Peter Wohlleben’s The Inner Life of Animals is a book that delves into the examination of animal behavior and emotions. The author’s foray into the topic is simple – that if animals and humans are related on an evolutionary tree – then animals must also experience sadness, anger, grief, infidelity, happiness and greed. And just like humans, Peter believes that animals are individuals and therefore uniquely different.
The tone of the book is set in the introduction. Peter’s aim is to write in a manner that is simple to understand, free from scientific jargon so that the book is accessible to as wide an audience as possible.
To substantiate his claims, Peter refers to scientific research such as those emerging from Penn State University on pain receptors in fish and research from the University of Seville into fish brain to name a few. Ultimately though, he draws much heavily from his own observations of animal behavior from his years of working as a forester in Hümmel, Germany where he lives on a farm surrounded by dogs, goats and horses.
He talks about wild boar that have learnt to outsmart annual human hunters, to foxes playing dead to catch crows to Eurasian jays stealing food from other birds and squirrels eating baby birds in winter. His love for all living things knows no bounds as he even manages to make the life of a forest tick and the humble slime mould more palatable.
In many ways, the author manages to achieve his goal of writing a book for the masses. The chapters are short (some are only two pages long) and the book is very easy to read. Peter’s continued use of open ended questions invites the reader to continue shifting through the pages. He leaves enough breadcrumbs to make people stop and think back to their own interaction with animals (both domestic and wild) without forcing his ideas. In trying to explain the uniqueness of each animal, Peter also manages to inject each of his subjects with a healthy dose of personality.
Yet herein lies the problem with this book. Although some chapters are short, his examinations into each topic often comes across as vague. This has led to his book being criticised by some readers for anthropomorphising animals. I think that a deeper and more rigorous examination of the science would have helped alleviate some of this. In fact, I think that the different types of science should have been the basis of the book with his own observations being used to validate the research. Regardless, I think the book is a fine addition to any bookshelf and is a great compendium piece to his other book, the Hidden Life of Trees.