cover image Sentient: How Animals Illuminate the Wonder of Our Human Senses

Sentient: How Animals Illuminate the Wonder of Our Human Senses

Jackie Higgins. Atria, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-1-9821-5655-8

Wildlife filmmaker Higgins (David Bailey: Look) uses discoveries about animal perception to explore human senses in this eminently entertaining look at the natural world. Adopting the simplest definition of sentience as “our ability to sense the world around us,” Higgins “reflects on how each of the sentient beings with whom we share the planet offers a different perspective on how we sense” things. She covers a mind-boggling array of creatures with confounding abilities: there’s the peacock mantis shrimp, which has an unusually large number of photoreceptors and can detect colors that humans cannot, but is less able to distinguish subtle changes in shading; the goliath catfish, whose entire skin functions as a tongue and shows “that our sense of taste is more diverse than we could have imagined, and its reach extends beyond that of our tongue”; and the star-nosed mole, who teaches “much about our sense of touch through an organ we normally associate with our sense of smell.” Higgins does a great job at describing scientific studies and their results, and at connecting them to humans, making for a moving and perspective-shifting examination of “the everyday miracle of being sentient.” Fans of David Attenborough’s documentaries or the works of Helen Scales will savor this delightful study. Agent: Elizabeth Sheinkman, Peters Fraser and Dunlop. (Feb.)