In recent years advances in neuroscience, field observation, and experiment have radically changed our understanding of animal behaviour. Many of the charachteristics which were once thought of as uniquely human have been shown to exist in other species, sometimes astonishingly counter-intuitively. Octopuses can distinguish people they dislike, crows seem to reciprocate gift giving, and alligators have been seen demonstrating what appears to be tool use. Perhaps even more significant than smart behaviour in individual animals is the realisation that some species have what can only be described as culture. Here's a selection of some of the most interesting and accesible books on this topic.
John Bradshaw£9.99 £9.29
For most of us, it is the animals that live with us whose behaviour interests us most, on a practical and an intellectual level. This wonderful book is both a guide to how we can best meet the needs of our canine companions, and a primer on how scientists establish the underlying mechanisms that make dogs doggy. Highly recommended if you are thinking of becoming a lockdown dog owner.
Frans De Waal£10.99 £10.22
A comprehensive introduction to the advances that are being made in the field of ethology. As you might expect, apes feature strongly, but the examples of intelligence found in other, often unexpected, species will amaze, and hopefully delight.
Peter Godfrey-Smith£9.99 £9.29
Of all the species that demonstrate traits we once thought were ours alone, octopuses have to be the most intriguing. This book shows that we don't have to reach the stars to encounter intelligences very different from us, and lucidly explains how they evolved. You'll close it with a sense of wonder, and want to tell everyone what you discovered in it.
John Marzluff and Tony Angell£12.99 £12.08
If you want to know how animal brains can generate complex behaviours, perception and emotion, this is a good read. Even if the sections dealing with neurobiology are a bit sciencey for you, you'll be charmed and amazed at the many examples of what these birds are capable of. Using human speech, making tools, conducting 'funerals' and participating in gift exchanges, are all part of their repertoire.
If animals have consciousness, emotions and intelligence, this clearly raises ethical issues about our relationships with them. While you may not agree with all the author's positions, this is a good introduction to the philosophical ideas we need to consider as a result of our improved knowledge.
Lorna Coppinger and Raymond Coppinger£13.50
Most of the world's dogs are not owned, though they live side by side with people. They are 'village dogs' scavenging through our scraps. This book takes us through the biological economics and evolutionary processes that have shaped them. Fascinating not just for the information on these dogs, but also for the accounts of how people in the communities that they live with interact with them, which is far from the Western model of dog ownership.
John Bradshaw£9.99 £9.29
Just as we are understanding far more about the lives of animals, so we are also learning more about why we choose to have them in our lives. Bradshaw examines the history of pet keeping, its part in human evolution, and looks at the evidence supporting the reasons we give ourselves to justify it.
Carl Safina£18.98 £17.65
Although we're finding that animals individual capabilities are greater and wider than we imagined, arguably even more significant for the way we view them compared to ourselves is the discovery that some of them have culture. In chimps, that isn't totally unexpected, but to find it in whales and birds? This is an unashamed work of popular science, but none the worse for that. If it wasn't for the fact that Safina is telling us how we are destroying these cultures just as we are discovering them, it would be a nice easy read.