Books, Books, Books

Well, I had wanted to write about a book one of you asked about: The Wolf in the Parlor, but life seems to have its own schedule and I have only just started it. It is one of the gazillion books I am sent by publishers to review and I have to admit I have a hard time keeping up. (But I’d miss them if they didn’t come! It’s one of those high quality problems.) The book is by Pulitzer prize winning science writer Jon Franklin and has received rave reviews from the kind of places that authors dream of (Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist etc.)

As I said, I’ve just started it, but I can tell you that the book’s main thesis is that people and dogs, around 12,000 years ago, linked their evolutionary paths together and evolved socially and physically to take on supportive roles. He argues, according to the reviews, that humans lost some of our brain power because dogs took over those functions, and dogs lost some of theirs because we became their protectors and nurturers. It sounds interesting, although admittedly, a bit far-fetched to me (what of all those cultures in which dogs are considered pests?  what about all the others things that happened around 12,000 years ago, like the domestication of plants?), but I will finish it this weekend with interest. I’m all in favor of speculation; even if it turns out to be dead wrong, it causes us to do a lot of thinking.

I have to admit, with apologies to the author, that I was originally put off when he begins by explaining that most of his life he thought dogs were of little interest. Along with his hypothesis of why dogs and humans are so closely linked together, the book includes his personal journal from the land of dog-neutral to the world of dog lover.  Although I suspect I will appreciate his journey, it struck me a bit at first as yet another “I didn’t understand and now I do and so you should too” books that plop themselves in book store windows on a daily basis. How many thousands of books are written by people who start out depressed or totally disorganized or not caring about animals, and then have an epiphany and want to tell us all about it and how now they get it and we should too.

Oh dear, I sound so cynical. My apologies. Perhaps I’m just a tad tuckered, having gotten home late at night after speaking at the Humane Animal Welfare Society in Waukesha WI about cat behavior. Don’t get me wrong, I had a ball, it is SO fun to talk about cats and their behavior with other cat lovers, but it’s a long drive and I didn’t get home til after 11 pm. This from the girl who likes to be in bed by 9:30!)

On the up side, even in the early pages, Jon writes beautifully about how a standard poodle named Charlie wormed his way into his heart and mind, and integrates the personal part of his world with his life as a science writer. He mentions that science writers are, in a way, like old time naturalists, in that they know a little bit about all aspects of science: a rare occurrence now in the age of specialization. It will be interesting to see how his personal relationship with a dog and his intellectual knowledge as a science writer blend together into speculation about the origins of our relationship and our eventual evolution.

The other book that’s getting a lot of media attention right now is Alexandra Horowitz’s book, Inside of a Dog. That’s sitting on my desk, and it would be wagging it’s tail for attention if it could. I’ll pick that one up next!

What about you? Have you read either of these? What books have you picked up recently that you found especially interesting?  Send them in, and then I can have an even bigger pile of books to read beside the couch!

Meanwhile, back at the farm: All is well, at least it will be if I ever get out of the office and outside. There are weeds that need pulling, windows that need washing, sheep that need worming, vegetables that need cooking, apples that need collecting, and most importantly, dogs that need a lot more attention than they’ve gotten this week. I have one more thing I HAVE to do today (ignoring the endless lists of SHOULDS) and then I’m out of here. Oh boy, Willie and Lassie, here I come!

And here’s a little fall color, I’ll be wallowing in it soon!


  1. Dena Norton says

    As usual, Trisha, your end photo is beautiful. I am currently re-reading a few of my favorite puppy-raising books. I’m sure you’re already familiar with all of them, especially since you wrote two of them! The others are Ian Dunbar’s “Before & After Getting Your Puppy” and Bobbie Anderson and Tracy Libby’s “Building Blocks for Performance”.

  2. says

    I just finished recording an author podcast with Jon Franklin that should be posted in the next few weeks at under “The Next Best Thing” page. I also did a brief review of the book in an animal roundup for BookPage. He was even more fascinating than the book, which dipped in and out of topics and wandered a bit (since my mind tends to do this lately, it is overkill for my reading to do this, too LOL). He is smart, excellent company and had thoughtful answers to every question thrown at him. After the hour was over, I forgave Jon for being late to the dog-loving party, though it was hard for me as well :)

  3. Crystal says

    I just finished Karen Pryor’s “Reaching the Animal Mind.” Yes, I was a little late to the party, but it was excellent. Highly recommended.

  4. says

    I recently read The Other End of the Leash and For the Love of a Dog, and they were awesome, thrilling books but – you know about those!

    Before that I read Beckoff and Pierce’s Wild Justice, and I thought it was pretty good. Mind you, I am a complete layman so I can’t approve or condemn the science of it from a position of authority. All I can test it for is internal consistency, whether it cheats on its own terms. I didn’t detect any self-evident fakery.

    I haven’t read all of either the Franklin or Horowitz’s books. I have done the start-n-dip on both in the bookstore cafe, and on that basis I’ll buy Horowitz as soon as I print my coupon and give Franklin, for the time being, a pass. This is substantially based on author tone, but since you’re just starting them yourself I don’t want to go on at length about why I find what I’ve read of Franklin’s book annoying in ways I don’t find your books, or Coren’s or Horowitz annoying, even though you all write from a personal perspective with a lot of autobiographical anecdote leavening the science. But, man, Franklin’s book annoys the crap out of me in a way the rest of you don’t.

  5. Pat Bee says

    “Reaching the Animal Mind” has its own web page with some great stuff you can sample prior to reading the book:

    Also, the NY Times Book Review did an informative review on “Inside of a Dog” by Alexandra Horowitz:

    I am assuming the title is a play on the words of Groucho Marx: “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

    From the review I learned something I have suspected for years about dogs’ hearing. When at the dog park, if my three get separated from me they usually run to the gate to look for me. If I can see them from a distance, I call them. For years when I do this I see them looking all around as if they don’t know from where the sound of my voice is coming. I have to keep calling and making a wide arm gesture I use for such occasions until they finally spot me. Knowing how acute a dog’s hearing is, this behavior has always baffled me, and I’ve even mentioned it to other dog owners who would tease me about how stupid my dogs must be. Thanks to the book review I learned that “dogs

  6. Ignacio says

    One that I’ve recently read and really enjoyed was “How to Speak Dog: Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication” by Stanley Coren. Another long time classic for me is “Never cry wolf”, by Farley Mowat.

    I’m really curious what’s your take on these two (especially the second one), if you happened to have read them.

  7. Sharon says

    Not a dog book, but if you feel like a change of pace, I’m reading Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything” and it is a fascinating, mind-expanding read. I was a science major and I had never heard much of this! He has a marvelous way of explaining things so that they are clear, and so that one appreciates science in a whole new way – probably because he wasn’t a science major.
    I’m taking notes for what other books to read!

  8. Christina says

    This sounds like a very interesting book – I cannot wait to pick it up and give it a read. Thank you for your book reviews!

  9. lin says

    Finished “Homer’s Odyssesy” by Gwen Cooper. Nothing ground-breaking, either literarily or scientifically, but a loving, well-written cat story (and there aren’t enough of them out there.) Cooper’s love for her cats shines through, and Homer is definitely an amazing creature. And no cats die!

  10. Debra says

    For a fun fiction read “Promise of the Wolves” by Dorthy Hearst. It just came out in paperback and my husband (knowing my taste!) brought it home for me to read. It has a similiar premise (beginning of the relationship between humans and wolves) but nothing scientific just nice heart.

  11. Amy says

    I’m re-reading “Don’t Shoot the Dog” in hopes of becoming a better people trainer at work.

    I also enjoyed Temple Grandin’s “Animals Make Us Human – Creating the Best Life for Animals.” I believe you may have mentioned this book in one of blogs some time ago. I didn’t really find any new information in the section on dogs, but I certainly learned a lot about the other animals she discusses in the book.

    On a completely non-dog book review, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” was great fun to read. If only this version of Jane Austin’s classic had been on my required reading list in high school. :)

  12. Anne says

    I just read Alex and Me, by Irene Pepperberg- very interesting. I thought I knew something about Alex, but there was way more to his story and abilities.

    On a different topic, I was wondering if you all thought this was deductive reasoning by a dog. My Aussie pup Sprite loves to chase the sprinkler- we have one that goes around in a big circle, then turns and goes back the other way. I noticed she wasn’t just playfully chasing after it, but she lies in wait for the water, and when it comes by, she pounces at it. This was really entertaining, and I was watching her for a long time. I noticed she wasn’t lying in a random spot- she was lying right where the water always turned back. In her mind she was “herding” the water, and turning it back the other way.

    The amazing part, was when I moved it to a new spot in the yard, she took a look at it for a few seconds, and then ran and lay down in the spot where the water was turning back each time and proceded with her game.

  13. Carolyn says

    Please continue to blog about interesting recent reads. I have a stack piled high next to my bed that are just waiting to be read. The link between all the books is that you recommended them somewhere along the line. So just as you are buried under reading, I am happily as well. Thanks for the recommendations.

  14. JJ says

    I just ordered a bunch of the books, both dog and non-dog related, that are recommended by posters here. Thanks everyone!

  15. Lori says

    I just finished “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” and am still reeling from the experience.

    Hands down, some of the best fiction ever written about dogs.

    Not for the faint of heart, but I would love to hear from others who have read the book.

    Enjoyed all the reviews!

  16. Eileen Kasai says

    For anyone ‘concerned’ about breeding practices and the increased number of medical conditions amoung various breeds, please read “SOS Dog : The Purebred Dog Hobby Re-examined” by Johan and Edith Gallant. I believe this book, published last year, got little press here in the US, but it is filled with information concerning the transformation of various breeds over the decades due to breeding practices that often place ‘looks’ over health.

  17. Trisha says

    Ignacio: I read Never Cry Wolf a million years ago (so it seems) and long before I had much of a background to analyze it knowledgeably. I do remember loving it, and also remember talking years later to people who do know wolves who found many of the comments in the book far fetched, at best. But now you’ve inspired me to add it back to the pile!

    Thanks to everyone else for the great suggestion of other books. I think I’ve read all the pet-related ones except Homer’s Odyessy but love the refernces to fiction. I love both non-fiction and fiction equally, so it’s a joy to get your referrals. Apologies for not writing more specifically, but if I don’t wrap this up soon Lassie will be left home for too long without a chance to empty her bladder, and that’s no good for a dog who used to get chronic bladder infections! Boy do I love that I don’t have to explain or justify t his to you all!)

  18. Lori says

    Oh yes–Never Cry Wolf, by one of my favorite authors. That book was dissed a few years ago by claims that Mowat’s autobiographical account was more like “semi” autobiographical and the wolf behavior embellished for effect. But who cares! The guy can spin a yarn and write sentences that you will read over and over again just because they are so eloquent.

    And since I have a captive audience of dog-lovers here you must, must, must (one more for good measure) MUST read Farley Mowat’s The Dog Who Woudn’t Be. This is a charming coming-of-age story about Mowat and his childhood dog, Mutt. I know the theme is cliche, but it is knee-slapping hilarious and beautifully written. While I won’t spoil the ending (I’m sure you can guess), I will say that it is only a paragraph long and so poignant a tribute to a beloved companion that I can still remember the last paragraph word for word.

    If you love dogs and good writing, I highly recommend this book.

  19. Ignacio says

    Thanks for your feedback! That’s exactly why I asked about Never Cry Wolf. I’m no biologist but, as a scientist(ish), it seemed that some of the observations needed a larger data set before jumping to conclusions. Still, I love the book and Mowat’s intentions and, well, he might still be right for all I know!

    Fiction-wise, I also loved “The Art of Racing in the Rain”. It’s a pretty sad story but very interesting and well written.

  20. says

    I’m very excited by the prospect of this post! I actually do a monthly reading list on my science themed blog (Science Bear’s Cave), but at the shear rate in which I go through books my to-read list is quickly dwindling.

    Most of my current reading list involves things not related to my “Sirius Scientist” blog, which is about my life as a scientist (to-be) and how my German Shepherd has changed and helped me. My ALL TIME favorite dog book is a tie between the two you wrote, so I don’t think it would be helpful to explain them :)

    I recently hit a bit of a dry spot in my canine related reading, having happened upon several exceptionally BAD books in a row. I had heard

  21. Ginny in WI says

    I also recently read “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle”. I had been avoiding it because it was an Oprah book, so I figured it already had enough support. I kept hearing from people who had such strong reactions–both positive and negative–that I became more and more intrigued. Plus, the author is from Wisconsin and the story takes place here, so I finally got it from the library.

    Wow. I can’t remember when I was last so moved by a book. I think it was probably the first time I read “To Kill a Mockingbird”. This one is even more sad, yet just as life-affirming in the end. I wished that I had read it as part of a book group because I felt a really strong NEED to talk about it. I bought my own copy, and like “Mockingbird”, it will always have a place on my bookshelf. Even with all the books waiting to be read, I know there will come a day when I feel a need to read this book again.

    There are aspects of the Sawtelle dogs’ intellectual powers that you would likely have problems with as a scientist, and you may also have problems with some of the training. But taken as the work of fiction it is, I think you’ll find it an amazing piece of work that offers a haunting take on the human-canine bond. Haunting, yet life affirming, that’s the best way I can describe this book. As a dog lover (and trainer) who loves a good story, you have to read it!

    No, I don’t know the author and I don’t work for the publisher! 😉

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