When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals

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With chapters on love, joy, anger, fear, shame, compassion, and loneliness, all framed by a provocative reevaluation of how we treat animals, When Elephants Weep is the first book since Darwin's time to explore the full range of emotions throughout the animal kingdom, and it features a cast of hundreds. Meet Siri the Indian elephant, whose expressive sketches have been praised by artists Willem and Elaine de Kooning. Meet Koko, a bashful gorilla proficient in sign language who loves to play house with dolls - but...
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With chapters on love, joy, anger, fear, shame, compassion, and loneliness, all framed by a provocative reevaluation of how we treat animals, When Elephants Weep is the first book since Darwin's time to explore the full range of emotions throughout the animal kingdom, and it features a cast of hundreds. Meet Siri the Indian elephant, whose expressive sketches have been praised by artists Willem and Elaine de Kooning. Meet Koko, a bashful gorilla proficient in sign language who loves to play house with dolls - but only when no one is looking - and Michael, another signing gorilla, who cannot be disturbed whenever Pavarotti sings on television. Then there's Moja, the joyful mongoose who waltzes with squirrels; Toto, the steadfast chimpanzee who literally nursed his malaria-stricken human observer back to health; and Alex, an African grey parrot with an astonishing vocabulary, who, when left at the veterinarian's office, shrieked, "Come here! I love you. I'm sorry. I want to go back." By contrast, you'll also meet scores of biologists, ethologists, and animal behaviorists whose anecdote-rich field notes and studies paint compelling portraits of their subjects' rich emotional lives, yet whose conclusions frequently appear as fancy footwork around the obvious. When Elephants Weep also draws upon the illuminating experiences of animal trainers - from Sea World and the Ringling Bros. circus to Guide Dogs for the Blind - and is sprinkled with insights from pet owners, literature, myth, and fable to create a riveting and revolutionary portrayal of animals' lives that will permanently change and enrich the way you look at animals.

From dancing squirrels to bashful gorillas to spiteful killer whales, this groundbreaking book forms a complete and compelling picture of the inner lives of animals. BOMC, QPBC, Rodale's Nature Book Society, and National Wildlife Federation Book Club Selections.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
An examination of the inner lives of animals, arguing that they possess an emotional sensibility not unlike that of humans. June
School Library Journal
YA-Animals do in fact lead emotional lives, according to Masson. He has managed to find hundreds of anecdotes from the published works and field studies of such noted behaviorists as Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Cynthia Moss that support his theory. It seems that, despite the fact that anthropomorphism is among the worst of scientific taboos, these respected scientists cannot help but notice the similarities between human and animal behavior. Chapters are organized by topic, such as fear, love, grief, and even compassion and beauty. An index provides access by species and by personal name of both people and animals. An excellent resource in psychology, this title will also be a useful addition for animal research. Its clear and conversational style makes it interesting for general readers as well. A well-documented, compelling, and thought-provoking defense of animal emotions.-Robin Deffendall, Prince William Public Library System, Manassas, VA
Ray Olson
In his new book, erstwhile Freudian scholar and psychoanalyst Masson gathers, with the help of McCarthy, the evidence to date for the existence of emotions and, hence, something approaching human consciousness in animals. The various researchers' observations on the feelingful behaviors of dolphins, apes, bears, lions, elephants, and other well-studied creatures that Masson and McCarthy recount will not be news to those who keep even desultorily abreast of ethology--something that, given the plethora of naturalist TV programs, books, and reportage, isn't hard to do. Masson and McCarthy do a commendable job of synthesizing the material they tackle, however, making it efficiently readable. Finally, Masson succinctly and without any radical breast-beating makes, arguably as well as anyone ever has, the moral case for ceasing the exploitation and slaughter of animals.
From the Publisher
"Fascinating...Compassionate...A book to be read more than once...A kind of nature lover's rendezvous with reality."
Philadelphia Inquirer

"In this impassioned volume [Masson and McCarthy] argue their case with intriguing examples culled from scientific literature...In addition to offering a fascinating array of animals, it convincingly argues that their emotional life is an area worthy of scientific exploration."

From Barnes & Noble
You've heard of howler monkeys and whooping cranes, but chimpanzees that say "sorry" when they misbehave? Dolphins that invent their own games? With chapters on love, joy, anger, fear, shame, compassion, and loneliness, this is the first book to explore the full range of emotions in the animal kingdom. And with a cast of hundreds, you'll get a chance to meet Toto, the chimpanzee who nursed his malaria-stricken human observer back to health; and Michael, the singing gorilla who cannot be disturbed when Pavarotti sings on television. If this doesn't permanently change and enrich the way you look at animals, well, watch out for the parrot that holds grudges!
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781568952673
  • Publisher: Cengage Gale
  • Publication date: 1/1/1999
  • Series: Large Print Bks.
  • Pages: 350

Meet the Author

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
A Sigmund Freud scholar knocked from his perch at the Freudian Archives and the subject of a famous New Yorker profile -- and the driver of subsequent libel litigation -- Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson found a second career in the publishing world when he decided to set aside his beefs with the psychological community and just talk to the animals.


Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s career falls not-so-neatly into two rather distinct phases. In his early days, as a Freudian scholar and disenchanted psychoanalyst, he was an author-combatant (he uses the term “maverick” on his Web site), challenging perceived thinking on Sigmund Freud and therapy itself.

He rankled sensibilities, attracted often-harsh criticism and lost his post as guardian of the Freud Archives. He even became embroiled in one of the most notorious libel battles of recent times, alleging that writer Janet Malcolm made up quotes in her highly unflattering two-part profile of him in the New Yorker in 1983.

In the second -- and more commercially successful -- phase, Masson has instead focused his psychological insights on a community that cannot talk back: the animal kingdom. Beginning with When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Life of Animals in 1995, Masson has put dogs, cats, mongooses, etc., on the couch, explaining that they, just like their more litigious bipedal cousins, have feelings.

"A masterpiece,” said Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of a similar classic, The Hidden Life of Dogs, “the most comprehensive and compelling argument for animal sensibility that I've yet seen."

Even amid the controversy of the early part of his career, Masson garnered positive reviews for his translations of Sigmund Freud’s letters and his passionate critiques of psychotherapy. (To be sure, he garnered less glowing ones as well.) A former Sanskrit scholar, Masson was placed in the care of the famous doctor’s archives. But when his research in those same archives turned up correspondence that he said discredited Freudian’s theories about sexual abuse among children, he made those findings public. He lost his position and faced the wrath of Freud’s defenders.

In the Nation, though, he found support. Reviewing Masson’s book on the discovery, the newspaper wrote: “Those who bother to read The Assault on Truth will probably be surprised to discover that the book is a lavishly documented, carefully reasoned work, written in a straightforward, readable style, with only occasional polemical flourishes. The passion of the book is that of a scholar trying to solve a puzzle; only now and then does the voice break to reveal the bewildered outrage and pain of the recently excommunicated disciple.”

His translation of the letters in question drew praise from The New York Times: "The publication of The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess represents an important moment of truth... The general public can now evaluate at first hand the evidence bearing on the various controversial issues raised by the letters... Of more lasting importance, however, is the insight this new edition provides into the creative process at work in the formation of a fundamentally important scientific theory."

His 1988 attack on therapy itself, Against Therapy: Emotional Tyranny and the Myth of Psychological Healing was dismissed by many as a screed, but Time pointed out that screeds can sometimes also be wake-up calls: “Masson raises some intriguing points, even if he insists on doing so at the top of his voice. Psychotherapy is a big and largely unchallenged business in the U.S.; many of its practitioners wield considerable influence over personal lives and public policy. Once in a while, it does no harm to listen to an alarmist hollering that some of those shrinks have no clothes.”

Not until Masson turned to the psychological study of animals did he draw the widespread attention of the public at large. When Elephants Weep, written with Susan McCarthy, may have had critics pointing out that his evidence was largely anecdotal – the title, in fact, comes from a story of a circus elephant that collapsed in tears when it couldn’t learn a new routine – but an animal-loving public ate it up. Elephants has been translated into more than 20 languages and has sold more than a half a million copies in the United States alone.

That set the stage for a hugely popular follow-up Dogs Never Lie About Love: Reflections on the Emotional Lives of Dogs. A bestseller, it won praise from the Los Angeles Times for its risk-taking and uncompromising puppy love. “The strengths that this Sanskrit scholar,” she wrote, “brings to his subject are intelligence, originality and a refreshing willingness to go out on a good number of scientifically unsupported limbs in his enthusiasm for canines.”

Now for the felines. The Nine Emotional Live of Cats: A Journey into the Feline Heart, released in the fall of 2002, again won praise from Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, who penned her own ode to the cat, The Tribe of Tiger: Cats and Their Culture. "An affectionate, completely engaging book full of new insights into the emotional lives of cats,” she said. “Of course, all cats are interesting, but Masson’s five felines seem particularly so – and you don’t need to be a cat lover to enjoy them via these pages."

Masson’s turn to the wild kingdom has brought him financial success certainly, but he says the rewards run even deeper than that. As he told Newsday in 1997, “I learned more about emotions from dogs than I did from my psychoanalysis. I think dogs make better therapists than Freudian analysts… and they don’t cost as much, either.”

Good To Know

Masson legally changed his middle name from Lloyd to Moussaieff in 1975.

In June 1980, when he was interviewing with Sigmund Freud’s 84-year-old daughter Anna for the position to head the Freud Archives, he walked her pet Chow in the back yard.

Masson's long-term goal is to help his wife, Leila, set up a camp for children with chronic illnesses where they can learn alternative methods to diminish pain.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Jeffrey Lloyd Masson (birth name, legally changed in 1975)
    2. Hometown:
      Auckland, New Zealand
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 28, 1941
    2. Place of Birth:
      Chicago, Illinois
    1. Education:
      B.A., Harvard, 1964; Toronto Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1978, Ph.D. in Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Harvard, 1970

Read an Excerpt

But there are signs of significant change. Recently Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, a scientist at the Yerkes Primate Center in Atlanta, Georgia, wrote in the preface to her book Ape Language:

It is possible, if one looks beyond the slightly differently shaped face, to read the emotions of apes as easily and as accurately as one reads the emotions and feelings of other human beings. There are few feelings that apes do not share with us, except perhaps self-hatred. They certainly experience and express exuberance, joy, guilt, remorse, disdain, disbelief, awe, sadness, wonder, tenderness, loyalty, anger, distrust, and love. Someday, perhaps, we will be able to demonstrate the existence of such emotions at a neurological level. Until then, only those who live and interact with apes as closely as they do with members of their own species will be able to understand the immense depth of the behavioral similarities between ape and man.

Knowing what we feel is one way to judge whether an animal feels something similar, but may not be the only, or even the best way. Are animals' similarities or differences from humans the only, or even the most important, issue? Surely we can train ourselves to an empathic imaginative sympathy for another species. Taught what to look for in facial features, gestures, postures, behavior, we could learn to be more open and more sensitive. We need to exercise our imaginative faculties, stretch them beyond where they have already taken us, and observe things we have never been able to see before. We need not be limited by ourselves as the reference point, by what has already been written, by the existing consensus amongscientists. What do we have to lose in taking the imaginative leap to broaden our sympathies and our horizons? I decided to explore what had been written about animals in scientific studies to see whether they contained buried information about their emotions, even if they did not contain explicit discussions of such matters. As yet no prominent scientist has undertaken a sustained treatment of animal emotions. It is to be hoped, for the sake of animals as well as humans, that scientists will be persuaded to look more seriously at the feelings of the animals who share the world with us.

In this book I try to show that animals of all kinds lead complex emotional lives. Although many scientists have believed that the animals they observed had emotions, few have written about it. This is why my co-author and I have sifted a large body of scientific literature, looking for the unacknowledged evidence. I have drawn on a long list of expert witnesses, in particular scientists who have studied wild animals in the field. I have kept largely to work by recognized scientists, so that even skeptics will see that evidence comes from a wide range of careful studies of animals in different environments.

These field studies show what most laypeople have always believed: that animals love and suffer, cry and laugh; their hearts rise up in anticipation and fall in despair. They are lonely, in love, disappointed, or curious; they look back with nostalgia and anticipate future happiness. They feel.

No one who has lived with an animal would deny this. But many scientists do just that, which is why I have tried to address their worries in more detail than might be necessary for the ordinary person. "It's obvious," says the pet owner; "It's an enormous claim," says the scientist. This book attempts to bridge the gap between the knowledge of the person who has always observed animals without prejudice, and the scientific mind that does not want to venture into such emotional territory.

Many scientists have avoided thinking about the feelings of animals because they have been frightened--and realistically so--of being accused of anthropomorphism. That is why I have looked carefully at the issue of anthropomorphism. If it can be disposed of as a false criticism, then the study of animal emotions can proceed on a scientific basis, freed from a bogus fear.

I have also tried to look objectively at the arguments of evolutionary biology and ask, when do they help explain the real emotional lives that animals display and when are they used to dismiss that reality?

As you read you may be surprised by the unexpected emotional behavior of some animals: an elephant who keeps a pet mouse; a chimpanzee awaiting the return of her dead baby; a bear lost in rapture as it watches the sunset; ice-skating buffalo; a parrot who means what he says; a dolphin inventing her own games--and through it all, scientists who refuse to acknowledge what will probably seem obvious to you.

In the conclusion I will discuss some of the moral choices that flow from an accurate understanding of animal emotions. We will have seen that animals feel anger, fear, love, joy, shame, compassion, and loneliness to a degree that you will not find outside the pages of fiction or fable. Perhaps this will affect not only the way you think about animals, but how you treat them. The clearer it became to me that animals have deep feelings, the more outraged I grew at the thought of any kind of animal experimentation. Can we justify these experiments when we know what animals feel as they undergo these tortures? Is it possible to go on eating animals when we know how they suffer? We are horrified when we read, even in fiction, of people who kill other people in order to sell parts of their bodies. But every day elephants are slaughtered for their tusks, rhinos for their horns, gorillas for their hands. My hope is that as it begins to dawn on people what feeling creatures these animals are, it will be increasingly difficult to justify these cruel acts.

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
Half Moon Bay, April 1995
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