Sep 24, 2015

Wild Heritage

by Sally Carrighar

In the sixties, field studies of animal behavior was a very new science. Sally Carrighar wrote this book to dispel many myths about animal behavior- particularly the Victorian notions that animals acted out of brutality or nobility etc., and the reactive ideas from the Industrial Age that attributed animal actions to mere mechanical response via insinct. The truth seems to lie somewhere in the middle- yes, animals are driven by instinct but they also have intelligence, basic emotions and individual preferences; thus Carrighar shows how similar animals' motives can be to our own. She divides her book into four main sections, exploring what were then-new observations on wildlife behavior in regards to parenting and raising the young, courtship and mating, the use of aggression and play or creativity. It's an intriguing collection of accounts, but somewhat dull because of its age. The book is solidly placed in its timeframe- when Carrighar wrote, Adolph Murie, George Schaller and Jane Goodall were currently young scientists conducting new field studies, with many of their significant discoveries yet to be made. Other great names which are only history to me, were contemporaries to her and spoken of as such: Nikolaas Tinbergen, Konrad Lorenz, Lois Crisler, Ernest Thompson Seton. For me the book was mostly a summary of things I've already known or accounts I've already read; the originals are much better sources. So the book is interesting in its historical aspect but very dated: a lot of its information is old hat now, and things she puzzled or wondered at have long since been explained. However I was surprised to find once again the incident of the boy in the badger's den once again related- although much briefer here. I wonder if she took her account straight from Seton's book.

Rating: 3/5        276 pages, 1965


  1. I always think that must be the worst thing about writing nonfiction: No matter how stupendously researched and well-written your book is, smart odds say it's going to be horribly out of date within a few years. Poor old nonfiction writers.

  2. Yeah. I've often found it sad how neglected and forgotten these old books are, because their information is just no longer current. At one time this book was on the leading edge of new info, and its author wrote it for the layman, probably familiarizing many casual readers with the new ideas of wildlife behavior.

    I happen to have a lot of old non-fiction on my shelves, because I pick them up when they get discarded from the libraries and others' collections. Some turn out to be classics, or so well-written they're still interesting. Others are pretty much worthless now.


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