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book about forms of life that exist outside the terms of what has come to be the "standard model" of heat, pressure and PH circumstances of survival. Toomey's work here is informative but presented in a way that is easily accessible to the layman, often entertaining, always engaging stuff to make us see deeper into life and its incredible durability.
as one of my favorite authors, and his Sophie's Choice as one of my top five all-time favorite books, and so I approached this memoir with much anticipation--and expectation. And Alexandra Styron (much like Susan Cheever in Home Before Dark) proves to be a penetrating and moving biographer of her very complicated and often disturbed father. From his long-standing marriage to his absolute devotion to his work to his tendency toward spiraling depression and bouts with alcohol (read his own account of this in Darkness Visible: A Memoir Of Madness), Alexandra renders a portrait of her father that is at once objective but also tinged with the obvious love and devotion that she felt for her famous father. Highly recommended!
Bekoff and Pierce's WILD JUSTICE, Peterson's THE MORAL LIVES OF ANIMALS and Morell's ANIMAL WISE, de Waal's PRIMATES AND PHILOSOPHERS came in as the perfect follow-up book to round out the line of thought. This collection of "debate essays," penned by Frans de Waal, Peter Singer, Christine M. Korsgaard, Phillip Kitcher, and Robert Wright (see my review of his THE MORAL ANIMAL), put forth the idea that morality is neither relative nor the sole property of human beings, but qualities that have developed for group survival and prospering through the process of evolution and natural selection, namely that characteristics such as empathy, fairness, justice, and rule-based interactivity are intimate parts of nature which all beings share in greater or lesser degree. (The question of degree is important, as no one wants to argue that a rat and a dog have the same level of moral sense as a human being--even though a rat can show a degree of empathy and a dog can participate in rule-based interactions.) I suggest the books listed above be read first and this be the cap--the ideas dovetail quite nicely, and the books on animal morality serve as a great preparation for a book about how animal morality evolved into human morality.
That is what Mark Bekoff, author of Wild Justice, calls the twenty-first century, anticipating a growing awareness of animal cognition and emotion, along with a growing awareness of how close we really are in relation to animals and the way they live. Like Bekoff's Wild Justice and Dale Peterson's The Moral Lives Of Animals, Morell uses a wonderful combination of anecdote, science and philosophy to weave together a plausible argument that animals not only think and feel more like we do than we before believed, but that they, too, possess their own forms of morality, which, in most instances, very much resemble ours as well. Anyone who has spent a lot of time around animals knows that it is true, but we are just now fighting our way out of Descartes' famous proclamation that animals are simply "elaborate machines" without REAL thoughts and feelings. It is good to see a growing body of literature that, at last, contradicts that and publicizes what a lot of us knew by simple observation and interactions with our fellow beings.
entitled Wild Justice. They complement each other nicely. (Both are much better than Temple Grandin's rather disappointing Animals Make Us Human.) It is high time someone wrote a book or two on this subject. Endless Neo-Darwinians (Pinker, Nowak, Wright, et. al.), writing of the development of morality in humans, have used animal examples to demonstrate the concept of reciprocal altruism and how morality has evolved to preserve species through group caring and protection. It only makes sense that if humans need each other to survive in a rough and tumble world, and morality developed in order that we help each other out and resist harming each other at least a majority of the time so that we can better reproduce and carry on--how much more for other mammals who have to spend some time raising their young in groups and living in those groups sometimes for an entire lifespan? (It is suggested that the more social a mammal is, the more it will be geared toward moral behavior toward other members of the group, which makes perfect sense in this context...) We all know stories of dogs jumping into rivers to save little girls and cats waking tenants of a burning apartment complex (when they could have just run for their own feline lives!), but working with horses, I see smaller examples all the time. Just the other day, after a ride, I was returning my horse to pasture, and her pasture mate, very uncharacteristically, bolted and ran through the gate and had an escape and was heading for a rather dangrous situation near a road. Without prompting or any training in such a situation, my horse, Sassy, instantly took to the task of helping me corral the fleeing Ore back around toward the pasture and safety. It was unmistakable to me that my horse was doing me (and her pasture mate!) a favor because I needed help and she loves me and knows I do good things for her and will continue to do so (this is the entire basis of reciprocal altruism, which is the foundation of morality). But then, if you like the dramatic, life-saving examples, when you are done with this book and Wild Justice, read Cheryl Dudley's Horses That Save Lives. In short, The Moral Lives Of Animals is thorough and engaging--but it will tell someone who has worked for any time with four-leggeds what he knew all along: animals decidedly have a moral sense--and it aids in their everyday survival the same as it does for us.
My work in greyhound and horse rescue has shown me over the years something very clearly: animals understand a moral act done toward them (rescuing them from rugged and abusive situations), appreciate it, and return the favor in acts of protection, devotion and love. This book covers such aspects of four-legged morality as well as how animals care for, protect and sacrifice for each other. Several now famous studies have shown how voles are monogamous, vampire bats (yes!) practice reciprocal altruism (one bat has a bad night, a bat that had a good night will spit up some of his collected blood into the hungry bat's mouth--and later, the favor is returned when the tables are turned--yummy!), and I can tell you that horses instantly recognize a good person or a cruel one and remember a friend forever...and remember as well those who have done them a wrong turn at some point. From an evolutionary standpoint, it only makes sense. Neo-Darwinian sociologists stand in line these days to write books about how humans developed a sense of morality in order for the greater number of the group to survive due to group protection and caring and justice--why in the world would we think that other mammals had not developed the same tendencies in order to keep their species going as well?!
to Nicolas Carr's The Shallows, which I recommend be read first: to get the full warning of what can go wrong when we become slaves to technology and the rapid-fire "information age..." The originator of the Multiple Intelligence Education system, Howard Gardner, and Katie Davis come together to give a very serious look at the "App Generation," those born into a 24/7 "wired" society... I had to be a bit amused at the reviewer who vociferously complains that this book "won't get to the point" and gave up after an hour and a half because the authors wanted to give background for their thesis. (Yes, there is a thorough and necessary historical background of technology's influence on the last few hundred years of human evolution.) Perhaps this person is suffering from some of the negative effects of information at the speed of light: inability to concentrate for long periods of time, impatience, attention deficits...as well as deficits in the areas of identity, creativity and interpersonal relationships. (Again, read Carr first to get the thorough analysis of this foreboding side of the issue in bold letters.) Gardner and Davis are realistic about these side-effects of cellphones, tablets and computers which allow youth to be constantly online and more involved with their Facebook friends than the ones standing right next to them (also busy with their online lives.) But Gardner and Davis also offer hope, showing that, used correctly and wisely--and on a more limited basis, technology COULD help the computer generation to emerge MORE creative, with MORE enhanced self-awareness and with MORE connectedness to others. The key, they say, is being very aware of how one is using the technology: that is, that the human is still in charge and using the machines to enhance reality rather than to replace it. Becoming slave to the machines and their flashing lights and info-bits is what leads to everything Carr warns of in The Shallows... It's a big "COULD," I have to say, and I think I see more Shallows than Depths when it comes to technology use among the young (I teach college English and have for 25 years, and so have seen both sides of the technological divide), but at least Gardner and Davis give us a guideline, a way of becoming aware and helping others become aware of how to control technology rather than letting it come to control us.
account of the historical story of the Wild Boy Of Aveyron!... Back in the late 1990's when I was moonlighting from my job as college English instructor to do some work as an occupational therapist with autistic children, I did extensive research into feral children in order to better understand the developing mind whose debilitating difficulty was the inability to connect with fellow humans. Of course, the work Jean Itard did with the famous "Victor," the "Wild Boy of Aveyron" is usually the first stop on such a journey (although I was first taken in by the heartbreaking true story of "Genie," a young girl who spent 13 years in almost utter isolation). Boyle's account is slightly fictionalized, by necessity, for his rendering, but his research into the case is apparent, and while fine details are painted in, the story itself holds to the truth. I highly recommend this historical tale for anyone interested in feral children--or just a very well written story! (It appeals to the literature lover in me just as much as the psychology buff.) Recommended supplemental reading for those interesting would include Michael Newton's wonderful book on feral children Savage Girls And Wild Boys, not to mention Lucien Malson's The Problem Of Feral Children, and, of course, Itard's own meticulously-kept diaries during the time of his work with Victor. (It must be noted that Itard's work influenced Seguin, and both were later a heavy influence on the renowned educator Marie Montessori.) It could even be said that Itard, though he saw his own work with Victor as less than successful, might well be seen as the first special education teacher.) Also of note is the Truffaut film The Wild Child (also about Victor), Susan Curtiss' fine book on Genie and Wasserman's fictional treatment of the strange case of Kasper Hauser.
A dozen years ago, Robert Putnam released what has become a classic in sociology: Bowling Alone. In this book, Putnam lamented how technology was distancing people from one another and how it was wearing down the natural tendency of people to interact in face-to-face, interpersonal ways: at church socials, book discussion groups, bowling leagues. Now Matthew Lieberman is using the fairly new but ever burgeoning (and tremendously popular!) science of neuro-imaging to show that Putnam was right: we need each other. The book holds up pretty well and remains interesting throughout, and it is cool to know what parts of the brain are associated with social interactions (and this is why I purchased the book) but the one caveat might be that it is somewhat guilty of what Sally Satel and Scott Lilienfield (authors of Brainwashed) call "neuro-redundancy," that is, using neuroscience to state the obvious. (Witness Kayt Sukel's This Is Your Brain On Sex...we learn that orgasms light up the pleasure and motivation centers of the brain: in short, we learn that orgasms feel good and people are motivated to have them...DUH!) Any good sociology textbook will show a plethora of plausible reasons why people need people (and why they are the luckiest people of all!), and the neo-Darwinians (Wilson, Pinker, Wright, et. al) have been going on for some time about how evolution has "hard-wired" us to be social. Okay, people need other people: that part is a "no-brainer." Still, the book is interesting from a scientific level if not so much from a sociological one. So get the 411 on your brain on social interaction here...and then read Putnam's classic Bowling Alone...
we are reminded of what the heroic life really means. Svoboda not only challenges us to find our inner "hero" but demonstrates how evolution has programmed us toward altruism. This book is a fine overview of the theory, but it should be read with other more thorough books on the neo-Darwinian look at selflessness like Robert Wright's The Social Animal and Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature.
to be gracious. This is a mostly entertaining book, and sure, what warm-blooded nerd can turn away from a neurological look at sex? (Though Sukel can't seem to decide, even in her title, if she means "sex" or "love"--they are, of course, not always the same at all, and the latter word can mean all sorts of things--and tracking occurrences in the brain is hard enough without a narrow definition of terms.) As I said, 3 1/2 stars... My 4 star review would go like this: interesting look at the hormonal and neurological aspects of sex and romance, though there are certainly better books if you are looking to really learn something about the brain and neurology (and the vagaries of actually tracking the direct brain-experience connection in an exact way), and her vignettes from her own life were kind of funny. My 3 star review would run like this: what could have been a more in-depth look at the brain and how the neurology of experience works sometimes falls back into the realm of easy factoids and pop science, and I wish she hadn't relied so much on anecdotal self-report. In short, I like the book more or less depending on how much I decide to expect from it, and I can't quite decide. I kind of knew from the title this wasn't going to be Ramachandran, Chang or Gazziniga, but I was kind of hoping it would be. So maybe... 3 and 7/16ths.
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