Three books just arrived in the mail and when I looked at the pile of books and papers on my desk that I still needed to read I almost tucked them away for a later day. I'm thrilled that I didn't. My eyes, however, are not so sure.
Behemoth: The History of the Elephant in America
The first to appear is called Behemoth: The History of the Elephant in America, by Montana State University Professor Ronald Tobias. This carefully researched, well written, and easy to read book contains countless facts and stories about the kaleidoscopic history, ranging from tragic to comic, of these magnificent beings -- how they have been worshipped, treasured, used and abused in numerous venues.
The first elephant to visit American shores arrived April 13, 1796 on a boat called America captained by one Jacob Crowninshield. The two-year old female was physically and emotionally traumatized and dazed -- she hadn't seen the sun for 120 days and had been violently separated from her mother. She toured the East Coast and apparently enjoyed drinking "all kinds of spirituous liquors." You'll also read about an elephant named Big Mary who was lynched in 1916 in Erwin, Tennessee for killing a man.
I can't say enough about this book and I heartily recommend it.
The second book that appeared has been very well received and has the catchy title Bleating Hearts: The Hidden World of Animal Suffering by animal activist Mark Hawthorne. This 625 page tome is one of the most, if not the most, detailed treatise on the use and abuse of nonhuman animals (animals) of which I am aware, and I am astounded by Mr. Hawthorne's breadth and depth of knowledge about countless topics. I guarantee your learning curve will be vertical and that you will sit back in amazement at the amount of information between the widely separated covers. The 103 pages of detailed notes also astounded me.
After Darwin: Animals, Emotions, and the Mind
The third book that really intrigued me is called After Darwin: Animals, Emotions, and the Mind, edited by the University of Exeter scholar Angelique Richardson. The essays in this volume were presented at a gathering Dr. Richardson organized in the 2009, to celebrate the publication of Charles Darwin's classic On the Origin of Species. I was at this meeting and I remember filling an entire notebook with notes from the wide-ranging and interdisciplinary talks. Darwin also had a lot to say about animal emotions and animal minds in subsequent publications including The Descent of Man and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.
The description of this book on the back cover is as good as it gets.
'What is emotion?' pondered the young Charles Darwin in his notebooks. How were the emotions to be placed in an evolutionary framework? And what light might they shed on human-animal continuities? These were among the questions Darwin explored in his research, assisted both by an acute sense of observation and an extraordinary capacity for fellow feeling, not only with humans but with all animal life. After Darwin: Animals, Emotions, and the Mind explores questions of mind, emotion and the moral sense which Darwin opened up through his research on the physical expression of emotions and the human-animal relation. It also examines the extent to which Darwin's ideas were taken up by Victorian writers and popular culture, from George Eliot to the Daily News. Bringing together scholars from biology, literature, history, psychology, psychiatry and paediatrics, the volume provides an invaluable reassessment of Darwin's contribution to a new understanding of the moral sense and emotional life, and considers the urgent scientific and ethical implications of his ideas today.
I hope that these books somehow find their way into your hands in the not too distant future. They are that good.
Note: Today I received another very interesting book called The Global Guide to Animal Protection edited by Andrew Linzey with a Foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.