Mark Smith reviews The Inner Life of Animals – Surprising Observations of a Hidden World by Peter Wohlleben…
The book is a charming collection of thoughts and musings on animal behaviour. Over a series of 50 short chapters Peter explores the inner mind of animals. He tackles ideas on emotions animals feel – pain and loss – how intelligent species can be and what our relationship is with them,
He approaches our connection to nature in a pragmatic way acknowledging the use of some animals for food and others as being unsuitable. He questions certain assumptions and challenges anthropomorphism; he shows that animals have feelings and intellects as equally complex as humans, but that it would be foolish to use our own experiences to judge theirs and in doing so believe that we can understand their motivation. In fact if there is one single cohesive message in the book it is the analysis of the interplay between instinct and choice – I’m unsure Peter actually reaches a conclusion on this, which is supreme.
The book is easy to read. The perfect size for picking up and dipping into but with enough charm and joy to keep you turning the pages for hour after hour if desired. What made the book enjoyable for me was the setting. Peter is a land owner and forester in Germany and so the wildlife he includes is more diverse than our own. In effect, the range of animals he relates to comprise those that would once have been present in Great Britain. The species mix is familiar enough not to be jarring and exotic enough to be enticing.
Some people may wish for a more scientific analysis of the mind of animals. Peter does evidence his work with some studies, but most points come from anecdotes and personal experiences. This does not devalue his work at all, he is a knowledgeable and engaging guide to the wild and only a fool would not listen to someone with such experience; there are plenty of books out there with neurological diagrams and statistically tested conclusions but none of them will be written with the charm that Peter provides.
About the Author (book review): Mark is an amateur ecologist who trained at the University of Aberystwyth. Mark runs a website (link HERE), where he publishes his varied research interests. He has been a regional representative for the BTO for the past 8 years and has consulted with Warwickshire County Council and other local wildlife bodies on several conservation projects. Aside from the camera trapping Mark manages a small patch of land and has been recording wildlife on the same patch of the river Avon for 15 years. Mark blogs on all matters wild. Link to his blog is HERE. Mark can be contacted via admin (at)wildwarwickshire.co.uk.