Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals [NOOK Book]


For centuries we believed that humans were the only ones that mattered. The idea that animals had feelings was either dismissed or considered heresy. Today, that's all changing. New scientific studies of animal behavior reveal perceptions, intelligences, awareness and social skills that would have been deemed fantasy a generation ago. The implications make our troubled relationship to animals one of the most pressing moral issues of our time.

Jonathan Balcombe, animal ...

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Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals

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For centuries we believed that humans were the only ones that mattered. The idea that animals had feelings was either dismissed or considered heresy. Today, that's all changing. New scientific studies of animal behavior reveal perceptions, intelligences, awareness and social skills that would have been deemed fantasy a generation ago. The implications make our troubled relationship to animals one of the most pressing moral issues of our time.

Jonathan Balcombe, animal behaviorist and author of the critically acclaimed Pleasurable Kingdom, draws on the latest research, observational studies and personal anecdotes to reveal the full gamut of animal experience--from emotions, to problem solving, to moral judgment. Balcombe challenges the widely held idea that nature is red in tooth and claw, highlighting animal traits we have disregarded until now: their nuanced understanding of social dynamics, their consideration for others, and their strong tendency to avoid violent conflict. Did you know that dogs recognize unfairness and that rats practice random acts of kindness? Did you know that chimpanzees can trounce humans in short-term memory games? Or that fishes distinguish good guys from cheaters, and that birds are susceptible to mood swings such as depression and optimism?

With vivid stories and entertaining anecdotes, Balcombe gives the human pedestal a strong shake while opening the door into the inner lives of the animals themselves.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Who knew that chickens and humans find the same faces beautiful? Or that fish choose reliable partners for “dangerous predator inspection missions?” Referencing such intriguing studies, Balcombe (Pleasurable Kingdom) builds a compelling case for blurring the line between animal and human perception, thereby questioning the prevailing scientific orthodoxy that humans alone possess the ability to reason. Over the years, studies have shown that animals have intelligence (dolphins have been known to teach themselves to delay gratification to get extra treats), emotions (like humans, baboon mothers show elevated levels of glucocorticoids after losing an infant), cunning (gorillas divert the attention of rivals from food, often by grooming); that they can communicate (nuthatches can translate chickadee chirps), can be altruistic (chimps who know how to unlatch a door help those who can't). Yet philosophers have routinely dismissed animals as unthinking, unfeeling beasts—Descartes grouped non-human animals with “machines,” a line of logic that has been used to justify callous treatment of laboratory animals. Balcombe's brief, marred only slightly by sermonizing, builds to a passionate and persuasive argument for vegetarianism on both humanitarian and environmental grounds. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
"The book offers readers much to think about in terms of moving away from the usually human-centered view of life... Recommended." —CHOICE

“Graceful prose makes this an excellent introduction to the examination of animal minds.”—Booklist

“In this engaging book, Balcombe marshals wide-ranging and up-to-date evidence to demonstrate that animals do indeed experience the world as richly as us and may well feel and suffer more intensely than we do.”—New Scientist

"Balcombe builds a compelling case for blurring the line between animal and human perception...a passionate and persuasive argument for vegetarianism on both humanitarian and environmental grounds."—Publishers Weekly


 "In this trailblazing book, Dr. Balcombe draws on new research, observational studies, and personal anecdotes to reveal the full spectrum of animal experience. Balcombe paints a new picture of the inner lives of animals that diverges from the struggle-or-perish image often presented in the popular media. He challenges traditional views of animals and spells out why the human-animal relationship needs a complete overhaul." — Ellie Brecher, Crazy for Critters, blog of the Miami Herald 

“Every year about 10 people are killed by sharks, and each death is lavishly reported on bulletins and front pages. And, every year, up to 73 million sharks are slaughtered by humans, but hardly anyone notices – apart from the sharks, of course.

This isn't the only uncomfortable statistic in Jonathan Balcombe's Second Nature. Fifty billion land animals are killed each year to provide us with food, and probably the same number of fish; 100 million mice, rats, rabbits, monkeys, cats, dogs and birds are used and destroyed annually in American laboratories; 50 million animals are killed for fur. Against these unimaginably vast numbers, pleads Balcombe, we have to remember one simple fact: each of these animals was a sentient being. Balcombe's previous book, Pleasurable Kingdoms, described how animals enjoy themselves, from masturbating monkeys to pigs lounging in the sun. Drawing on a similarly wide range of examples, Second Nature describes how animals experience the world as sensitively and intensely as humans, if not more so.

We like to think of ourselves as perceptive but, compared to many animals, we are actually rather insensitive brutes, pretty much blind, nearly deaf, divorced from our environments. In all sorts of different species, Balcombe finds strong evidence for compassion, cooperation, altruism, empathy, intelligence and communication. Australian researchers, for instance, discovered that chickens have at least 30 different calls, alerting one another to the appearance of unexpected food or prowling hawks, while prairie dogs have at least 100 "words" describing predators, including different terms for humans with and without guns.

Among his wide range of anecdotes and examples, I particularly liked the sound of Kelly, a dolphin living in the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi. There, the dolphins have been trained to clean up their own pools, by being offered treats in exchange for bringing litter to the surface and handing it over. Kelly has found her own way to trick the system: when a piece of paper falls into her pool, she sneaks it to the bottom and tucks it under a rock. When she sees a human trainer, she tears off a scrap, takes it to the surface and gets a snack in exchange, leaving the rest of the paper for next time.

Balcombe devotes a couple of chapters to dismissing the myth that nature is a cruel and bloody place where violence lurks at every corner. Most of the time, he says, animals lead peaceful, calm and enjoyable lives. The most violent creature on the planet is, of course, us. We are "moral toddlers", he says, and, like any ordinary two-year-old, we blithely wander around our environment, chomping and stomping and shoving and breaking things without much thought for anyone else.

Balcombe tells us that he's been a vegan for more than 30 years – and, unsurprisingly, he recommends that his readers become vegetarians – but there's a more radical message at the heart of his book. In order to heal ourselves, he suggests, we have to reform our relationships with animals; we will ‘live in better, more caring societies when we treat all feeling individuals with compassion and respect’…It is fascinating, well-written and consistently thought-provoking, and deserves a wide readership.”—The Guardian


“Jonathan Balcombe is a rare being, a scientist who has escaped the narrow orthodoxies of institutional science, an intelligent human being who is more than ready to recognize intelligences of other kinds, an intuitive and empathetic observer who nevertheless does not abandon the highest standards of intellectual inquiry.”— from the foreword by J. M. Coetzee, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and author of Disgrace

“If you care at all about animals, this book is a must-read. Balcombe’s previous book has already become a classic, and this one will astonish and fascinate you, and will leave you a wiser and more compassionate person. I wish I could have read this book twenty years ago. It would have changed my life. Maybe it will change yours.”—Jeffrey Masson, co-author of When Elephants Weep


“Alive with gems, both blunt and persuasive, Second Nature will topple any illusion that we humans are the king of the species hill. … Dr. Balcombe’s well-researched book  makes the case that we are all important players in the great orchestra of  life and that when humans stop looking down on all the other musicians just  because their instrument isn’t the same one we play, the result will  be sweet music indeed.” – Ingrid Newkirk, President and Founder, PETA

Second Nature's rich treatment of animal awareness, cognition, emotion, and perception, and virtue provides the foundation for Balcombe's powerful core argument — that we humans can do better, that we must do better, by the other inhabitants of Planet Earth.”—Wayne Pacelle, CEO, The Humane Society of the United States

“Although my entire career is devoted to advancing animal welfare, I learned much from this book I had not known and even more importantly, was sufficiently touched to thoroughly invigorate and reinforce my commitment to working for animals.”—Bernard Rollin, Professor of Animal Science, Colorado State University

“The book was so interesting and accessible that I almost felt guilty reading it at work. Dr. Balcombe provides entertaining anecdotes and objective research results that reveal the magnificent sentience of so many species that we often think of as operating on survival autopilot…I highly recommend this book.”—Population Connection

“This is a book with a five star theme and important message.”—Brian Clegg, author of The God Effect and Infinity

Second Nature goes well beyond Pleasurable Kingdom in giving us an understanding of the complex ways in which animals perceive and react with other animals and the environment…If you are interested in natural history and animal consciousness issues, this book is a must-read.”—Peter Spendelow, Northwest Veg President


Praise for Pleasurable Kingdom:


Brisk, erudite and enormously entertaining — an excellent, approachable introduction to the basic issues in animal behaviour.

—Publishers Weekly

Entertaining examples of animal bliss — from drunken parrots to the caresses of fiddler crabs — bring a pleasure all their own.

—Psychology Today

This well-reasoned, engaging book argues that critters share our capacities for humor, empathy and aesthetic pleasure.

—People Magazine

This entertaining and thought-provoking book is recommended for popular science collections.

—Library Journal

Fascinating and often moving, this book emphasizes that animals — like us — truly have personalities, minds and emotions.

—Jane Goodall, Founder, the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace

Superb — has set an agenda for future research. This book will change how we interact with other animal beings.

—Marc Bekoff in Trends in Ecology & Evolution

A well-argued thesis. —Scientific American

… lively, shrewd, well-argued … an admirable contribution.

—Mary Midgley, in Times Higher Education Supplement

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780230109261
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 3/16/2010
  • Series: MacSci
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,360,655
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D., is a former animal behavior research scientist for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and currently a consultant based in Washington, D.C. He is the author of Pleasurable Kingdom.

Jonathan Balcombe is Animal Behaviour Research Consultant for the Washington DC-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and the author of The Use of Animals in Higher Education: Problems, Alternatives and Recommendations. He lives in Washington DC.
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Table of Contents



Tuning In (Animal Sensitivity)

With Feeling (Emotions)

Knowing it (Awareness)


Conveying it (Communication)

Getting Along (Sociability)

Doing Good (Virtue)


Rethinking Wild Existence

Homo Fallible

The New Humanity

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