Information

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