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Publisher's Summary

Tucked away in Siberia, there are furry, four-legged creatures with wagging tails and floppy ears that are as docile and friendly as any lapdog. But, despite appearances, these are not dogs - they are foxes. They are the result of the most astonishing experiment in breeding ever undertaken - imagine speeding up thousands of years of evolution into a few decades. In 1959, biologists Dmitri Belyaev and Lyudmila Trut set out to do just that, by starting with a few dozen silver foxes from fox farms in the USSR and attempting to recreate the evolution of wolves into dogs in real time in order to witness the process of domestication.

Most accounts of the natural evolution of wolves place it over a span of about 15,000 years, but within a decade, Belyaev and Trut's fox breeding experiments had resulted in puppy-like foxes with floppy ears, piebald spots, and curly tails. Along with these physical changes came genetic and behavioral changes, as well. The foxes were bred using selection criteria for tameness, and with each generation, they became increasingly interested in human companionship. Trut has been the lead scientist on this work since Belyaev's death in 1985, and with Lee Dugatkin, biologist and science writer, she tells the story of the adventure, science, politics, and love behind it all.

©2017 Lee Alan Dugatkin and Lyudmila Trut (P)2017 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"The science is profound, but the authors write accessibly and engagingly - and their vulpine subjects are awfully cute, too. Of compelling interest to any animal lover and especially to devotees of canids of all kinds." ( Kirkus

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Awesome story, fantastic book!

This is one of the best books ever! Just the right amount of story telling and science mixing to make for an interesting learning experience and an enthralling, heartwarming story. Loved it!

30 of 32 people found this review helpful

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Amazing

Anyone with a passing interest in Evolution, the story of Charles Darwin and his fateful voyage to the Galapagos, or the journey that Francis and Crick set out upon that led to the discovery of the Immortal Coil, will have heard of Belyaev and his foxes.

I had read about this man and his multi-decade study that has(the study is ongoing) shown the evolutionary effects that artificially selecting for “tameness” in foxes has caused. He is a hero in the arena of evolutionary biology, and less importantly, he is someone that I have looked up to as an intellectual role model since the first time I heard about his story.

Imagine my exuberance when I found that his partner, Lyudmila Trut, had collaborated with Lee Alan Dugatkin to tell the entire story of the foxes! Not second hand from Belyaev’s writings or journals, but from the “horse’s mouth” so to speak.

I knew I wanted to devour this book solely for it’s importance to my scientific understanding of evolution and the effects of artificial selection on future generations.

I didn’t expect for the emotional roller coaster ride that this story took me on. The obstacles that were overcome by this group of people in the face of such foreboding odds is nothing short of miraculous.

This story feels real. It felt like I was there, in “Pushinka’s House”, as the narrator takes us through the accomplishments of that, particularly special fox. The book is beautifully written in this regard, taking the reader on the journey as if they were there. I plan on rereading the book tonight and highly recommend that you make this your next literary choice!


review from 4dogsandalittlelady.com

61 of 66 people found this review helpful

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Lyudmila's Journey To Tame A Fox

I found myself shouting in disbelief at a very shocking event that took place in the house where the fox had lived...I feel for Lyudmila as the story is told of her rewarding yet difficult path she had chosen to research the taming of a fox.

19 of 21 people found this review helpful

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  • Wayne
  • Matthews, NC
  • 07-20-18

Magnificent biological science true story!!

The Theory of Evolution indicates that what these Russian scientists did in domesticating silver foxes should have taken a millennium or more, but they astonishingly did it is in 50 years. HOW TO TAME A FOX (AND BUILD A DOG) is absolute must listening for everyone who has interest in evolution or any other branch of science. VERY, VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating!

For many years, I have been fascinated with the research done in the Soviet Union, and later in Russia, on selective breeding of foxes while using only the single trait of toleration for humans as the selection criterion. I have read what I could find on the subject since I first learned of the surprising results of this on-going 60-year study.

In 1959, biologists Dmitri Belyaev and Lyhmila Trut began a secret project with silver foxes at a time when work in genetics was forbidden in the USSR, and in doing so they risked imprisonment and/or death. The study has continued to this day over 56 generations of foxes that have become domesticated. In selecting for a single behavior, the resulting generations of originally wild foxes not only became dog-like in their affinity for humans, but they also developed seemingly unrelated characteristics such as floppy ears, piebald spots, curly tails, and longer breeding seasons.

I was thrilled to find that a book written for the popular audience on this ground-breaking work was available, so I immediately obtained the audiobook. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire detailed story of the foxes, the scientists, the changes in geopolitics that impacted the work, and the theories of how and why domestication may have occurred in the small number of species that have undergone the process.

My personal criteria for awarding a book 5 stars are: (1) It must engage me completely and (2) I must learn something of significance from the reading. For me, this book did both. Granted, I have a strong interest in genetics, dogs, and behavior of all creatures which probably makes my rating biased. But so be it.

This is not a long book, only 240 pages in printed format and a little over 7 hours as an audiobook, but I feel the author did an excellent job of making a wide scope of scientific research accessible to any of us who possess a basic understanding of biology and animal behavior. I will follow future developments in the fox domestication research project with great interest.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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If you like dogs and science ....

If you like dogs/foxes and science, then this is the book for you. I loved hearing about the cute little foxes. Now I want a pet fox - thanks Audible.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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TOO MUCH DATA AND NOT ENOUGH 'FOX'

Although the subtitle forewarns that this book weighs heavily on the scientific information and data, I was hopeful that I'd learn more about foxes as the 'new dog-like cat' - or vice versa. Unfortunately, it lacks the sort of 'mini stories' of individual foxes and their humans that I had hoped for. If you've read how the Russian fox was 'semi-tamed', you might, as I, be a little bored with more of the same information. SPOILER FOR PET FOX HOPEFULS: Forget it. They're a long way from being the ideal domesticated pet. We'll have to wait quite a long time for the fox to be as welcome (and helpful) a guest in our homes as are cats and dogs. They continue many of their wild ways - so 'house training' still remains a hopeful trait in the distant future.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Dubi
  • New York, NY
  • 08-04-18

An Amazing Tale of Science Fact

As a dog lover with an interest in science and nature, I love reading books or seeing TV specials about dogs, particularly about how they were domesticated and how we developed such a strong emotional and symbiotic relationship with each other. I mean, what we have here is one of the most diverse species of mammal that also happens to be one of the most recently evolved species, the first to be domesticated by humans, and the one animal species that lives such a closely parallel life with humans.

Much of the evidence and theory surrounding the origin of dogs and their domestication was controversial conjecture, until half a century ago when a group of scientists in Siberia began an incredibly ambitious experiment, raising foxes to see if they could be domesticated like dogs had once been. In a relatively short span of time, scientifically speaking, the experiment proved to be wildly successful, eventually teaching us as much about the latter stages of human evolution as it does about dogs.

This great fox experiment has been written about as part of other books about the development of the dog, and discussed in TV documentaries. I was certainly well aware of it. But now we have en entire book devoted solely to this one experiment, the full story of how it came about, especially in the anti-intellectual fraudulent science era in Stalinist Russia, and how it succeeded despite some serious bumps along the road. The main characters in this real-life drama are Dmitri Belayev, the geneticist who established the fox farm in that rough political climate, and Lyudmila Trut, the most hands-on researcher who kept the work going after Belayev's death and remains at the heart of it.

This is just great great stuff. Of course we learn how our favorite pets evolved so quickly, and we also learn a lot about how we may have evolved in a similar way, and how we and our dogs co-evolved over the past ten millennia. You see the word again and again in skimming the reviews of this book -- fascinating. Yes indeed, captivating material, especially for dog lovers.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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best book I've listened to in years awesome. Woul

Best book I've listened to in years. Would love one of the foxes for myself

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Endearing as it is thought provoking!

The wonderful narration brings the story of the fox farm to life.

For me, this book brought science out of the laboratory and into my soul. A Grand reminder that the pursuit of understanding can walk hand-in-hand with warmth of heart.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Andrew
  • 05-14-18

Very captivating science and drama

It's not just about the foxes, it's about a history of a lot of things. Foxes. Domestication. Biology. The cold War.

Very captivating and I learnt a lot.

Only complaint is that at times they're a bit too complimentary of people, which sounds a bit propaganday

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  • barnaby sullivan
  • 11-06-18

Science is facinating, politics is too personal

Science is interesting but ignores the the reasons for opposition to certain genetic research that occurred following the fall of the Nazis by painting those that opposed the research as Luddites and opportunists. Hero worship without a lot of nuance is also prevalent, but this is a thoroughly good story. Would be better written if it didn't feel so editorialized by the people that where at the coal face but once again, its a good primary/secondary resource

0 of 1 people found this review helpful