Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?
Frans de Waal. Norton, $27.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-393-24618-6
In this thoroughly engaging, remarkably informative, and deeply insightful book, de Waal (The Bonobo and the Atheist), a primatologist at Emory University in Atlanta, investigates the intelligences of various animals and the ways that scientists have attempted to understand them. The book succeeds on many levels. De Waal provides ample documentation that animals—including the primates he studies, other mammals, octopuses, birds, and even insects—can be remarkably adept at solving problems. He also explains scientists’ experimental protocols, discussing how bias can creep into experiments and lead to erroneous conclusions. Reiterating Charles Darwin’s “well-known observation that the mental difference between humans and other animals is one of degree rather than kind,” de Waal augments the scientific perspective with a historical one, carefully considering the debates that have roiled the field of animal behavior science for over a century. He describes how chimps collaborate to evade electrified wire and how bonobos occasionally carry tools in anticipation of needing them in the future, telling fabulous stories that shed light on the differences and similarities between humans and other animals. Emphasizing the forms of animal “empathy and cooperation” he has long studied, de Waal teaches readers as much about humankind as he does about our nonhuman relatives. Illus. (May)
Reviewed on: 02/01/2016