Review: National Geographic - Inside Animal Minds

Casper showing off his modeling skills | Credit: Talita Bateman

Casper showing off his modeling skills | Credit: Talita Bateman

Having exhausted all my book options over the two-week travel to Ikaria, I stopped by a WH Smith at Athens airport to find something to read (in English) to entertain myself during the flight back to the UK. I immediately spotted Brandon Keim’s National Geographic publication called Inside Animal Minds and knew that I was set for the flight.

The edition is split up into three chapters - intelligence, feelings and relationships. It starts with a brief introduction to the relationship between science and animal behaviour & thought processes throughout history. The introduction is further validated by summarising the contributions made by some memorable names within zoology and animal behaviour science.

I have to say that this was truly a pleasure to read, which probably explains how I got through the whole edition over our three and a half hour flight. It was well written and structured but most importantly, well argued. I recently read Brian Hare and Vanessa Wood's book ‘The Genius of Dogs’ and was glad to see that some of the cases they meticulously explored within the book were mentioned in this edition. However, what really grabbed my attention was Keim’s clear appeal for studies on animal’s thoughts to be open-minded and progressive. For the taboo of anthropomorphism to be broken and the feeling side of science to be explored rather than avoided.

It was this last part - the feeling part - that really got to me. I recently read an article that touches on a very interesting subject - the integration of science and emotion as well as the conflict between emotion and objectivity. I do believe that overall there is a need for the ‘cold scientist’ stereotype to be challenged. For the feeling side of science to be further explored and, in fact, proudly brandished. Empirical evidence may win over science-minded people but in order to change society, emotions need to be addressed as well.

This was a light read with minimal jargon and a very personable way of introducing an incredibly important topic. If you read this and find yourself yearning for more, a good complementary would be National Geographic's latest 'The Making of an Icon: Becoming Jane'. Jane Goodall and her work are mentioned in Keim's issue and this latest edition gives a good insight if you'd like to expand on the topic.