Feb 28, 2010

Arctic Dreams

Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape
by Barry Lopez

I hardly know where to start with this book. Arctic Dreams is an overwhelming examination of the arctic landscape and what it has meant to various peoples throughout history, at once detailed in particulars and sweeping in scope. The chapters range from nature writing about animals and their movements across the land to explanations of how soil composition changes the further north you go; the phenomena of the aurora borealis, mirages and other light effects and the many different forms ice takes. There are sections that read like history, and others written purely from the author's personal encounters with wildlife and native people. Human ventures into the forbidding land are described, from explorers trying to find the Northwest passage, mapmakers seeking new coasts, adventurers trying to reach the North Pole, men simply looking for economic opportunities (furs, oil, etc) or even, more recently, scientists conducting various studies. Many of the early ventures failed, as the men didn't understand the land or how to survive in it (compared to the tenacity and skills of the native Eskimos). Some of this got tedious, especially the part about expeditions and missing parties, which not only dealt with how the men struggled to survive when stranded in the ice (more interesting) but also the politics and economics involved in backing the expeditions, and in rescue efforts (dull, with too much information). And I found the section explaining sun halos, mirages, arcs, etc difficult to understand, although at first fascinating (it was hard to picture what was being described. Perhaps some photographs would have helped). My favorite chapters were those about animals and how they live in the cold: polar bears, muskoxen, seals, narwhals, migrating birds etc. There's even a chapter about how the quality of light and immense grandeur of icebergs inspired artists, with descriptions of particular paintings.  Aside from the difficult parts, an astounding book. It describes the landscape as an immense living entity, that requires respect on its own terms. Makes me want to read more about the arctic, and look for more books by Barry Lopez.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 464 pages, 1986

More opinions at:
Resolute Reader
DOWN and OUT
Living. Small. Tasmania
City of Readers

Feb 27, 2010

First Garden

An Illustrated Garden Primer
by C.Z. Guest

This is a book that didn't quite live up to the expectations, for me. I got it through a swap site, thinking it looked like a good little gardening book. With a forward by Truman Capote (who was a friend of the author) and line drawings illustrating the pages by one Cecil Beaton. It's a friendly book, charming in its own way. It presents a simple introduction to gardening with some basic instructions on everything from roses, vegetables, fruit trees, bulbs and houseplants to lawns (the recommendation here being just to leave it alone, no-one has a perfect lawn!) The diagrams on how to plant shrubs, prune roses and espalier fruit trees look very useful, but as I am not growing those plants yet I can't put them into practice. For the rest, it didn't really give me any new information and I found most of the sections too brief to be helpful- encouraging for a new beginner but without the useful tips on problems or engaging humor and descriptive flair I've enjoyed in other gardening books. And the drawings, while lovely, are a bit too large for the pages- they felt almost crude at that size, and I wished for some more delicate line work, or at least a bit of color. O well. First Garden just isn't quite the book for me. I read through it in one sitting, and that's about it.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 127 pages, 1976

Feb 24, 2010

out sick


Everyone in this house is getting the nasty cold, one after another. I'm surprised the cats aren't coughing and sneezing! So, no posts for a while, but maybe by the time I get better I'll have finished that chunkster Arctic Dreams ...

Feb 22, 2010

My Name is Aram

by William Saroyan

A delightful book of short stories based on the author's childhood, that tell of his boyish exploits and adventures among a large Armenian immigrant family living in small-town southern California. Each story focuses on a certain event or person, but they all have a common thread of family and community, of the boy's troublemaking and what he learns from his relatives about life and the larger world. In one chapter, Aram and his cousin borrow a neighbor's horse (without asking permission) and ride around fantasizing great adventures. In another, he helps his uncle make plans (largely unrealistic) to turn part of the desert into an orchard of pomegranate trees. Aram watches his family members bicker, argue and support each other. He listens in on their discussions about religion, and gets exposed to people of many different backgrounds- making friends with Native Americans, meeting immigrants from other countries (one chapter is about an Arab man who stays for dinner, subjected to Aram's endless questions) and mixing with traveling circus people. In a way, Aram's character reminds me a lot of Tom Sawyer, and like Twain's stories, often had me laughing out loud. My Name Is Aram is a fun and thoughtful portrait of American life, seen through the eyes of the boy of an immigrant family, with a mixture of culture, humor and outright joy of life.

Granted, all this is based on my fond memories of the book, as I don't have a copy in front of me. I used to own one, picked up at a rummage sale somewhere, but sadly it got left behind in our last move (several years past).

Rating: 3/5 ........ 391 pages, 1983

More opinions at:
The Novel World
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Feb 21, 2010

Ecology of the Coyote in the Yellowstone

by Adolph Murie

When this book was written, people were still routinely controlling predators by killing them off. Coyotes had filled the gap left when wolves were gone from national parks, but they were also considered vermin and people made every effort to exterminate them as well. Murie conducted one of the very first studies of coyotes in the wild. No-one used radio collars then, so a lot of the data was painstakingly gathered. He examined the contents of their scat, remains of animals they had killed, and other signs that gave him information on population densities and a complete picture of how coyotes interacted with other species. Piecing together these signs with what he learned from directly observing coyote behavior, Murie concluded that coyotes were not decimating the numbers of prey animals (deer and elk) that men wanted to hunt themselves and in fact, were probably beneficial to their numbers. His book was pretty controversial at the time; most people didn't believe or didn't want to hear that predators were good for keeping populations of prey animals in balance and healthy. Some if it is dry reading, but I liked reading about the coyote behavior, especially how they interacted with ravens. An interesting book, if you can find it! I read this copy in the San Francisco public library quite a number of years ago; if I remember rightly it was one of those books you could request from the page desk, but not check out. I think I might have gone back a few days in a row just to finish it.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 206 pages, 1940

Feb 19, 2010

The Moon by Whale Light

and Other Adventures among Bats, Penguins, Crocodiles and whales
by Diane Ackerman

In this delightful book, the author describes her travels to observe wildlife up close with some bat naturalists, alligator researchers, whale enthusiasts, and penguin biologists. She steps into bat caves, helps tie up alligators on muddy riverbanks (so the researchers can take blood samples) and stands awestruck in a protected cover where mother whales nurse their babies. I thought at first the penguin chapter would be a little disappointing, as it starts out in a penguin nursery at Sea World in San Diego but after the first few pages Ackerman takes the reader along on a cruise ship to view wildlife in Antarctica- not only penguins but also sea lions, leopard seals and myriads of birds. Every chapter is replete with personal experiences as well as interesting facts on the animals. The writing is lyrical and wonderfully descriptive; I felt sometimes like I was actually there, squatting among the penguin colonies, touching the textured alligator's skin, feeling the whale's breath on my face. I learned more about bats and alligators in this one book of essays than I ever did reading America's Neighborhood Bats or Alligators and Crocodiles- perhaps because the personal writing made the information more accessible to my brain- it sticks better when I'm enjoying it more. If you like nature writing, or are interested in any of the four animals highlighted here, I highly recommend this book. It doesn't get much better than The Moon by Whale Light.

I acquired my copy from a library sale.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 249 pages, 1991

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Feb 18, 2010

Popular Flowering Plants

by H.L.V. Fletcher

I almost didn't read this faded, yellowed book because I thought its dreary cover promised little. I should have known better than to judge it so! Popular Flowering Plants covers dozens of well-known annuals and perennials found in the garden, arranged more or less by families. The friendly discussion looks at all sorts of different varieties with tips on how to grow them, mostly through stories from the author's own gardening experiences. Most interesting was to read about the origins of the flowers and their sometimes confusing nomenclature, as well as their historical culinary and medicinal uses, their occurrence in legends, folklore, and even superstition. For example, Fletcher tells me that carnations were once used to flavor wine, and columbines in jelly; crushed delphinium seeds were used to treat lice in childrens' hair, foxglove leaves for heart conditions, and swiss mountaineers chewed the roots of primrose to dispel vertigo! In this vein, the book reminded me of Weeds in My Garden, and kept sparking my curiosity. Most of the plants mentioned I recognized: roses, lilies, sweet peas, daffodils, sunflowers, tulips, begonias, etc. But there were also a few unfamiliar ones. It's a shame that a book describing all the beautiful colors of flowers only had black and white photographs. But it is old enough that perhaps (judging by the cover) that was the best option, and it still helps some in identifying the plants and their growing habits. A nice little book, useful if you'd like to know more about the particularities and past history of some favored garden plants.

Rating: 3/5........ 158 pages, 1972

Feb 16, 2010

Dogeared progress

Well, here it is halfway into February and so far I've read three books for my own Dogeared challenge (to read used, old or worn-out books). The first tattered book I read was The Road, a copy I borrowed from my neighbor, who is none too gentle on his books. It had a lot of fanning, dogeared pages, the cover curled from being folding back around the book, the spine cracked and leaning. Animal Orphanage, a used copy retired from a library, had stamps all over the insides, the remains of a card pocket inside the back cover, and its dust jacket very faded and yellowed, with a shelf label half-torn off. Making Things Grow, another used copy, was in pretty good shape but had a lot of tears in the dust jacket (more than 1").

Anyone else read some worn-out books for this challenge?

Feb 15, 2010

Forgotten Animals

the Rehabilitation of Laboratory Primates
by Linda Koebner

This book is about how animals are treated in labs, particularly chimpanzees. It discusses why animals are used in experiments, the deplorable conditions they live in, how their capture from the wild depletes wild populations, and some (new at the time) programs attempting to give them better living conditions which would encourage them to reproduce, thus replenishing their numbers for science (taking pressure off wild populations).

I had two problems with this book, although one is not really its fault. First of all, the writing style is very dry and factual, a bit dull to take in. Except for a few refreshing chapters which suddenly describe what the animals might be feeling. They're easier to read, but subjective and feel a bit out of place compared to the rest of the text. Secondly, the information itself is outdated. I'm sure the treatment of animals in laboratory science and captive breeding have come a long way since the 1980's. This book predicted that at the end of its decade, chimps would be extinct in the wild. Though they are still critically endangered, they're certainly not gone yet. I can't imagine a child (it's juvenile non-fiction) reading this book- either they would be bored stiff, or upset by some of the unpleasant descriptions. Also, most of the individual people and chimpanzees mentioned in the book I've actually read about in other books, in far greater depth, back when I had a reading craze about great apes. So there just really wasn't much here for me. This is one case where I can see why it was culled (I got the book at a library sale). There's just better, more up-to-date material out there.

There was one point made near the end which got me thinking. The author talks about the importance of breeding programs collaborating with other facilities and zoos, so as to have the widest gene pool possible. At the same time, she says, the more docile chimps are most likely to be used for breeding, as they're easier to handle. Could we inadvertently, by only using the docile animals, be breeding a tamer or even domesticated chimpanzee? Thinking of all the books I've read recently on how dogs and cats became domesticated, this doesn't seem like such a wild surmise. But I feel fairly certain that's not happening.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 116 pages, 1984

Feb 14, 2010

Bonsai: 101 Essential Tips

by Harry Tomlinson

I think the title is misleading. This is not a book of useful tips, not in the sense that a book like Trowel and Error is. Instead, it's an overview of the art of growing bonsai, arranged in very short numbered statements (I really don't understand why it was arranged this way). For someone like me, entirely new to the art, Bonsai: 101 Essential Tips gave me a rough idea of what growing bonsai can entail, but without the detailed instructions or troubleshooting help that would really get me started. (I'm still leering of grabbing clippers and engaging in what, to me, appears to be nothing less than plant mutilation and torture! although the results are beautiful) Still, I now have a general idea of what creating and tending bonsai entails, and the photos are simply lovely. I especially liked that the book has a short of gallery of many plants that are suitable for bonsai, with brief description of their particular care. There is also quite a bit of info about the design principles involved in creating an elegant, aesthetically pleasing plant. It is a nice and handy little book, actually- I just think it could have a better title, and do without every little paragraph being numbered inanely.

On a similar note, yesterday I was ecstatic to discover this video clip online, of Thalassa Cruso's TV show, an episode about bonsai! It was thrilling to see this woman I've come to admire so much through her books, and her vivid personality, frank no-nonsense attitude and lively humor was just as I had imagined it.

I acquired the bonsai book free through Paperback Swap.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 72 pages, 1996

Feb 13, 2010

Making Things Grow

A Practical Guide for the Indoor Gardener
by Thalassa Cruso

Friendly and informative sums up Thalassa Cruso's book about houseplant care and propagation. She starts off with the basics, and I was abashed to learned I've been doing so many things wrong it's a wonder all my houseplants haven't keeled over! For instance, I never even thought about the difference between using clay and plastic pots, and I had never heard of crocking them to improve the drainage. That's just a sample of the very abundant, useful and practical advice in Making Things Grow, everything from how to properly water and feed your plants, to getting rid of pests, repotting, growing new plants from seeds or cuttings, and how to keep them going solo if you're on vacation. I now have a nice list of plants that are reliably recommended to do well in my low-lit, evenly heated house, and have learned the identity of many familiar ones that my mother grew or that I've seen around in public buildings, always recognizing their faces but never knowing their names. If you have any houseplants, or want to get started keeping a few, this book is invaluable.

I acquired this book free from the Book Thing. I'm counting it towards my Dogeared challenge, as it has quite a few tears on the covers.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 257 pages, 1969

More opinions at:
the Tales, Tips and Techniques of Traditional Gardening
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Feb 11, 2010

Animal Orphanage

by Ric Garvey

In 1946 Kenya's first wildlife park was formed, the Nairobi National Park, where animals were protected and the public could come to view and photograph them. Ric Garvey worked at the animal orphanage there, where injured and orphaned wildlife were cared for until they could be released, or found a new home in a zoo (a few remained at the orphanage their entire lives) Animal Orphanage not only tells about the author's experiences at the orphanage and the various animals they raised, but also of wildlife frequently observed in the surrounding area. Like No Room in the Ark, their opinions of the animals were often biased- the lion was considered noble, the camel haughty, the wild dog vile.

On the other hand, the writing is friendly and I enjoyed most of the stories. There are flamingos rescued from a dried-up lake, an infant giraffe coaxed to accept a bottle using marshmallows, chimps who steal glasses from visitors, a buffalo who refused freedom and wanted to return to his cage, and a rhino who repeatedly charged a train when the first railroad was built (the rhino lost). I also enjoyed the few bits of African folklore explaining things like how the leopard got his spots, or why a rhino spreads his dung around (these are not friendly children's stories like Rudyard Kipling!) There was also a most curious case of an unknown disease which spread through the orphanage, attacking only the cats. One leopard survived, his body covered in scabs. Astonishingly, his coat lost its beautiful colors and was all black and grey. After he healed, his usual colors returned. The author attributed this to something in sunlight, but when I searched online for an explanation, I could find none (all my google attempts coming up with info about sick geckos).

It was interesting to come across in the pages of Animal Orphanage reference to other books I own or have read. One of their lions, Ugas, was given to the Adamsons and used in the filming of Born Free. I'm pretty sure I've read about Ugas in one of the Adamson's books. Another lion went to live in the Whipsnade zoo, where Gerald Durrell worked during his apprenticeship. And when describing the physical attributes of the giant forest hog, Garvey quotes "Mr. C.T. Astley Maberly in his most accurate book Animals of East Africa". This sounded familiar, so I searched my shelves and came up with that very book (as yet unread), a field guide to African wildlife.

Rating 3/5 ......... 168 pages, 1967

Feb 9, 2010

snowed in

Well, I have actually been reading quite a bit lately (about houseplants and wildlife orphanages!) but not getting a lot of computer time to post. My husband is on his third snow day off work, and we're all enjoying being holed up here. Thought I'd share a few photos of what it looks like outside my door. Thirty inches! (I took my yardstick out the first day after the storm). It took me an hour to shovel a path from our door to the car, and another two to get the driveway clear (which would have been impossible if a friendly neighbor who owns a snowblower hadn't helped me out. The snowplow literally made a wall between my driveway and the street!) My daughter loves the snow, and apparently so does my cat! (Those photos were taken after I brushed the first twenty-five inches off the top of my car, while it was still snowing. My sister told me a story about too much snow busting the windshield of her car during the last big snowstorm some years ago, and I didn't want that to happen to me! Probably not likely, but you never know!)

Hope everyone else is safe and cozy as well. I'm off to read more about green thumbs and lions.





The snowmen were made last week (when we just had a few inches). Here's what they look like now!

Feb 7, 2010

Dr. Wildlife

the Crusade of a Northwoods Veterinarian
by Rory C. Foster

This short book is about a vet who set up the first hospital and rehabilitation center specifically for wildlife, in Wisconsin during the 1980s. At the time there was no training available for wildlife vets; he learned as he went by studying books about the different species' anatomy and applying his knowledge of veterinary science. It all started when a fawn was struck by a car and someone brought it to the animal hospital. Up until then Dr. Foster had only treated the usual dogs, cats and other pets, but he was willing to help out this injured wild creature. Foster and his wife raised the fawn in their house, eventually setting it free to live in the wild. More and more people began bringing him wildlife in need of care, until he realized he had more wild animals occupying cages in his hospital than pets, and would have to either give up treating them or build a separate suite just for their care. He did so, as a non-profit, dedicated to helping wild animals free of charge.

Surprisingly, his efforts to fund and build the Northwoods Wildlife Hospital and Rehabilitation Center were met with a lot of opposition from the local community, including the forestry department whose job it was to manage wildlife. Back then, many people held the attitude that wild animals only had value as a resource for mankind- so they saw Foster's work as wasted effort on animals that would probably die soon anyways- shot by hunters or killed by predators. I have a hard time understand that mentality, but it must have been rampant for all the resistance Foster faced in trying to establish his wildlife hospital. He also had to deal with the issue of local roadside zoos, who existence he was adamantly opposed to. He did not want to cure their animals which had been neglected or mistreated, only to have them return to living in small cages and deplorable conditions. Eventually he had to make a policy of refusing to treat their animals. He would only help wild animals that were going to be released again into the wild, or -if they were unfit for that- kept in a good zoo or wildlife sanctuary.

Aside from all that, I enjoyed as always, the stories about the animals themselves. The writing is easygoing and some of the tales are pretty funny. Many of Foster's patients were deer, orphaned or struck by cars. He also treated a lot of birds injured in one way or another- eagles, owls, herons, even an osprey. One was a gull with cancer (the only treatment being surgery). Some of the other animals he cared for included a porcupine, a white arctic wolf, and an infant otter. Overall, Dr. Wildlife was a good, quick read. The man was very passionate about his work and had a good sense of humor as well, both of which shine through the pages.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 182 pages, 1985

winner

The winner of my latest book giveaway (says random.org) is #1, Marjorie. Congrats Marjorie! It might be a little while before I can get to the post office, due to heavy snows in our area. I can't really get out of my house yet, there are 32 inches of snow outside my door! But as soon as the roads are safe, I'll be shipping it out.

Feb 6, 2010

Animal ER

Extraordinary Stories of Hope and Healing from One of the World's Leading Veterinary Hospitals
by Vicki Croke

I seem to be on a kick of reading books about veterinarians lately. After finishing Tell Me Where it Hurts and The Cat Who Couldn't See in the Dark, I naturally dug through my TBR shelves to see if I had any more. Found this one, a slim book called Animal ER, written by a journalist who was allowed to shadow doctors and residents around the intensive care unit of the animal hospital at the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine.

This is not a very long book, but it still took me some time to get through it, probably because somehow it didn't have a deep emotional pull. The writing is rather dry, and the stories, while very intense, are pretty brief, some no longer than a few sentences. (In that way it reminded me a lot of Intern). Each chapter of Animal ER has a kind of focus, the first being an introduction to the hospital itself, and the particular "culture" of the ICU staff- dress, code of conduct, lingo, etc. Following that, the subjects include dogs with GDV or "bloat", car crash victims, animals that have gone into septic shock, dogs that swallow foreign objects, and a variety of serious illnesses. One chapter covers a number of cases where doctors and owners had to agonize over animals that seemed beyond help, and whether they should try further or put them to sleep. Another two chapters cover what goes on in the wildlife section of the hospital. There's even a discussion about bringing back to life animals that have actually died on the table (issues and morals abound), about the difficulties of trying to treat aggressive animals that don't want to be handled, and the many cases where an owner saw the symptoms early on but didn't realize the severity of a condition, bringing an animal in almost too late, or conversely (and with more chance of happy outcomes!) cases that looked horrendous, causing owners to panic- but turned out to be mild problems after all. The actual background stories are few and brief, lacking a depth I usually appreciate- but at the same time I got an overwhelming sense of how busy a veterinarian ICU must be, and of how compassionate the people are who work there are. It also amazed me to see all the things medical technology is now capable of doing for pets (yet at such a staggering cost). Some of the stories in this book are nothing less than miraculous, though others are sure to make you cry. Warning: if you don't like to read about animals suffering, this book is definitely not for you. There are just as many unhappy endings as ones where the pet gets to go home again.

One name that kept jumping out at me with familiarity while I read was Nicholas Dodman. I finally had to go look in my own index to find the name- of course! He wrote The Cat Who Cried for Help, about felines seen at the university's animal behavioral clinic.

I got this book free, from The Book Thing.

Rating 3/5 ........ 194 pages, 1999

Feb 5, 2010

The Complete Book of Dragons

by E. Nesbit

I first encountered the author E. Nesbit when my mother read Five Children and It to us as bedtime stories. It wasn't until a few years ago that I stumbled across The Complete Book of Dragons, while browsing in the public library. This book contains eight story stories about dragons, first published in The Book of Dragons, plus one newer story. They're all fun adventures, in a variety of settings with protagonists ranging from princesses and knights to ordinary children. Sometimes the dragons are evil, sometimes good, sometimes in between. In one, a dragon escapes from the pages of a storybook and ravages a town. In another, a dragon purrs to calm a baby. There are some traditional kinds of tales where brave heroes seek out the dragons for battle, and other more curious ones about dragons treated kindly, or doing good deeds themselves (or just being greedy, as in the one who ate a herd of hippos!). All with the lively flair and originality of Nesbit's writing. Good reading, if you like fantasy! I would say this book is written for ages 8-12, but I enjoyed it just as much myself.

Rating: 3/5 ....... 198 pages, 1900

Feb 3, 2010

The Cat Who Couldn't See in the Dark

Veterinary Mysteries and Advice on Feline Care and Behavior 
by Howard Padwee and Valerie Moolman

Another book about veterinary work! (They're among my favorites). Although this vet of a small-animal practice in New York city has treated everything from snakes to dogs, the book is mostly about cats. Each chapter contains a few related tales of cats he treated, sprinkled liberally with advice on their care. It covers forty years of his practice (often stating "things were different back then") so some of the information might be a little dated, and I did notice the book has received a lot of criticism (on Amazon) because the vet recommended declawing indoor cats. Myself, I had some issues with the people keeping wild animals like raccoons and monkeys as pets in city apartments! Nevertheless, the stories were still engaging, even though the writing style is fairly simple.

Among the cats we meet in the pages of The Cat Who Couldn't See in the Dark are many who suffer from common ailments like fleas infestations, obesity, falls and swallowing needles and thread. Then there's one who accidentally gets shut inside a freezer, another who develops a habit for drinking alcohol, and even a cat that finds a dropped joint on the floor during a party and consumes marijuana. I was really captivated by the tale an obsessed lady who horded cats and fed all strays she could find on the street told of meeting an even crazier cat lady!  I also really like the chapter heading illustrations by Barbara Smullen, in a textured kind of pen and ink work called stippling. There is some similar work in her online shop. The artist kindly permitted me to share some of her illustrations from the book with you:


(click on any image for a larger view)

I got this book from Paperback Swap

Rating: 3/5 ......... 235 pages, 1997

Feb 2, 2010

Child of Mine

Original Essays on Becoming a Mother
edited by Christina Baker Kline

A collection of essays on new motherhood, Child of Mine offers insights and honest perspectives from the experiences of new mothers who are all writers. Moms from all walks of life take a piercing look at what their first year of motherhood was like- with all of the mess, fatigue, insecurities, wonder and joy. Some of the stories are heartwarming, others sad, contemplative or just downright hilarious. Their focus may vary- from adoption, to breastfeeding, postpartum depression, struggles with poverty, feeling overwhelmed, dealing with colic, etc- and the writing styles are all different too. But the honesty and emotional intensity is a common thread, that ties all the various voices together. Whatever doubts and questions a new mother is struggling with, this book is pretty sure to have an answer in it somewhere- not a pat, dismissive everything-will-be-okay answer, but the compassion of understanding, of having been there and come through the difficulties. Now I need to find me a book like this about toddlers!

I read this book several years ago, borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5 ....... 333 pages, 1997

Feb 1, 2010

The Truth About Dogs

An Inquiry into the Ancestry, Social Conventions, Mental Habits and Moral Fiber of Canis familiaris
by Stephen Budiansky

Just as The Character of Cats explores how cats have evolved to live alongside humans (while still keeping their independence) The Truth About Dogs examines what makes dogs such a perfect fit with people, how they might have first become domesticated, and what is going on when the modern human-dog companionship has issues (think behavior problem dogs). In this book Budiansky talks about dog evolution, genetics, behavior, physiology and much more. Sometimes I got lost in the details of exactly how their senses work or why genetic evolution and breeding have shaped them into the forms we know today. But overall it was pretty interesting. I kept getting the idea that the author was implying that everything a dog does- from his favorite game of chase to begging for food or snuggling near a person for petting- is simply instinctual behavior hardwired by their genes. That all the endearing things dogs do as well as their more annoying habits, are caused by how domestication has mixed up the behavior patterns they inherited from wolves. Budiansky makes it pretty clear though, that even as he can pick apart a dog's motives and demonstrate that they don't have ESP or really love us unconditionally, he still loves and admires them. One thing is sure, I never realized how very differently a dog sees the world- not only in his perception of color, scent and sound but his perspective on social nuances and priorities. Dogs really are amazing creatures, not the least because even being so utterly different from us, they have ways of relating so well that they have become our closest animal companions. Any dog owner is sure to appreciate this book. It will open your eyes!

I borrowed this book from the public library.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 263 pages, 2000

More opinions at:
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