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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thought-provoking book with an important message
I bought this book after hearing Jonathan Balcombe on a BBC radio broadcast talking about the sentience and intelligence of even the "dumbest" animals (chickens and fish), and about the contribution of animal husbandry to environmental problems confronting the world.

I experienced some disappointment when I began his book in that its first came across as a...
Published on 17 May 2010 by Chris J. Newman

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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Our Amazing Friends
'Second Nature' is an evangelizing book which is based on several assumptions. One is that there is a single human belief in animals as little more than mindless machines to be used as superior humans see fit. Another is that changing this belief requires a copious supply of written information.
Jonathan Balcombe is an animal behaviorist who draws on the wealth of...
Published on 7 April 2010 by Ita


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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thought-provoking book with an important message, 17 May 2010
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Chris J. Newman "lao-ke" (China) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals (Macmillan Science) (Hardcover)
I bought this book after hearing Jonathan Balcombe on a BBC radio broadcast talking about the sentience and intelligence of even the "dumbest" animals (chickens and fish), and about the contribution of animal husbandry to environmental problems confronting the world.

I experienced some disappointment when I began his book in that its first came across as a kaleidoscopic collection of abbreviated anecdotes, each amazing in its own right but all too briefly described and often sequenced in disjointed order. However, Balcombe makes up for such failings in the third and final section of his book where he powerfully argues the case for a change in human perceptions and treatment of animals, and in particular for an end to the cruelties inflicted on them in the pursuit of human well-being, economic growth and material greed. Balcombe argues persuasively that animal species, as in the case of humanity, are made up of individuals each with its own sensitivities, memories, emotions and "inner life", no matter how different these might be from our own, and that cruel commercial exploitation of animals is as iniquitous and debasing as cruelty to members of our own species.

Even if one were to disagree with him on that point, it would be much more difficult to refute his proposition that the livestock industry is the most environmentally damaging of all human activities in terms of greenhouse gas production (being significantly higher than that of all the world's transport systems), fresh water consumption and habitat destruction. If one accepts these as undeniable, then one has also to accept Balcombe's deduction that the simplest and most effective contribution that each one of us can make towards improving the world that we inhabit is to stop supporting this destructive industry by changing our eating habits, either by consuming less meat, or cutting it out of our diets altogether. I for one, need no more convincing.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Invite to a New Humanity, 28 May 2010
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This review is from: Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals (Macmillan Science) (Hardcover)
I remember as a child eating meat products with names like `jellied veal', `liver-sausage', `corned beef', `hazlet', `ox-tail soup' and `tongue'. They were just labels at the time, for things I put in my mouth. Only much later would I associate them with animals.

Now, reading Jonathan Balcombe's new book `Second Nature - The Inner Lives of Animals' I'm asking myself why it took so long to make that rather obvious connection. In fact, it's got me thinking about a whole host of issues related to how we as a species perceive and treat other animals - nonhuman beings as Balcombe prefers to call them. For the issues Second Nature addresses have as much to do with human morality and ethics as they do with animal behaviour.

Balcombe wants to open our eyes to the possibility of accepting animals as fellow sentient beings, with feelings and emotions as real to them as ours are to us; beings with lives that are pleasurable and worth living for their own sake; lives worthy of sensitivity and respect. As Balcombe puts it: "My chief aim in this book is to close the gap between human beings and animals - by helping us understand the animal experience, and by elevating animals from their lowly status."

He begins by setting out the evidence for animal sentience, emotion and feeling, then discusses the implications this has for human attitudes and actions.

Part I summarises the findings of numerous field and laboratory studies that demonstrate a range of animal capabilities, experiences and sensitivities we usually associate more with people. Part II is a description of how animals use these qualities to interact and communicate between themselves and with other species, including man. Part III focuses on the relationship between humans and animals, and includes a discussion on popular perceptions and how they are changing with what Balcombe sees as an emerging new paradigm in attitudes and awareness.

Central to Balcombe's plea is the assertion that humans and animals differ in degree rather than kind. Each type of animal, Balcombe says, including man, has evolved to operate in its own world, or `umwelt', equipped with an appropriate package of sensory experience and feelings suited to that world. We shouldn't assume life experience in one umwelt is inherently superior to that in another. Humans can never directly experience another animal's umwelt (who can say what personal echo-location or magnetic navigation feels like? - to use Balcombe's examples) but we accept that animals have complex sensory capabilities. Which begs the question why, when emotions and feelings are at least as real and necessary to us as senses in explaining our lives and behaviours, would we deny them in animals? Second Nature is certainly thought provoking on these questions.

Many readers will I expect, from watching natural history on TV or casual reading, recognise something of the better known case studies about Washoe the chimp, grieving elephants, and intelligent ravens. That said, the number and diversity of cited studies is impressive, and most of the content is new to me.

Take Kelly the dolphin for example, who was taught to trade paper litter found in her pool for fish, but discovered the fish flow could be maximised by trading smaller pieces of paper torn from a larger sheet she had stashed away at the bottom of the pool. And tests for empathy, where increased stress reactions were measured in animals who witnessed the suffering of another animal - not necessarily of the same species.

Consciousness is a key theme in Second Nature, with Balcombe describing how chimpanzees have demonstrated a `theory of mind' by showing they are consciously aware of consciousness in other chimps.

Other studies support the proposition that animals, elephants for example, follow individual lives that are the product of their unique experience. And that animals, like us, deal with feelings over the short and long term; they remember experiences, their memories shaping what they become. There are even indications that elephants have a sense of the future and their own mortality. Further examples illustrate conditions ranging from depression in starlings, to post traumatic stress disorder in elephants, to anxiety in mice - including their remarkable ability to self-medicate.

Exploring the relevance of instinct, intelligence and language, Balcombe rejects simplistic models that associate instinct with animals and intelligence with humans. Instinct does not preclude conscious experience, and intelligence is not a good measure for moral standing. As Balcombe puts it: "Animals are as intelligent as they need to be". The evidence shows that many animals, far from following some kind of invariant program, are capable of learned behaviour and can adapt flexibly to new challenges. And as regards language, as it's not linked to sensory activity, animals are able to suffer with or without it.

Balcombe closes the animal-human gap from both directions, elevating our opinion of animal capabilities while questioning the superiority of our own. We are reminded that animal senses and capabilities - physical, and on occasion mental - can be superior to ours. Balcombe points to our penchant for industrial scale cruelty and destruction, questioning our right to label other species as uncivilized. Our culture, Balcombe says, particularly through the media, overplays the negative aspects of animals' lives, pushing the `red in tooth in and claw' image of a natural world where animals permanently struggle at the edge of survival, flailing at the smallest injury.

Part III sees Balcolme getting into his narrative stride, explaining where he thinks our relationship with animals might be heading. Under the heading `A New Humanity' he describes a shift from a traditional attitude of `might makes right' towards a more informed and caring paradigm - a transition he likens to the changes of mind-set that accompanied the end of slavery and the winning of womens' rights. The process has already started, with impacts most tangibly captured in animal related legislation for the protection of species, improvements in the treatment of animals we eat, and tighter controls on laboratory animal experimentation.

Interestingly, with Second Nature appealing mostly to our moral sense, Part III includes some purely practical, well stated, arguments for reduced meat consumption based on health, resource conservation and sustainability. This leads to a brief politico-economic discussion on the compatibility of the capitalist/growth model with sustainable environments; inflammatory territory which Balcombe handles with a welcome non-emotive sense of balance.

The somewhat uneasy relationship science seems to have with the idea of animal feelings is one I find interesting in it's own right. Balcolme, a scientist himself, criticises science's tendency to favour the simplest of plausible theories. It's one reason, he says, why we have the dogmatic starting assumption that animals don't have thoughts and feelings, rather than the other way around. Conversely, Second Nature and other works on a connected theme (Masson's and McCarthy's `When Elephants Weep' comes to mind) are particularly open to criticism when authors use language outside the scientific lexicon. There may be concensus on what sentience means, consciousness less so; but what to make of words like goodness, compassion, and selflessness? Personally, I don't have a problem with Balcombe's style because I don't see the issues being wholly resolvable with today's science; we'd need a workable scientific model of moral behaviour for that. A scientific proof isn't going to pop up and tell us to treat animals better, no matter how many books we read. However, and I suspect this is where Balcombe is coming from, I do think science is the best tool for revealing true animal states that might then be judged logically incompatible with, or at least challenge, established moral and ethical standards. Of course, how established those standards ever are is a discussion for another day.

On a critical note, and it's probably the scientist in me kicking up, there were times when I wanted more detail from the case studies, more counter-argument, and deeper discussion of skeptical views. That the early chapters are crammed with properly referenced case studies is a good thing but, in a work of this length, that means trade-offs in content. The shear volume of examples also gives the early chapters something of a `listy' feel, although that corrects in the later, more analytical material. Also, I thought the singling out of Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett for criticism was unnecessary and unhelpful, particularly so when Dawkins has discussed the positive implications for animal rights that discovery (or creation) of a hypothetical man-ape hybrid would have. Examples of the darker side of nature, like the apparently cruel egg-laying behaviour of parasitic wasps, are perhaps over-quoted by the atheist camp, but only as arguments against the existence of a benevolent god, not a celebration. Moreover, Balcombe might want to keep the secularists on his team.

Despite these minor niggles, I have to confess Second Nature has caused me to think more deeply than I otherwise would about a topic I'd mentally parked. Commendably, it brings all the relevant issues up to date in one concise volume, and has plenty of references for those who want to dig deeper.

Will Second Nature change readers' attitudes towards animals? I think in some cases it will. What it won't do is resolve any consequential moral dilemma we might have around that next burger purchase. That's something each of us must think about quietly on our own.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars second nature: the inner life of animals, 3 May 2010
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This review is from: Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals (Macmillan Science) (Hardcover)
An excellent and well thought out book. It is interesting, thought provoking and very well referenced as well as packed with fascinating anecdotal evidence. Everyone who cares about our fellow creatures and our own species survival on this endangered planet needs to read it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Embracing our animal nature may be the only hope for us, 7 Jun. 2012
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This review is from: Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals (Macmillan Science) (Hardcover)
This is the second book I've read by Balcombe, an animal behaviourist of the right sort. By which I mean that he views animals with respect and empathy, in the same way, I surmise, as he views other members of his own animal species.

Essentially, this is the nub of the book. Balcombe eschews the idea of 'anthropomorphising' because in effect he shows (backed up by good references and citing) how time and again many of the 'higher' behaviours which we arrogantly assume are evidence of our unique 'humanity' - such as altruism, empathy, the ability to reason, language are in fact 'animalistic'. There is not such a clear divide between ourselves and the rest of the, particularly, mammalian and avian world, though Balcombe also shows reptiles, fish and even insects to be more advanced than we might suppose.

In fact, rather disturbingly, the idea cannot help but surface that our unique humanness may rather be a retrograde capacity to delight in the wanton infliction of suffering upon others, whether of our own species or of other, supposedly dumb (sic) animals. Balcombe posits that we may well have introduced the philiosophy of regarding ourselves as separate from other species in order to justify this brutality, to find an excuse for our cruelty towards other animals - and indeed, our cruelty, expressed across cultures, geographies and the centuries, towards individuals and groups of our own species, which the dominant cultural group regards as 'subhuman'. This ability to separate the human from the subhuman has been responsible for some of our most intense acts of racial cruelty.

Balcombe's well written, carefully thought through book ends with an impassioned argument in favour of veganism, on environmental grounds, as much as any other argument against the exploitation of our fellow, though non-human, animals.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The worls holds more wonders than we can conceive, 1 Jun. 2011
This review is from: Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals (Macmillan Science) (Hardcover)
This book appears to be about animals but is actually a work of philosophy that seeks to displace man from his pedestal - exciting and delightful. Could usefully be read in conjunction with Lydia Millet's irreverent but wrenching Love in Infant Monkeys
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5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most important books you will ever read, 26 Jan. 2011
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M. D. Holley (Kent, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals (Macmillan Science) (Hardcover)
The information contained in this book about the inner lives of animals may change your view of the world, and of yourself, for ever. The author has a very refreshing approach and is able to cut through generations of prejudice to see things afresh.

I have given it 5 stars for parts I and II, which describe aspects of animal life without too much attempt at interpretation. A thousand pities that the book did not finish here and leave the reader to draw his own conclusions, for part III rather goes off the rails, and threatens to undermine the credibility of the whole. The attempt to discuss economics, for example, shows a woeful ignorance of the subject. I think we can give the author the benefit of the doubt though, for why should we expect him to understand economics given the obvious devotion he has given to his own subject. Read it for parts I and II!
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Our Amazing Friends, 7 April 2010
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This review is from: Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals (Macmillan Science) (Hardcover)
'Second Nature' is an evangelizing book which is based on several assumptions. One is that there is a single human belief in animals as little more than mindless machines to be used as superior humans see fit. Another is that changing this belief requires a copious supply of written information.
Jonathan Balcombe is an animal behaviorist who draws on the wealth of research, observation and anecdotes of those working in his field. Before I read this book I regarded myself as someone who did not underestimate the abilities of animals; but I was mistaken. Some of the feats recounted were amazing. There were Mexican free-tailed bats who could locate their pups in a maternity colony containing millions of individuals; a dolphin trained to remove litter from a pool by being rewarded with fish who started hiding paper and presenting pieces; beavers who fashioned pencil-shaped sticks to block the holes in the cap protecting the pipe that drained an artificial pond; and prairie dogs who modified the alarm calls they use for humans according to the colour of the shirt the person was wearing. There are moving chapters on the sociability and virtue of animals which challenge the universality of Darwin's Survival of the Fittest hypothesis. 'Nature's limitations,' Balcombe contests, 'often favour working for the good of all participants.'
Generally the book is well written and easy to read, but I found that some accounts of research were oversimplified and I had to read them more than once to try to make sense of them. There is a beautiful photograph on the front cover of the book, but the other photographs seemed pointless.
I look to science for truth even if this conflicts with cherished beliefs. That animals have emotions, suffer pain, remember, have senses that have different ranges and sensitivities to ours, solve problems intelligently, read body language and fathom our intentions are things intuitive humans have known for millenia. Science gives us glimpses into worlds invisible because of the limitations of our senses. It also provides evidence for what we fail to see because our education does not foster intuition. Truth in science depends on publishing negative as well as positive results, but it is an omission from this book that makes me feel uneasy.
Rupert Sheldrake has carried out many investigations into telepathy and concluded that there is evidence for this type of communication among animals. In a book about the inner lives of animals it seems strange there is no reference to his work. It would be interesting to know what criteria were used for including the work of some scientists but not others.
I have another reservation about this book. The last section reads like a sermon and my intuition tells me that sermons are rarely effective ways of changing human behaviour. We, human beings, have some intelligence and, given appropriate information, are capable of adjusting our behaviour depending on our individual situations.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A powerful book to make humans question their behaviour, 22 Aug. 2013
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chepalle (Manchester, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals (Macmillan Science) (Hardcover)
A fascinating account of the emotions of animals - look on youtube for Koko the Gorilla Cries Over the Loss of a Kitten if you want to see a short example. It started me on the path from long-term vegetarian to vegan, not through hectoring or lecturing but by demonstrating that animals have a much more complex inner-life than we really understand.
This book changed my life for the better.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating insights into the intelligence of animals, 18 Aug. 2013
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The book starts rather slowly and disjointedly but builds up into a fascinating study of the emotional intelligence and character owned by all types of non-human creatures. Balcombe suggests through his careful analysis of numerous behavioural studies that animals are capable of a range of social behaviours and emotions which include empathy, compassion, justice and even virtue.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific book, 24 Feb. 2013
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Y. K. Autie (England) - See all my reviews
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This was a good choice of subject & the book open your eyes to the nature of animals. It arrived in perfect condition & on time.
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Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals (Macmillan Science)
Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals (Macmillan Science) by Jonathan Balcombe (Hardcover - 11 Mar. 2010)
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