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What I Don't Know About Animals [Hardcover]

Jenny Diski
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

4 Nov 2010

What does Jenny Diski know about animals? She's really not sure. There is, however, one thing of which she is certain: our relationships with and attitudes to animals are really worth thinking about. In What I Don't Know About Animals, she shows why.

She sets out to investigate what she does and doesn't know about animals. She remembers the stuffed cuddly creatures from her childhood; the animal books she read; the cartoons she watched; the strays she found; the animals who have lived and still live with her; the animals she has observed close up, and those she has feared. She examines human beings, too, and the way in which they have looked at, studied, treated and written about the non-human creatures with whom we share the planet.

Subtle, intelligent and brilliantly observed, What I Don't Know About Animals is an engaging look at what it means to be human - and what it means to be animal.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Virago (4 Nov 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184408387X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844083879
  • Product Dimensions: 14.7 x 22.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 520,356 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


"This book will really make you think about the complexity of issues regarding the use of animals."--Temple Grandin, author of "Animals Make us Human"--Temple Grandin (03/29/2011)

Book Description

* From the award-winning writer, following her memoirs, Skating to Antarctica, Stranger on a Train, On Trying to Keep Still - a unique book about animal watching

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Customer Reviews

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4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book 12 Dec 2010
By Simon
WHAT I DON'T KNOW ABOUT ANIMALS is a sort of dramatized struggle by the author to interrogate herself and push as hard as she can against facile or over-eager assumptions about human relations with animals. The book COULD have been a disaster, as it has no real shape and makes no claim to any specific authority. Instead, purely on the strength of Diski's intellect and brilliance as a writer, it really could not be bettered. Every page is either curious or funny or annoying or disgusting, depending on topic. She is as interesting on her own cats as she is on orangutans, lambs, elephants and experimental chicks. Indeed her description of the orangutan's 'fruit stare' has enriched my life to the point when I would recommend the book for this alone. Her twists and turns on human meat-eating rehearse the arguments for and against in a suitably agonized form. For anyone even faintly interested in human interaction with animals (which must be most of us) or, failing that, for anyone even faintly interested in beautifully written and appealing prose (another sizeable group!) this is one of the year's best books.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Jenny D as good as ever 24 Mar 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I have read several of this author's books and always find them enjoyable and amusing. One learns more and more about her life, and although animals do feature in this book their presence is relevant.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where your cat leads you 23 Jan 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is an utterly engrossing book about what we might know about animals, about our relationship to them and, incidentally, what that says about us. It is beautifully written - meaning clearly, honestly, with an unflinching, intelligent gaze. Diski doesn't just speculate but investigates, always keeping her own subjectivity in the frame so we feel we are reading a personal voyage too. It is one we all make inwardly from infancy through to the end of consciousness but we don't follow through - she does.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 5 July 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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Amazon.com: 3.0 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Is Going to be a Very Popular Book 17 Jan 2013
By C. E. Selby - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I am very fond of my pets, at the moment two dogs, Truman and Dewey, King Charles Spaniels, who are brothers. I talk to them, often asking them questions such as, "How are you?" And answering for them. And I suspect I am similar to other pet owners. And that leads into why I loved reading this book although in the case of Jenny Diski it's her cats. This is an author who knows her animals and ironically--recall the title is "What I Don't Know About Animals"--she knows a lot. A whole lot. And what she has to say is fascinating.
The cover is deceptive even though I really like it, suggesting that it's a sweet book (and mostly it is, but it is also scholarly in places) about sweet animals like the adorable lambs.
Mostly the book is about our fascination with animals beginning as small children. Diski opens the book by describing the variety of animal-types she experienced as a child such as stuffed toys and in books. It would be a great book--at least the beginning--for new parents to read as well as for elementary school teachers because so much of children's literature as well as their Disney-type movies involve animals. Some are like people. Some are there to provide guidance. And then she moves into a wide variety of fascinating information about distinctions among animals.
We say that some people are "dog people" while others are "cat people." I'm more dog although I've had a cat whom I adored. But I had never thought much about cats not liking doors closed. Just one of many observations by the author.
There's a fascinating chapter about how animals play into various stories about creation and how humans in those various stories deal with animals as part of creation. In some cases the animals produced the humans.
The chapter "Otherness," for example, is about how various philosophers and scientists have explained the otherness of the animal world.
I predict this book is going to be a very popular one with a wide reading audience. I have already ordered three copies for gifts to some friends who are animal lovers.
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star 5 July 2014
By Claudia Kessack - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Strongly disliked this book. Had it for book club & no one had any idea what it was about.
4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful treatment of the ethics of how we deal with animals 23 Nov 2013
By Evalyn F. Segal - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I never know what to make of Jenni Diski. She put a lot of work into this book, researched a great deal about animals, and a lot of it was interesting. On the other hand, some of it was tedious. And then there's her dropping hints about her personal life (The Poet) but never telling enough that the reader can make sense of it. Over all, a thoughtful treatment of the way we treat - and abuse - animals, and the ethics of our dealings with animals.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Should be renamed: What I don't know about writing... 6 Oct 2013
By Ellen Jackson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I think the Amazon book description says it all: "What does novelist, essayist, and memoirist Jenny Diski know about animals? She wasn't really sure as she began to write this book, and she may not be sure now. But of this she is certain: our relationships with, and attitudes toward, animals are really worth thinking about."

Are you enlightened now? I get that animals are worth thinking about. I get that humans wrestle with their "otherness."

But I'm about 50% through with this book (Kindle edition) and I still have no idea what it's about. If Ms. Diski has a point, I don't know what it is. She seems to want to catalog all the permutations of human-animal relationships.

In spite of this, the book is well-written and every once in awhile one of her observations or stories draws me in again.

UPDATE: I'm now 58% of the way through the kindle edition and I've decided to stop reading. I know Ms. Diski thinks cats are particularly adorable, and I enjoyed some of her stories about her own cats. But when she devoted four Kindle pages writing in Lolcats (artificial baby talk created by humans but supposedly spoken by cats), I decided to abandon this book. Having spent large parts of the first half of this book advocating respect for animals, she now joins forces with those who ridicule and demean them. My widdle biddy puppy is pretty cutsie wootsie too but--guess I don't expect you to pay to read about it.
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