Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin & Catherine Johnson

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Released 2009
352 pages
Buy here.

Temple Grandin is best known for her work with both autism and animals.  She has worked for many years as a consultant to help large-scale farms improve the housing and slaughtering methods of their animals.  This is her latest book.

In the first chapter, Grandin establishes the framework used in the rest of the book, what she calls the Blue-Ribbon Emotions.  These are seeking, rage, fear, panic, and play.  She also introduces the concept of stereotypies (not a typo, I promise!), which are abnormal behaviors that animals engage in, such as pacing back and forth in a cage or swimming in figure eights in a tank.  Stereotypies occur, Grandin says, when an animal's Blue-Ribbon Emotions are not in balance; for example, if a hunting animal in a zoo is not allowed to engage its natural seeking behavior, it will become depressed and behave abnormally.

Subsequent chapters focus on a single animal/animal group and highlight particular Blue-Ribbon Emotions that need to be engaged, as well as ways of engaging them.  Grandin discusses dogs, cats, horses, cows, pigs, and poultry, and she explains the various ways to house, feed, and transport them with as little emotional stress as possible.  She then moves on to a chapter about wildlife in which she emphasizes the need for animal experts to focus on fieldwork and real-life observation of animals instead of using theoretical models on computers.  Finally, she talks about animals in zoo captivity and how to address zoo animals' Blue-Ribbon Emotional needs.

 The whole point of this book is that different animals have VERY different needs, both from humans and each other, and different types of stimuli could set off their various Blue-Ribbon Emotions.  Grandin describes these differences with clarity, and even though she uses a lot of neuroscientific terminology, she explains with definitions and examples so as not to confuse her readers.  She also cites a lot of other people's books and studies on animal research, so there is plenty of follow-up reading for those who are interested in learning more.

There are only a couple of things I consider drawbacks.  One is that Grandin uses phrases like "I think," "I guess," "maybe this is true," all throughout the book.  I've not read anything else by her, so I don't know if this is just the way she writes, but it definitely takes away from her persona as an objective woman of science, and it makes a lot of her statements very wishy washy.  Grandin also repeats herself in many places, voicing the same point or example more than once.  Other than those relatively minor things, though, I found this to be a great read.

Rating: 4/5

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