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on 30 January 2017
I found this very readable. It crystallised and confirmed my growing convictions over recent years. I won't repeat the areas other reviewers have covered, but must mention two aspects he gives more weight to than many I've read on the subject: the built-in disaster looming for this planet with the total failure of governments and most leaders to recognise that human population growth, our wasteful and insensitive methods of food production (and the contribution this makes to climate change) are the biggest threat there is to our planet (except nuclear war). Add to this the disastrous obsession with 'economic growth' at any cost and we have a recipe for our species' extinction . The consequences will be real and palpable within our children's lifetimes. It's no use throwing up our hands in despair, saying we can't do anything about it. We as individuals have to make change happen. The episode which finally convinced me of this is his re-telling the story of the anthropologist Loren Eiseley and the stranded starfish ( last paragraph et seq. of p.177 in the HB edition.) I have already begun the process of turning vegetarian.
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on 7 June 2012
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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on 17 May 2010
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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on 25 April 2015
Fascinating to learn about so many recent (from the past 50-100years) scientific discoveries and studies that shed light on the ways animals use their intelligence, that have otherwise been overlooked by humans. If only some of it were more widely known, we may be less dismissive about animals.

Although the I'd describe it as a must read, there was an element of how it's been written that reads a little like a list of anecdotes and case studies. Despite building arguments along a number of themes, it sometimes feels as if examples of animal intelligence have been hand-picked, and simply delivered one-by-one. Nevertheless, the examples are fascinating, and if you're into trivia, then this will supply you with tonnes of great facts and stories that reveal a new side to animals.
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on 27 March 2018
great, all good, thank you :)
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on 22 August 2013
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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on 18 August 2013
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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on 24 February 2013
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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on 31 October 2016
Book in excellent condition, received 27 Sept. - a wonderful book.
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on 3 May 2010
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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