Review: Animals Make Us Human

Review: Animals Make Us Human

Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals
by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson
published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
this edition: 2010
size: 486KB (355 pages)
categories: nonfiction; science; cognitive psychology; animals; animal husbandry
lending: no
simultaneous device licenses: six
real page numbers: yes
part of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library: yes
text-to-speech: yes
suitability for text-to-speech: good
x-ray: yes
Whispersync for Voice:yes ($3.99 at time of writing, read by Andrea Gallo)

Temple Grandin is one of the most amazing people around.

The author is an autistic, an expert on animal behavior, and a great communicator.

You don’t expect the first and third to go together, and it’s a rare and marvelous thing.

As to animals, Grandin says that the way autistics think is similar to the way many non-human animals think, and that gives special insight.

I love animals, and I do seem to be able to have an unusually good relationship with them. I wouldn’t say I’m a great animal trainer, but I communicate with them well…both understanding what they want and being able to let them know what I want (that doesn’t mean they’ll always do it, though). 😉

For example, one of the proudest things in my life (outside of my family) was hand-taming a wild scrub jay.

It took a very long time and a lot of patience (which serves me well when I train people, which I do in my day job).

I started out tossing a bit of bread far enough away that the bird would hop up and take it.

I eventually (slowly, over days) moved the bread closer to my completely unmoving hand.

I realized at the time I had something that might be even more attractive than bread: live mealworms (which I had to feed small pets).

Believe me, it wasn’t easy keeping my hand still while a mealworm (actually a beetle larvae) was trying to burrow between my fingers! Meanwhile, this bird would be going hop, hop, hop, getting closer, and then rapidly, hophophop away.

Eventually, I got it so I could literally open the door to my apartment, whistle a special whistle, and the bird would fly from a tree across the street, through the open door, and land on my finger.

That was something!

I can also almost always make friends with dogs and cats…and other animals, too. I’ve called sea lions out of the water, and know a special trick that will get the walruses at fairly nearby Marine World to follow me around like dogs while I walk around in front of the underwater windows…makes for great pictures for visitors (and I’ve been told it’s fine to do by a marine biologist).

Even so, Temple Grandin and her students do things that would be a great challenge for me.

This book is not the revelation that Animals in Translation was, but this one is still well worth reading.

I think one of the big differences is that this one has a chapter each for various domestic (and captive) animals, and, well, if you aren’t interested in pigs, you might not find that one as intriguing.

There’s a lot of science in it, about the different emotional systems in animal brains (and humans, too).  None of it is hard to understand for a layperson, though.

Some of the most intriguing parts had to with related aspects to what Grandin does. Why did a lot of ineffective animal enclosures get built, after we knew of a better way? Partially because the companies that built them made more money on the bigger ones.

The animal material, though, is the core of it. I loved learning that wolves in the wild don’t behave at all in the way many people think: there isn’t an alpha male, for example. They don’t hunt in large packs, but in small family groups (it makes sense if you think about it…what prey is going to take twenty wolves to pull it down, and then how will they all get enough to eat?). You are the parent to the dogs in your household (in a typical set up), not an alpha male that has to keep the betas on down to omegas in line.

In this book, Temple Grandin also addresses being improving the lives of animals that will be eaten eventually anyway, and the logic of that compared to being an animal activist that opposes the slaughterhouses altogether. As a vegetarian, I found that part especially interesting.

This is not a book that will give you a simple 1-2-3, here’s how you get your dog to do a trick kind of guidance. It will, though, help you understand why your dog might be having difficulty learning that behavior.

One other thing: the book actually has an index that jumps you to the topic mentions! That’s unusual, and quite welcome. It’s interesting: it doesn’t give you page or location numbers, but if there are several locations, there are several jumps you can click. That works well.

Right now (through the end of March, I think) you can buy the book for $2.99, and you can borrow it through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. If you like animals, and/or you are interested in the emotional systems that humans use, I recommend it.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

One Response to “Review: Animals Make Us Human”

  1. rogerknights Says:

    One other thing: the book actually has an index that jumps you to the topic mentions! That’s unusual, and quite welcome. It’s interesting: it doesn’t give you page or location numbers, but if there are several locations, there are several jumps you can click. That works well.

    I like it and intend to use it if I ever publish an e-book. Also, I’ve written to Amazon and suggested:

    1. That they allow “Index” to be one of the targets of a Go To.

    2. That they count the addition of an index to a public domain book as providing added value to it, allowing one to publish it.

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