Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel” as Want to Read:
Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel

4.42  ·  Rating details ·  3,113 ratings  ·  526 reviews
Beyond Words, readers travel to Amboseli National Park in the threatened landscape of Kenya and witness struggling elephant families work out how to survive poaching and drought, then to Yellowstone National Park to observe wolves sort out the aftermath of one pack's personal tragedy, and finally plunge into the astonishingly peaceful society of killer whales living in the ...more
Hardcover, 461 pages
Published July 14th 2015 by Henry Holt & Company (first published March 31st 2015)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Beyond Words, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Lindsay Miller Some places they are starting to apply a pink dye to their tusks, which doesn't harm the animal but makes the ivory worthless. (At least, as long as p…moreSome places they are starting to apply a pink dye to their tusks, which doesn't harm the animal but makes the ivory worthless. (At least, as long as pink ivory doesn't become fashionable?)
As for "genetic modification" I think you are alluding more to selective breeding, which in a sense humans are already doing by killing those with the biggest tusks, and removing those genes from the pool. Traumatizing young animals is no solution. Either way, you're talking about removing something which evolved because it served a purpose, something integral to what makes an elephant. Don't change the victims, change the perpetrators. (less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.42  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,113 ratings  ·  526 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel
A wonderful tour of how animals think and feel and plea to afford them respect as beings worthy of better stewardship of their fate by the planet’s masters. You are in reliable hands with a respected ecologist and conservationist as long as you factor in that animal behavior and brain science are outside his field of expertise. The societies of elephants, wolves, killer whales get the lion’s share of focus, enhanced by the author’s long forays with field scientists who have monitoring their soci ...more
Sep 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Review to come. Do I love it....or do I like it a lot? I do definitely want everyone to read this book.

When I think about the book, I automatically say, "I liked that A LOT", so four stars.

When I chose to read this book I thought I was going to get something like The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter than You Think which I gave four stars, but rather than concentrating solely on dogs the focus would cover many animals. Carl Safina's book is wider in scope and completely different in focus.
Apr 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Humans are human- and we are also animals, with our physical lives on a continuum with other animals.

Safina is persuasive enough to convince anyone but the most rigid that "mere animals" share much with us, in terms of intelligence, emotions, sense of humor, and individuality- not to mention social groups and ties.

I thought it an excellent point that , regarding many of the "tests" for animal intelligence, etc.- most humans would not pass them. Dogs are stupid because they can be fooled? What ab
Jul 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I took a long time to read Beyond Words, not because I didn't like it but because I had to let each piece sink in. We learn so much about animal brains but also much about the human brain. The first section will make you fall in love with elephants, so it was hard to read because every time I read the news, more elephants had been slain for their ivory. Just two days ago I read where six elephants were killed with cyanide, CYANIDE!, for their tusks. And orcas are so smart, so loving to their fam ...more
Zawn V
Aug 02, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: animals, popular
Dreadful. Contains lines like, "One time my friend..." followed by a claim that this one anecdote tells us something about an entire species. Very light on science, heavy on speculation. If this were marketed as a book of observations about animals, it might get a higher rating. But we were promised an explanation of what animals think and feel, not what the author thinks and feels about animals. ...more
Jul 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
So often when I recommend a non fiction book I like it because it reads like a novel, and not like a textbook. Although textbooks can provide you with a lot of information, often it's difficult to retain because it's just a long list of facts and data and no easy way to have substantial retention.

This author goes above and beyond anything I've read from a non fiction book, this not only read like a novel, this read like a poetic work of art. Like, this guy rivals Josiah Bancroft with his use of
S.Baqer Al-Meshqab
Feb 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Carl Safina, an author, professor and ecologist, presents us with his newest work "Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel (2015)", shedding some light on the mysteries of animal actions and behaviors within their own societies, and their interactions to the human world as well.

The book will take the readers in a journey to the forests, valleys and oceans, where they can literally live among the elephants, wolves, dogs, birds, chimpanzees, bats, dolphins and whales. The author, and so does th
Gregory K.
Oct 22, 2015 rated it it was ok
I think a person's reaction to this book will probably be based on on the style of writing they prefer. When I read non-fiction I am hoping for a concise and professional approach. That doesn't mean that there can't be some humor and some reflection, so long as it doesn't overpower the purpose of the book. The author of this book though seems overly concerned with trying to embed his personality into the pages. There are constant off-the-wall reflections and comments, numerous one and two word s ...more
Kim Overstreet
Apr 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Carl Safina prompts readers to consider animal behavior and thought, not by comparing it with human behavior, but by viewing it as unique. He encourages marrying science and logic to draw conclusions about animal thoughts and feelings. For example, we may think it good science to very detachedly document the way a dog bounds and jumps up to greet us when we return home. We can also use logic and apply what we know about this dog and our experiences with feeling to say the dog is happy. Major sec ...more
Apr 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Yes I've read lots on the general subject before. And yes this is a long book. But I'm glad I'm making time for it because:
1. it's almost like four books in one, with elephants, wolves, and killer whales, plus an intermission to explore the validity of concepts like 'theory of mind' & 'mirror neurons' &etc.;
2. each section has anecdotes + science + pleas to our humanity;
3. it's beautifully written, with a style or 'voice' I've not noticed in other books, and
4. it's newer than almost anything
Jul 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book was mindblowing in analyzing the communication, empathy, playfulness, grieving, hierarchy, and interaction of elephants, wolves, lions, dogs, crows, parrots, bower birds, killer whales and dolphins with one another and people. Safina explored the growing pressure on African elephants for their tusks and the difficulty of changing the culture of the Maasai tribes and the economic rewards they receive from poaching. The elephants have learned to fear the scent of a Maasai. The stories an ...more
Safina, who has a degree from Rutgers in Ecology, and is a MacArthur winner, has written a beautiful and deeply moving book about the natural lives of animals, focusing on the profound intelligence and inner life of elephants, wolves, whales, birds, and with asides on insects and lower orders -- in an attempt to show how all of us -- man and beast...even plant -- is simply part of an integral space, of animate life on earth, stressing the horrible loss of beauty and understanding that man's geno ...more
Ginger Bensman
Jan 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What Animals Think and Feel by Carl Safina is a book brimming with amazing research and stories about the lives, abilities, the complex behaviors, and cultures of some of earth’s most fascinating animals (notably—elephants, wolves, dogs, and cetaceans, though remarkable references to turtles and birds and others are here too).

Safina is a gifted, even lyrical, writer, and he approaches the discussion about each of these marvelous creatures with respect, awe, and much humility. Of course, in the
Jun 19, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015-2019
Actual Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

As an animal person myself, this was greatly enjoyable. It was amazing to see how animals that we consider "wild" and "untamed" are so much more than that. Humans love to consider themselves special and the most intelligent species in this planet, but what if we're measuring intelligence of other species using the wrong scale? That was one of the authors arguments that I found extremely compelling, as well as the argument that why does the scientific world deprive itsel
Jeff Bursey
May 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Clearly written, with some humour and skepticism, passion and evidence, arguments and anecdotes, revolving around how certain animals are "who" creatures (wolves, elephants, killer whales and dolphins generally, etc.) by someone who has spent his life studying animals in their habitat. The numerous examples of animals exhibiting what we might (mistakenly, according to Safina) call human characteristics are plentiful and varied, and they are also interrogated. Well worth reading. ...more
Apr 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
“Why do human egos seem so threatened by the thought that other animals think and feel? Is it because acknowledging the mind of another makes it harder to abuse them?”

Wow, what can I say? This book is absolutely amazing. It’s actually *beyond words* haha. I wish everyone in the world would read it!!!!
Jan 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: animals-nature
The author makes the case that despite our history of denying that animals think and feel, they do both, in similar ways to humans. He illustrates this mostly with three long sections, one each on elephants, wolves, and killer whales. The book includes, in less detail, information on other animals including birds, great apes, dogs, fish, and tortoises.

It took me a week to read the book. I had to put it down frequently, mostly because the stories about how we've decimated the populations of these
John Yunker
Jul 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
In Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, Carl Safina sets out on a global journey to listen to and understand animals on their terms and not ours. By the end of this book, I can guarantee that readers will come away with a greater appreciation for the self-awareness, intelligence, and empathy of the animals we share this planet with.

The bulk of the book is devoted to studying African elephants, North American wolves, and Pacific Northwest orcas (killer whales). Safina does an excellent job
Apr 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
At first I was surprised that so much of "Beyond Words" was just watching family lives of animals (considering the subtitle "What Animals Think and Feel"), but in the course of reading I realised it was a perfect way to show that elephants, wolves and orcas live "full", socially complex lives, not that dissimilar from human lives (not to dismiss animals whose lives are much different). It also made for a compelling read: it feels really good to immerse yourself in the life of another species. Ov ...more
Nov 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Another nail in the "just so story" that humans are special.

Safina challenges the old school animal behaviorists who suggest that animals are incapable of thinking or feeling in any meaningful way. Unlike other animal activists researchers who go off the deep end, Safina's arguments, while some times anecdotal, are balanced and well thought out.

In one particularly good section of the book, Safina recounted his days at university, sitting in the classroom listening to lectures on the evils of a
Sep 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Just wonderful. Safina really delves deep into the 'who' of animals; there are so many animal anecdotes here that are just jaw-dropping (my favourite one involved a tiger stalking his human enemy for months; I'm also very unlikely to ever kill another wasp because SOME OF THEM CAN RECOGNISE YOUR FACE :|).

Although he might be taking things a little bit too far sometimes (for example when arguing that wolves' fear of humans could be the outcome of a cost-benefit calculation and not say, an evolut
Feb 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Mind-blowing, breath-taking, stunning, amazing, outstanding, extraordinary.

I'm running out of words to describe this book, and the way I feel about it. Safina is passionate, thought-provoking, persuasive, and compelling. His discussions of anthropomorphism and the evolution of the fields of behavior and the study of animal intelligence and emotions is unparalleled.

This is one of those books, like Silent Spring or A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There, that marks a turning point for
Sep 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is quite a thought provoking book. Carl Safina studied primarily three animal groups, elephants, wolves and whales. All of these animal groups have been found to have complex social groups and communication skills. After reading that and then to read how humans have brought such misery and chaos into their lives is indeed horrifying. For instance, elephants have a matriarchal society led by older females. When these elephants are killed for their tusks, it throws the whole family into stres ...more
Troy Blackford
Jun 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A surprisingly moving and poetic exploration on the topic of individuality in animals. The author is a Doctor of Ecology, and co-chairs the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, and I can certainly see why Mr. Alda (who is one of the best ambassadors of science alive today) chose Dr. Safina for that role. The book teems with facts presented through narrative accounts of the author's journeys through the savanna, the ocean, and the forest as he encounters people working closely with elephan ...more
Mar 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
I love this. The author makes it extremely clear that we, as humanity, need to stop evaluating animals in terms of how similar they are to us, whether they have the exact same emotional abilities as us and whether they have the have the exact same stream of awareness as us because they are who they are - and that's more than enough! Humans are not the golden standard to which any kind of important being needs to be compared to - despite how special we think we are. Who an animal is, is just as i ...more
May 03, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: half-read
I was actually disappointed by the book, I thought with the book being as thick as it was the it would be information dense, however from what I read I really did not learn anything new, or see a different side of a topic. The section on wolves was what I found the most interesting, for some reason the first section on elephants just did not do it for me. I am not an expert on the topic whatsover and maybe the author chose the animals that he did because those are ones that we identify with more ...more
Meredith Duran
Oct 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book!!!! I gave it to three different people for the holidays. It has been a very long time since a book a) moved me to tears, b) kept me riveted to the page, AND c) forced me to cast it down so I could pace in agitation while pondering the implications of the paragraph I'd just read...all within the space of an hour.

In short, while reading this book, I probably looked like I'd lost my mind. :)

Anyway, if I could afford to gift a copy to every person on the planet, I would -- and I've no d
Miriam Jacobs
Aug 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Safina makes a thoroughly convincing argument. Less brainy than de Waal, less reflective than Lopez, both of whom write in a similar vein, I feel a little distressed that Safina often sacrifices grammar to achieve his chatty tone, a tone I find ever so slightly suspect. Am I being patronized? But still a fine and worthwhile read - worth hanging on to if not quite a classic.
Jammin Jenny
I really liked this non-fiction story about how animals have emotions and how those emotions and thought processes are innate to their particular nature. I loved the story of Wolf 21 in Yellowstone National Park, and how he created a huge pack of wolves based on his personality and leadership. Great read for nature lovers, especially those that like non-fiction reads.
Dec 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
As close as any text could ever come to making me a vegetarian. The section on elephants is the best nature writing I've ever read. For an animal kingdom illiterate like me, a profound read. ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Science and Natur...: Possibilities for rejuvinating the group? 38 167 Mar 19, 2018 02:02PM  
Is Carl Safina a good writer? 1 9 Jan 21, 2017 05:35PM  
Carl Safina's Latest - Just in Time for Earth Day! 1 9 Apr 17, 2015 02:08PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?
  • When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals
  • Animalkind: Remarkable Discoveries About Animals and Revolutionary New Ways to Show Them Compassion
  • The Last Rhinos: My Battle to Save One of the World's Greatest Creatures
  • Superlative: The Biology of Extremes
  • Voices in the Ocean: A Journey into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins
  • The Genius of Birds
  • The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think
  • The Living
  • Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects
  • The Intelligence of Flowers
  • The Inner Life of Animals: Love, Grief, and Compassion: Surprising Observations of a Hidden World
  • Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness
  • Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds
  • The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary
  • The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: A True Story of Resilience and Recovery
  • What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins
See similar books…
Carl Safina’s work has been recognized with MacArthur, Pew, and Guggenheim Fellowships, and his writing has won Orion, Lannan, and National Academies literary awards and the John Burroughs, James Beard, and George Rabb medals. He has a PhD in ecology from Rutgers University. Safina is the inaugural holder of the endowed chair for nature and humanity at Stony Brook University, where he co-chairs th ...more

News & Interviews

Need another excuse to treat yourself to a new book this week? We've got you covered with the buzziest new releases of the day. To create our...
17 likes · 3 comments
“People have told me that a wolf looks right through you. But you know what I realize? That's because a wolf isn't interested in you. It's always hard for humans to accept that we're not the most important thing anyone's ever seen.” 8 likes
“Whenever elephants met men, elephants fared badly. Syria's final elephants were exterminated by twenty-five hundred years ago. Elephants were gone from much of China literally before the year 1 and much of Africa by the year 1000. Meanwhile, in India and southern Asia, elephants became the mounts of kings; tanks against forts, prisoners' executioners, and pincushions of arrows, driven mad in battle; elephants became logging trucks and bulldozers, and, as with other slaves, their forced labor requires beatings and abuse. Since Roman times, humans have reduced Africa's elephant population by perhaps 99 percent. African elephants are gone from 90 percent of the lands they roamed as recently as 1800, when, despite earlier losses, an estimated twenty-six million elephants still trod the continent. Now they number perhaps four hundred thousand. (The diminishment of Asian elephants over historic times is far worse.) The planet's menagerie has become like shards of broken glass; we're grinding the shards smaller and smaller.” 8 likes
More quotes…