Carl Safina is well-known for his research and work in seabird and ocean ecology and conservation. In his own words, “…what drives my work is a devotion to conservation. And what drives that devotion is my deep love and wonder for the living world.”
This deep love and wonder shines through in Safina’s latest book, Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel (2015). I knew of Safina (chiefly from Dan Barber’s book The Third Plate—read it!) but I had never read any of his books. After a student came into the yoga studio raving about all of the fascinating things in this book, I couldn’t resist. His praise was not without merit. It took me nearly two months to read this book, but that speaks more about my inability to properly manage my library requests than it does about the book; this book is an engrossing, entertaining, and informing read.
Safina’s writing is completely accessible to the average reader. He is a storyteller, which kept me entertained, rather than bored with technical language. The book is broken into three main sections (technically four, but the third one seemed a bit out of place—like the bridge in a pop song, and since it was fairly short I will leave it out of this review). Each of the three sections focuses on a particular animal: elephants, wolves, and killer whales, respectively. Safina sets out to answer a few questions: Are animals intelligent? Do animals feel emotions? Do animals have consciousness? (Hint: the answer is “yes”!) In endeavoring to answer these questions, Safina passionately shares his experiences with these three (and more) animals and the experts who study them. I was astounded at every turn by the facts and stories that Safina relayed; I constantly found myself wanting to tell anyone within shouting distance “Did you know…?” For instance: did you know 20 percent of the mammals on earth are bats? And that there are 1,200 different species of them? Astounding.
That is how I felt throughout this entire book. I was tickled by the playfulness and touched by the emotional displays of elephants. I was taken aback by the violence but awed by the social structure of wolves. And I was boggled by the sonar of dolphins and moved by their relationships with humans (did you know that killer whales are dolphins?)
Beyond Words certainly sparked in me a deeper appreciation for these animals, as well as a desire to continue learning about even more of the animals in our amazing world. I will definitely be reading more of Safina’s books; next on my Safina reading list is The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World…if only I can get through all the books the library has on hold for me first!
Have you read any of Safina’s work? What did you think? What’s a “Did you know…?” that stuck with you?