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4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 4.00 (145 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Virginia Morell Narrator: Kirsten Potter Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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Noted science writer Virginia Morell explores the frontiers of research on animal cognition and emotion, offering a surprising and moving exploration into the hearts and minds of wild and domesticated animals.

Did you know that ants teach, earthworms make decisions, rats love to be tickled, and chimps grieve? Did you know that some dogs have thousand-word vocabularies and that birds practice songs in their sleep? That crows improvise tools, blue jays plan ahead, and moths remember living as caterpillars?

Animal Wise takes us on a dazzling odyssey into the inner world of animals, from ants to elephants to wolves, and from sharp-shooting archer fish to pods of dolphins that rumble like rival street gangs. With 30 years of experience covering the sciences, Morell uses her formidable gifts as a story-teller to transport us to field sites and laboratories around the world, introducing us to pioneering animal-cognition researchers and their surprisingly intelligent and sensitive subjects. She explores how this rapidly evolving, controversial field has only recently overturned old notions about why animals behave as they do. She probes the moral and ethical dilemmas of recognizing that even “lesser animals”  have cognitive abilities such as  memory, feelings, personality, and self-awareness—traits that many in the twentieth century felt were unique to human beings.

By standing behaviorism on its head, Morell brings the world of nature brilliantly alive in a nuanced, deeply felt appreciation of the bond between humans and animals, and shares her admiration for the men and women who have simultaneously chipped away at what we think makes us distinctive while offering a glimpse of where our own abilities come from.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Why is it that until very recently, many scientists claimed that animals can’t think? Every pet owner knows better, and Virginia Morell is our champion.  But she’s not going on guesswork and opinion—Animal Wise is thoroughly and meticulously researched. And it’s a page-turner—a window to the natural world that will change the way we view other species. We place ourselves at the top of the evolutionary ladder. Of course we do. We invented the ladder. In her marvelous book, Morell displays the folly of this viewpoint. Animal Wise is fabulous!” 

    Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, New York Times bestselling author of The Hidden Life of Dogs

  • “After you read this book, you will be convinced that many different animal species have true thoughts and emotions. You will take a journey to the center of the animal mind.”

    Temple Grandin, New York Times bestselling author of Animals in Translation and Animals Make Us Human

  • “Morell’s Animal Wise is science writing at its best. Here she not only translates scientists’ jargon and data into enviable prose, but transmits her love of the field to her audience. Novice readers will be enthralled to learn about the intelligence of the creatures in this book, and experts will be extremely pleased to see how she makes their work and that of their colleagues accessible to everyone.”

    Irene Pepperberg, New York Times bestselling author of Alex & Me

  • “It is nice to see a science writer of Virginia Morell’s distinction take on this increasingly important topic, and it is good to have her calm and careful voice added to the conversation. She has a great deal to teach us about the latest research on the frontiers of this fascinating new world. Animal Wise is a fine book.”

    Jeffrey Masson, New York Times bestselling author of When Elephants Weep

  • “This charming book about animal intelligence…has a nice arc to its structure—working from generally more basic (although still remarkable) cognitive abilities of creatures like adventurous ants to the complex thinking of chimps—and it is threaded through with philosophical questions that are as thought-provoking as the creatures and experiments she chronicles.”

    Smithsonian Magazine

  • “Morell passionately and consistently proves her point in this frequently fascinating study of animal behavior…[She] is a gifted writer with a deep knowledge base that never talks down to the reader or the academic community—no small feat.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review) 

  • “[A] delightful exploration of how animals think…Morell makes a fascinating, convincing case that even primitive animals give some thought to their actions.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • “Kirsten Potter narrates this wide-ranging account of animal cognition. With a clear voice and empathetic tone, Potter embraces the personality of Morell’s style, using reflective questions to engage the listener and varying accents and pitches to distinguish a variety of researchers. Notably, Potter doesn’t hesitate in her vocalizations of the calls and sounds of the many animal subjects, strengthening the argument for their inherent capabilities and unique qualities.”


  • A 2013 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist for Science & Technology
  • Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books, Best Nature and Environment 2013
  • A Barnes & Noble Bestseller
  • A Library Journal Bestseller
  • A 2014 ALA Notable Book for Adult Nonfiction

Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Paula | 2/19/2014

    " What a thought-provoking book. And it was well organized. Each chapter was about a different animal species. And many about animals I would never have thought about at all--ants, fish, rats. And though I would have picked the studies on dogs or dolphins as my favorites before I read this book, I have to admit, the chapters on the fish and rats may have been the most enjoyable and informative sections. I can just picture the archer fish lined up in their tank, staring out. And the rats, asking to be tickled again. We humans have a long way to go in understanding other species, but more and more, we are made to face the fact that we may all have similar capacities for feeling and thinking. We may do it and show it in different ways, but it's there in all of us! Something to ponder. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Rebecca | 2/9/2014

    " Entertaining and informative. If you've read books like this before, you know the basic premise: humans can't go around attributing certain animal behaviors to emotions or thoughts and intentions without anthropomorphizing them (big word, I know). However, animals exhibit all kinds of behaviors that sometimes suggest they really do experience emotions etc. So it's that same stuff, with some of the stalwart examples, like Jane Goodall and her chimps. But there are really cool chapters on elephants and dolphins that I found especially fascinating. Good read. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Joe Adelizzi | 2/1/2014

    " The only problem I see with this book is that it has turned me into a guilt-ridden omnivore. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Christine D | 1/29/2014

    " I wasn't a huge fan of how this was written. Also, if you are an animal lover, there is nothing really new here-- all living creatures have minds, think and feel emotions and most of all, they all deserve our respect. "

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About the Author

Virginia Morell is a prolific contributor to National Geographic, Science, and Smithsonian, among other publications. She is also the author of Ancestral Passions, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; Blue Nile; and coauthor with Richard Leakey of Wildlife Wars.