You are here

Book recommendation: The Wolf In the Parlor

Natural History? Philosophy? Neuroscience? Anthropology?.... this book is a neat amalgamation of all of these, and a very good read.

The Wolf In the Parlor
, by Jon Franklin, is (at least on the surface) about the co-evolution of dogs & humans... at a deeper level, it touches on some deep philosophical & ethical issues: the difference between humans & other animals is very small! The author is a journalist, a science writer, who became intrigued by the mystery of canine evolution (& consciousness) after being talked into getting a puppy, by his girlfriend; for the first time ever, he was sharing a home with a clearly sentient creature NOT a human being, and the philosophical implications were obviously an issue of enormous import.

What followed was a years-long project of research & thoughtful consideration, in which Franklin attempted to ascertain how, exactly, this canine wolf-cousin wound up being such a persistent fixture in the lives of us ape-cousins, all over the world... Surprisingly, the dog-- in all likelihood one of the first animals to live with humans full-time-- has been largely ignored by zooarchaeologists and anthropologists alike. Of necessity, faced with limited information going back further than 8,000 years (modern humans and their civilization 'took off' about 12,000 years ago), Franklin turned to studying the nature and the evolutionary history of the dog's most likely progenitor, the wolf. In the course of his research, he interviewed some heavy-hitters from the field of neuroscience; according to one renowned scientist in this field, the most surprising thing in her long career is how similar all the different species are, in terms of neuroanatomy...

Here's an excerpt from the book:
"Putatively objective, reasonable fact, applied to the behavior of the wolf in the light of modern science, revealed it to be a sophisticated social creature guided, in its relationships with its fellows by a set of emotions we humans have all ourselves felt to one degree or another. That this creature, which is not human, which in fact is the epitome of brutishness, can provide so many human parallels... well, that's uncomfortable. It challenges our secure perception of ourselves as unique.

True, in some ways we are unique. In our ability to do mathematics, for example. But in our hearts, in  our ability to feel emotions, the answer is clearly no. The circuitry of emotion, passed down and shaped by the forces of nature, is not subject to human patent or copyright. Other animals possess emotions, and tested their limits far before our own kind arrived on the scene. That we share emotions with the wolf does not exactly make the wolf human, or the human a wolf, but it does make us similar in some deeply important respects. To deny our similarity is simply to avoid the truth."

It's hard to summarize, but The Wolf in the Parlor is a very easy-to-read and thought provoking book; I came away with a renewed sense of awe, at the deep connection between humans and the other creatures that walk the earth.

(Caveat: This book does not endorse or recommend placing an actual wolf in your actual parlor. That's just the title!)  ;)

I  :)>>> non-fiction and the subject matter.  I'm so going to read this when I have $20.  Maybe in January or February.

0 likes

Thanks for the review!  This book sounds great.

0 likes

I came across this book on the 'new nonfiction' shelf at the library the same day I read about how Jonathan Safran Foer (awesome writer of 'Everything Is Illuminated' and 'Eating Animals') became a vegan/ animal rights activist after getting his first puppy, in adulthood (just like Franklin).  It's interesting how life-changing this experience appears to be, for both authors... like all of a sudden, the light bulb went on, & they said, hey guys, hang on a minute, these creatures are a hell of a lot like us!!! (duh, right?)

I haven't read 'Eating Animals' yet, but it's on my list... here's the link to the NPR story about Foer, if anyone would like to check it out: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=114298495. It's hard to read in spots, & that's the point: why are people disturbed by 'X' but not 'Y'-- why aren't people as bothered by the idea of eating cows & pigs as they would be by the idea of eating dogs & cats? Both are hideous ideas... and morally equivalent.

I think it's neat how living with a dog for the first time was such a catalyst for both of these guys...  Waiting for my local library to get a copy of Foer's book; will report back after reading it!

0 likes
Log in or register to post comments

More Posts Like This