Monday, 23 January 2012

Book review - Jeffrey Masson, When Elephants Weep

I've been curious about Jeffrey Masson for a while now, but never really had the time to read his books. Come to think of it, this one has been sitting around on my shelves for a while now. It wasn't on the list, but probably should have been since (unlike many of the entries) it was already in the house.

Anyway, When Elephants Weep focuses on the emotional lives of animals. It has long been a subject for debate whether animals have emotional lives to begin with, and Masson gathers together evidence (observational and admittedly sometimes anecdotal) to argue this point. Generally he does so convincingly. I may of course be biased, since I see no reason why animals wouldn't have emotions of some description - and certainly no reason for humans to dispute this, other than those who wish to somehow exploit animals.

The cases Masson describes are interesting, but of greater interest to me was what many of these stories say about the humans involved, including a number of laboratory experimenters and several who work with animals in settings such as circuses and dolphinaria. Masson's focus is on the animals for most of his book - as it should be, since the issue of animal emotion is the controversial point here - but my predominant thought much of the time was 'yes, I can guess what's going through the animal's mind, but what the f*** is the human thinking?'. The reasons some people have for arguing against animal emotions are certainly highlighted loud and clear.

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