Monday, March 14, 2011

Red in tooth, claw, and ink

As much as I try to shake my animal past, it still seems to follow me around. The Wall Street Journal asked me to review a new book about the purportedly "moral" lives of animals; you can read the entire resulting fulminations here, which includes a list of a few of my favorite books about animals and their behavior.

Here's the lede (as we say in the journalism biz):

Animal-rights campaigners have long sought to narrow the distance between humans and animals by showcasing appealing stories of humanlike behavior, emotions and mental processes in other species. People love apes that punch buttons on computer screens, elephants that paint pictures and parrots in possession of formidable vocabularies. These are staples not just of the animal-rights literature but of popular animal writing in general.
Nothing tugs at the anthropomorphic heartstrings, though, more strongly than accounts of compassion or altruism in the animal world. A spate of books by authors such as Steven M. Wise, Jeffrey Masson, Jane Goodall, Marc Bekoff and Frans de Waal accordingly offer up examples of animals acting not just intelligently but virtuously. Dolphins lovingly tend sick comrades, elephants grieve over the death of relatives, and apes stage daring rescues of people, injured birds or other beings in distress. continue reading