“King’s Animals’ Best Friends is the most comprehensive exploration I’ve read of the complex relationship between the human and nonhuman, full of great insights and practical information.”—Jeff VanderMeer, New York Times Book Review, “By the Book”
Finalist for the 2021 Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature
As people come to understand more about animals’ inner lives—the intricacies of their thoughts and the emotions that are expressed every day by whales and cows, octopus and mice, even bees—we feel a growing compassion, a desire to better their lives. But how do we translate this compassion into helping other creatures, both those that are and are not our pets? Bringing together the latest science with heartfelt storytelling, Animals’ Best Friends reveals the opportunities we have in everyday life to help animals in our homes, in the wild, in zoos, and in science labs, as well as those considered to be food.
Barbara J. King, an expert on animal cognition and emotion, guides us on a journey both animal and deeply human. We meet cows living relaxed lives in an animal sanctuary—and cows with plastic portals in their sides at a university research station. We observe bison free-roaming at Yellowstone National Park and chimpanzees confined to zoos. We learn with King how to negotiate vegetarian preferences in omnivore restaurants. We experience the touch of a giant Pacific octopus tasting King’s skin with one of his long, neuron-rich arms. We reflect on animal testing as King shares her own experience as the survivor of a particularly nasty cancer. And in a moment all too familiar to many of us, we recover from a close encounter with two spiders in the home.
This is a book not of shaming and limitation, but of uplift and expansion. Throughout this journey, King makes no claims of personal perfection. Though an animal expert, she is just like the rest of us: on a journey still, learning each day how to be better, and do better, for animals. But as Animals’ Best Friends makes clear, challenging choices can bring deep rewards. By turning compassion into action on behalf of animals, we not only improve animals’ lives—we also immeasurably enrich our own.
After twenty-eight years of teaching anthropology at the College of William and Mary, Barbara J. King retired early to become a science writer and public speaker. The most recent of her seven books are Personalities on the Plate: The Lives and Minds of Animals We Eat and How Animals Grieve, both published by the University of Chicago Press. King’s work has been featured at Scientific American, Aeon, Undark, SAPIENS, NPR, the BBC, Times Literary Supplement, the World Science Festival, and the annual TED conference in Vancouver. Her TED talk on animal love and grief is available online at https://www.ted.com/speakers/barbara_j_king. She lives in Wicomico, VA.
Table of Contents
1. Cultivating Compassionate Action 2. Animals at Home 3. Animals in the Wild 4. Animals in the Zoo 5. Animals on Our Plates 6. Animals in Research Labs Epilogue