Nonfiction on a Passion for Birds and Animal Behavior | Xpress Reviews

Week ending September 1, 2017

Brunner, Bernd. Birdmania: A Remarkable Passion for Birds. Greystone. Oct. 2017. 304p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781771642774. $29.95. SCI
Originally published in German, this wide-ranging but selective account describes people for whom birds have been an obsession, vocation, or hobby. Among those profiled are egg and specimen collectors, researchers of behavior, recreational birders, and many others. Brunner’s emphasis on the extreme sometimes makes distinguished academics and explorers come across as eccentric or peculiar. Birdmania would be improved if explanatory captions for the interesting illustrations had been placed next to them instead of in an eight-page appendix. The engaging text unfortunately is marred by errors, such as the statement that Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) hunted with Audubon (1785–1851). In two places one reads of Berwick’s Swan, properly called Bewick’s Swan. Brunner has a breezy style, but at times his compelling subject is laden with a fatuous, superficial quality. However, the author has done impressive research, providing birth and death dates for his many individuals spellbound by birds, citations to relevant literature, and historical context. While Americans are featured here, Birdmania has an Old World bias.
Verdict Flawed but nevertheless recommended for those interested in natural history and the history of science.—Henry T. Armistead, formerly with Free Lib. of Philadelphia

Wohlleben, Peter. The Inner Life of Animals: Love, Grief, and Compassion—Surprising Observations of a Hidden World. Greystone. Nov. 2017. 272p. notes. index. ISBN 9781771643016. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781771643023. SCI
Wohlleben (The Hidden Life of Trees) states that animals have feelings, intelligence, and self-awareness. Although his narrative has keen observations and scientific support, his overall argument lacks coherence, depth, and rigor. Nearly half of the book separates basic information on senses from cognition, and a chapter on knowing animal minds is near the book’s end, rather than laying a foundation. The author omits information that completes a picture of featured subjects and species. For example, his chapter on wildness leaves out feral creatures. Also, Wohlleben discusses parental investment without R and K selection and honeybee thermoregulation without mitochondria. Readers interested in animal intelligence will be better served by other works, including Carl Safina’s Beyond Words, Mark Bekoff’s Minding Animals, and James L. and Carol L. Gould’s The Animal Mind.
Verdict Those wanting fresh insight on animal thought should look elsewhere.—Eileen H. Kramer, Georgia Perimeter Coll. Lib., Clarkston

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