As a cat-owning ex-vegan, I was fascinated by this book. It's the first tme I've read something that proves how completely unique humans are in comparison with animals. Guldberg makes you conscious of the unbridgeable chasm between our world and theirs.
It's fashionable nowadays to denigrate humanity's achievements and to remark on what a pathetic species we are (eg "at least animals don't cause wars"). So Guldberg's unswerving belief in the total superiority of people over anything else in the world is positively refreshing. I also enjoyed the way she presents her opponents' arguments very clearly and convincingly, so you think goodness, how can she possibly disprove that - and on the next page she goes ahead and does it.
She uses lots of case studies to show how we and animals exist on completely different cognitive planets. Even the most intelligent ape only ever does what it's either been programmed to do for centuries, or what it's picked up, laboriously, through trial and error and countless repeated actions. Unlike us, an animal never ever asks why; it can't plan ahead; it can only react to what's immediately around it. Animals' ability to learn is strictly curtailed by their lack of self-awareness.
This is the essential difference between ourselves and animals: or what Guldberg calls `an ability to participate in collective cognition' -- our ability to learn from and teach each other. Even the brightest animals are stuck at the mental age of a baby which has learnt to smile, but will never learn to point (the first sign, she explains, of an urge to communicate with others).
Guldberg is particularly good at explaining the way we anthropomorphise about things. This tendency in humans makes it very hard to see the behaviour of animals (especially ones we're attached to) for what they are. Indeed, it seems that given the motivation, we'll anthropomorphise about practically anything. True enough; after all the Japanese buy robot pet dogs; and In Iceland tree worship is mixed up with official religion.
So be warned: this book pays your pet no compliments. It presents you with the strongest arguments for equating animals (particularly the higher animals such as apes) with humans, and systematically demolishes each one of them.
Indeed, the great apes are definitively shown up in this book, including such well-known ones as Washoe the sign-language chimp and Dian Fossey's gorillas. Far from apes being like us, Guldberg demonstrates how animal researchers, keen on discovering similarities between animals and us, have repeatedly interpreted the data to find exactly what they were looking for.
Particular animal species may be amazingly well-suited to climbing trees, or catching rats, or seeing in the dark, or running away, but their skills are entirely limited to such very specific traits, and the mind of the smartest ape will never develop further than that of a one-year-old human baby.
Mind you, to accept Guldberg's argument that humans are far more amazing and intelligent and WORTHWHILE than animals doesn't give us licence to wantonly maim them. But the reason you shouldn't willfully damage nature is precisely because such action is inhumane. You shouldn't nail your cat to a board or tear the wings off butterflies for fun, not because of anything to do with the cat or the butterfly, but because such behaviour degrades human beings to the level of brutes.
Humans are the only beings on this planet capable of sympathy, just as we're the only beings capable of art, or heroism, or all the beautiful, civilized aspects of the world that we call human: humour, self-sacrifice, magnanimity, purposive design, etc. As this important book makes clear, nature just doesn't have the equipment.