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Book Review: Animal Wise by Virginia Morell

Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures by Virginia Morell is a deeply researched trek around the world and into the minds and talents of creatures large and small. Beautifully rendered profiles of animal-intelligence researchers and their subjects make sometimes complicated topics accessible, thrilling, and fun.

best dog blog, champion of my heart, book cover Animal Wise by Virginia MorellI won’t give away what makes Animal Wise unusual in the world of those who consider animal intelligence, emotions, and self awareness. Suffice it to say that Morell never asks nor answers the question that obsesses others on this topic. And, I love that about her.

When you read Animal Wise, you’ll learn all kinds of neat things:

  • How ants (yes, ants) instruct one another and work in teams
  • Why fish really do think and feel (including pain) and how many complicated calculations they can make while hunting
  • Which birds use tools and solve problems as good or better than primates (Hint, some even show artistic motivations)
  • How the late Alex (an amazing parrot) changed everything and why it’s such a loss that he died
  • Why matriarchal elephants hold the key to survival
  • What dolphins have taught us about the depth and use of their social relationships
  • What chimpanzees and TV’s Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory) have in common
  • How dogs and wolves are different and what role dogs now play in all manner of learning research

Here are a couple of lines from the dog chapter that I loved:

  • On social attachment and convergent evolution: “… We now know that dogs long to be with humans almost from the moment they open their eyes.”
  • On bonding with adult dogs: “The researchers discovered that even adult dogs living in rescue shelters rapidly form attachments to people; it took a mere thirty minutes of interaction between a person and an adult shelter dog for the dog to begin forming a bond.”

OF NOTE: Fair warning, the book includes some heart-wrenching tales of what sometimes happens to research animals. There is also one really ICKY story of a  female research assistant having intimate contact with a dolphin. (Not kidding.) And, the word “dominant” does appear a couple of times in the dog / wolf chapter … referring mostly to the wolf pups. (Longtime readers know my take on that as applied to pet dogs.)

That aside, I think you’ll really enjoy traveling around the world at Morell’s side, meeting the top minds in so many interesting fields. She is terrific at picking out the data that helps tell the story without bogging you down.

This is probably the best science journalism I’ve personally seen. 

best dog blog, champion of my heart, photo of Animal Wise author Virginia Morell and her dog Buck

Photo Credit: Michael McRae, 2012

Morell, a prolific contributor to National Geographic, Discover, and Science, is also the author of Ancestral Passions, a  New York Times Notable Book of the Year; Blue Nile; and  Wildlife Wars, which she co-wrote with Richard Leakey.

She currently shares her life with an American Working Farm Collie named Buckaroo (Buck).

Animal Wise (published by Crown ~ February 26, 2013)

Animal Wise (hardcover) $15.95

Animal Wise (for kindle) $13.99

Animal Wise on Facebook



FTC Disclosure

Virginia Morell is the friend of a friend of mine. I agreed to review Animal Wise as a favor to them both. The book’s publicists from Crown Publishers sent me a free uncorrected proof / review copy. I was NOT compensated in any way for this review.


Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

Jane Boursaw - March 18, 2013

What a great book. I’ll definitely pick up a copy. Love the photo with her collie.
Jane Boursaw recently posted..A&E’s Bates Motel Treats Psycho Backstory with Respect, Reverence and Just the Right Amount of CreepinessMy Profile

MyKidsEatSquid - March 6, 2013

I’m intrigued, what do chimpanzees and Sheldon have in common?
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    Roxanne Hawn - March 7, 2013

    Well, not to spill the beans, but they both have eidetic memories.

Sheryl - March 6, 2013

I must read this book. I’ve always been fascinated by animals; even ants never cease to amaze me with their strength and their systems. I think, though, I’ll skip the chapters about the research animals…don’t think I could handle that.
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Donna Hull - March 2, 2013

What an interesting book. I’m adding it to my list.
Donna Hull recently posted..Saturday’s scene: off-the-beaten-path in UtahMy Profile

Kris @ Attainable Sustainable - February 28, 2013

This really sounds like a fascinating read. I’m thinking it could be a great addition to a homeschool curriculum!
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    Roxanne Hawn - March 1, 2013

    That’s a really good idea, Kris, because the book explains all kinds of brain function and learning theory and such … along with animal behavior in the wild and other things that I think families would enjoy learning.

merr - February 28, 2013

What a terrific top. The book sounds like one a reader would return to again and again.

Kerry Dexter - February 27, 2013

thanks for the thoughful review — I know several people I think would enjoy this book, will be directing them to your post
Kerry Dexter recently posted..Ireland’s Music: The Small Hours: Muireann Nic AmhlaoibhMy Profile

Living Large - February 27, 2013

I have this on my book list to get. Thanks for the review!

Alisa Bowman - February 27, 2013

I can’t wait to read this book.
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Susan and Wrigs - February 26, 2013

Thanks for the review! I will add this to my reading list (which is getting longer by the minute). 🙂
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Alexandra - February 26, 2013

Thanks for the tip. I will look for this book. I know several people who will really enjoy it.

Ruth Pennebaker - February 26, 2013

This book looks fascinating. Thanks so much for making us aware of it.
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Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi - February 26, 2013

I keep hearing about this book and it sounds fantastic.
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