Unfortunately, the book ended up being less about dogs and philosophy and more about the author's divorce and subsequent romance. He came off as more navel-gazing and . . . well, whiny, than he probably intended to. I'll probably still check out some of his other dog books, but I'll steer clear of anything that's this autobiographical and introspective.(less)
This is an interesting, intriguing book. Kilham has lived with and studied black bears for decades, and this book talks about many of the conclusions...moreThis is an interesting, intriguing book. Kilham has lived with and studied black bears for decades, and this book talks about many of the conclusions he has drawn from those studies. Do I think his conclusions run ahead of his evidence? Yes, I certainly do. Do I think that necessarily means his conclusions are wrong? No, just that they merit more study.
He makes much of the fact that his style of science is the same as that practiced by Lorenz, Schaller, and Goodall. And that may be true. But even their conclusions have had to be backed up and replicated by others. That's the nature of science. Just because someone see something cool doesn't mean we automatically add it to the scientific canon. It something is true, then many researchers will find the same thing. Replication, or at least multiple samples, is key.
Leaving that to the side, though, this is a very interesting book. Kilham's conclusions are fascinating, and this book is very definitely worth reading. (less)
If you would not love an personal, guided tour of Yellowstone with Doug Smith then either 1) You have not thought about it hard enough or 2) You have...moreIf you would not love an personal, guided tour of Yellowstone with Doug Smith then either 1) You have not thought about it hard enough or 2) You have not yet watched a sufficient number of nature documentaries on Netflix.
Smith has studied wolves all his life, in the West and on Isle Royale, and he was part of the Yellowstone reintroduction from its very beginning. He knows each of the wolves like members of his extended family and is as familiar with the progress and quirks of wolf research as a BBC fan is with theories of Sherlock's survival.
This book is fascinating. It's conversationally written so that you can pretend that you and Doug Smith are just riding along on trail horses in the backwoods and he's telling you stories about his friends, the wolves.
The study was published in PLOS ONE, which means you can go read it, but I wanted to know the backstory.
Happily, the lead scientist anticipated this reaction and published a book. This book tells the story of the circumstances that lead to dogs being trained to sit in an MRI machine while awake. It's fascinating as a behind-the-scenes look at the way science proceeds, but it's also interesting because it tells the story that doesn't fit into the scientific paper: the triumph of training the dogs and the impetus behind the questions.
It's well-written, makes a quick read, and is an encouraging look into the future. I would highly recommend this to anyone interested in how dogs (or animals) think, or in how humans interact with animals.(less)
Sometimes a book slots itself right into your psyche as if you'd been saving a seat for it.
This book is that kind of book.
David Powell is the aquarist...moreSometimes a book slots itself right into your psyche as if you'd been saving a seat for it.
This book is that kind of book.
David Powell is the aquarist who started the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Of course, he did much more than that. He's a legend in the fields of diving, collecting, managing, and exhibiting fish and sea critters.
The book is delightfully written. You can easily imagine, on the strength of this book, inviting Powell to every dinner party you will ever throw. It's funny, smart, educational, and just fun to read. Plus, there is a whole section on the quirky intelligence and charm of mola molas.
I can't recommend this book highly enough. Possibly the best nonfiction book I've read in a year.(less)
I love it when liberal arts city folk move to the country, acquire animals, discover love, and then feel the urge to get philosophical about it all. T...moreI love it when liberal arts city folk move to the country, acquire animals, discover love, and then feel the urge to get philosophical about it all. The books they write are wonderful.
In this case, the deep question at the root of the book is: Do animals have souls? Katz has obviously done some of his own soul-searching on the subject. He ponders what it would mean for animals to have souls: he ponders why the question matters so much to some people. In the end, his conclusion is an intriguing one: Animals either have souls, or don't, independent of how much human angst is spent on the subject. Animals are what they are.
This is a much stronger conclusion than I was hoping for. I was worried he was going to conclude for or against souls definitively. Which was worrisome to me, as I can't recall any quantitative, scientific study proving humans have souls, and there's certainly a high degree of debate about at what point in development humans are issued souls.
On one hand, this is an extremely interesting debate. It we take it as read that humans have souls, it makes sense that other animals would as well. There are very few things, evolutionarily, that separate us from non-human animals.
On the other hand, this is really a question of faith. I believe that I, and all humans, have a soul. I can't prove this, any more that I can prove love exists. On this basis, and this basis alone, I believe that other creatures have souls. I'm especially sure of mammals and birds. I don't know where the line is. Do frogs have souls? Or snakes or lobsters or beetles? What about tuna? Do cephalods have souls? What if I can only recognize souledness in animals that think relatively like me, and cephalopods have them, they're just too alien to me for me to understand?
With all that in mind, I can forgive the length to which Katz thrashes around philosophically. It's a very deep question. And it touches on the question of animal intelligence. What frustrated me is his immovably anthropocentric viewpoint. At several points, he concludes that we need animals to have souls more than they themselves need to have souls. And that animals "don't think like us" and so may not have souls.
Even more frustratingly, this line of thinking got a Disney song stuck in my head (always the mature response to a philosophical debate): "You think the only people who are people, are the people who look and think like you." Just because they don't think like us, doesn't mean they don't have souls.
He also talks about his dogs "becoming the dogs [he] needed them to be." I'm sure to some point that's true, but it's also a dangerously egocentric way to think. Dogs aren't blank slates when they come to us. They're hard-wired for aspects of their personality and intelligence, and, if I'm to be believed, they already have a soul, regardless of who owns then or how they're treated.
The other part of this book that required some deep thinking on my part was his discussion of the morality of our interaction with pets. He frequently disparages people who treat dogs like children or treat them "better than humans." I will agree that treating dogs (or any animal) like human children is dangerous, unhealthy, and unfair to both human children and the animals.
But the "treating dogs better than humans" link smacks of the argument "Why are we spending all this money on dogs when there are hungry humans?" implying that we can take care of the animals only once we've saved all the people. He brings this up as he's discussing the dog rescue movement, snidely writing that it "says something" about our society that there's no parallel rescue network for humans.
To counter the last argument first, there are rescue networks for humans. All sorts of government programs, church outreach programs, non-profits, you name it. It's just that, logistically, it's way easier to rescue a dog, so the networks aren't as well meshed together. You don't have to worry about what the dog wants, for instance. It's much easier to take a dog away from bad owners than it is to take a child away from bad parents, which is as it should be. It's also much easier to care for a dog once you have it than it is to care for a baby, a child, a teen, an adult, or a family.
This book made me think very deeply. It made me laugh, and cry, and while I didn't agree with everything he said, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and will seek out some of the sources he references.(less)