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The Green Life: Book Roundup Wednesday: Books About Animals

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May 06, 2009

Book Roundup Wednesday: Books About Animals

Books about environmentalism Every Wednesday, we review a selection of new and upcoming books addressing a specific aspect of environmentalism. Today we're recommending books about the wild world of animals.

Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals (by Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce, $26, University of Chicago Press, May 2009): Putting forth the argument that animals, like humans, have evolved a sense of morality – along with a wide range of other relatable traits and emotions – the authors also contend that animal behavior is based, at least in part, on reciprocation, cooperation, and empathy. They defend what they seem to perceive as their fringy statements in a narrative, easy-to-read manner.

The Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild (by Craig Childs, $15, Back Bay Books, Mar. 2009): In an engaging, educational account of his interactions with wild animals, Childs (whose gifted storytelling voice you might recognize from NPR’s Morning Edition), educates us with first-person anecdotes like that of his adrenaline-inducing standoff with a mountain lion; reflections on the “compact, iridescent birds” known as violet-green swallows who “turn the sky into a ball of twine”; and his tales of encounters with dozens of other earthlings.

Built by Animals: The Natural History of Animal Architecture (by Mike Hansell, $19, Oxford University Press, Apr. 2009): This book is an intimate exploration of the complex structures that animals build, from nests to webs to dams to tunnels. It’s obvious from the writing that the author, a professor emeritus of animal architecture, has a strong passion for the minutiae of animal-made structures. With a small midsection of color photos, the volume is a worthy read for anyone with even a slightly academic interest in the projects animals undertake.

Because the Cat Purrs: How We Relate to Other Species and Why It Matters (by Janet Lembke, $23, Skyhorse Publishing, May 2008): This book presents an in-depth discussion of how humans relate to animals, reminding readers of many of the symbiotic, defensive, dangerous, and innocent interactions between individuals of ours and other species. Despite some tangential digressions (about bacteria and mold, for example), the author, who seems to like cats best, elicits interest in such topics as domestication, protection, and mental processes.

The Better to Eat You With: Fear in the Animal World (by Joel Berger, $29, University of Chicago Press, 2008): Berger, a good writer, examines the concept of fear as an adaptive mechanism that evolved as the primary way for animals to avoid being eaten before their natural time to die. He elegantly depicts a world – ours – where lack of fear equates to death, and narrates researched examples of survival (and ill-fated naiveté) on both sides of the predator-prey relationship.

--Avital Binshtock

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