Thursday, May 5, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: The Moral Lives of Animals

Book reviews used to be a regular Friday feature here - I've sort of gotten out of the habit lately, but when Blue Dot Literary offered me the opportunity to read and review a new book, I thought sure, why not? Although not necessarily in my usual genre, I found myself reading closely and... well, rather than rambling on, here's my review from LibraryThing:

The Moral Lives of Animals by Dale Peterson, New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2011. (9781596914247)

As much or more about the morality of humans and our nature as it is about the creatures we share the earth with, Peterson's book covers some interesting territory. Drawing on classic literature (Moby Dick appears frequently) and philosophy, and citing research and theory from well-known scientists, psychologists and anthropologists, Peterson argues convincingly that animals are not just mindful beings. Some are far more, exhibiting characteristics and taking action in ways that show higher intelligence, communication and empathy. If occasionally pedantic, it's also stuffed with personal vignettes and accounts of animal actions drawn from multiple case studies and observations by animal behaviorists. It's obvious Peterson has done a lot of research - the footnotes are a dead giveaway, if nothing else - but the book has a friendly tone. (I didn't find myself getting bogged down in academia, which given that it's a hefty 350+ pages, wouldn't have been a shock.)

While Peterson makes no claim to offering the final word on whether animals actually do lead moral lives, his book is certainly thought-provoking and very readable - do animals make moral choices? Read, observe, and draw your own conclusions.

It's chatty, friendly and presents some intriguing information. Peterson focuses mainly on whales, primates and elephants, but a few other mammals make appearances, as well - although sadly, equines fail to make the list. I'm still processing, and I want to re-read a few sections, but honestly? I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

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