jeremy's Reviews > Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals

Second Nature by Jonathan Balcombe
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bookshelves: nature

as the author himself points out a few different times, a book like this could not have been printed decades ago (or, had it been, it would have been laughingly dismissed). second nature: the inner lives of animals is a fascinating, often unbelievable foray into the latest science regarding animal intelligence, behavior, and the like. balcombe's work as an animal behavior research scientist has undoubtedly led to discoveries similar to those he outlines in the book.

much of second nature serves to expose the cartesian view of the animal world as antiquated (and self-servingly naïve). dispelling the anthropocentric belief of animals as mere automatons (unable to feel pain), balcombe cites dozens of studies that show animals exhibiting a range of mental and emotional faculties heretofore thought impossible. the book is divided into three parts (experience, coexistence, and emergence) and features chapters on animal sensitivity, intelligence, emotions, awareness, communication, sociability, and virtue (amongst others).

second nature is above all a science book, though a remarkably accessible and inviting one. largely made up of anecdotes culled from more exhaustive studies, the book contains no anthropomorphic accounts of cute, furry animals exhibiting human-like behaviors. instead, balcombe's book demonstrates that throughout the animal kingdom there are species that exhibit a remarkable range of behaviors whose depth and complexity illustrate a world few humans have thought existed. in the final chapters, the author offers convincing arguments against vivisection and animal cruelty (as well as for reducing meat consumption) that will be familiar to those already concerned with animal welfare. balcombe seems optimistic that humanity is on the verge of a new era where animals' lives are regarded with a greater degree of compassion (and writes about laws already sweeping europe to ensure just this).

that animals of all kinds are intelligent, sentient, and empathetic individuals may not come as a surprise to many. as the scientific literature regarding these subjects swells, we may no longer be able to dismiss mammals, birds, insects, and others as subordinates for much longer. second nature contains some truly astonishing insights about animal behavior, and is an engaging, thoughtful guide to the pioneering work of ethologists worldwide.

"it is of interest to note that while some dolphins are reported to have learned english- up to fifty words used in correct context- no human being has been reported to have learned dolphinese."
~carl sagan (as quoted in the book)
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
December 1, 2010 – Finished Reading
December 15, 2010 – Shelved
April 5, 2012 – Shelved as: nature

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