Top critical review
A Waste of Time
17 March 2010
This ought to be a fascinating book, given the subject. In fact I had difficulty finishing it. It's extremely repetitive. Over and over again Bekoff states that animals do indeed have emotions - most readers likely to buy or borrow the book probably don't need persuading of that. Over and over again he criticises scientists who deny the existence of emotions in animals; it would be better to spend more time analysing why so many scientists have unfortunately felt the need to do this. The book is inevitably anecdotal, but many of the anecdotes are not particularly interesting or interestingly told. And there's a certain flavour of US-style New Age woffle which is often very irritating. In short, the book's a bore; don't waste your time with it.
It does, however, have one virtue. Among the references cited by Bekoff is a 2006 article by New York Times journalist Charles Siebert called "The Animal Self". If you have Bekoff's book in paperback, you can find the reference to the article on page 174, referring back to page 50. The very long link Bekoff gives to the article doesn't work, but you can easily find it simply by googling Siebert or checking the NYT website. In less than 15 A4 pages (and free of charge) the article describes the latest research on personality in a wide variety of animals, with brief but precise scientific background and details. Inevitably, Siebert is short on individual anecdotes about the personality and emotions of animals, but you can find them in plenty of books. So don't bother with Bekoff - download Siebert's article for the basic scientific information on animal personality and then follow up your individual animal interests with the amazon websites.