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How to Be Animal: A New History of What It Means to Be Human

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A wide-ranging take on why humans have a troubled relationship with being an animal, and why we need a better one Human are the most inquisitive, emotional, imaginative, aggressive, and baffling animals on the planet. But we are also an animal that does not think it is an animal. How well do we really know ourselves? How to Be Animal tells a remarkable story of what it m A wide-ranging take on why humans have a troubled relationship with being an animal, and why we need a better one Human are the most inquisitive, emotional, imaginative, aggressive, and baffling animals on the planet. But we are also an animal that does not think it is an animal. How well do we really know ourselves? How to Be Animal tells a remarkable story of what it means to be human and argues that at the heart of our existence is a profound struggle with being animal. We possess a psychology that seeks separation between humanity and the rest of nature, and we have invented grand ideologies to magnify this. As well as piecing together the mystery of how this mindset evolved, Challenger's book examines the wide-reaching ways in which it affects our lives, from our politics to the way we distance ourselves from other species. We travel from the origin of homo sapiens through the agrarian and industrial revolutions, the age of the internet, and on to the futures of AI and human-machine interface. Challenger examines how technology influences our sense of our own animal nature and our relationship with other species with whom we share this fragile planet. That we are separated from our own animality is a delusion, according to Challenger. Blending nature writing, history, and moral philosophy, How to Be Animal is both a fascinating reappraisal of what it means to be human, and a robust defense of what it means to be an animal.


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A wide-ranging take on why humans have a troubled relationship with being an animal, and why we need a better one Human are the most inquisitive, emotional, imaginative, aggressive, and baffling animals on the planet. But we are also an animal that does not think it is an animal. How well do we really know ourselves? How to Be Animal tells a remarkable story of what it m A wide-ranging take on why humans have a troubled relationship with being an animal, and why we need a better one Human are the most inquisitive, emotional, imaginative, aggressive, and baffling animals on the planet. But we are also an animal that does not think it is an animal. How well do we really know ourselves? How to Be Animal tells a remarkable story of what it means to be human and argues that at the heart of our existence is a profound struggle with being animal. We possess a psychology that seeks separation between humanity and the rest of nature, and we have invented grand ideologies to magnify this. As well as piecing together the mystery of how this mindset evolved, Challenger's book examines the wide-reaching ways in which it affects our lives, from our politics to the way we distance ourselves from other species. We travel from the origin of homo sapiens through the agrarian and industrial revolutions, the age of the internet, and on to the futures of AI and human-machine interface. Challenger examines how technology influences our sense of our own animal nature and our relationship with other species with whom we share this fragile planet. That we are separated from our own animality is a delusion, according to Challenger. Blending nature writing, history, and moral philosophy, How to Be Animal is both a fascinating reappraisal of what it means to be human, and a robust defense of what it means to be an animal.

30 review for How to Be Animal: A New History of What It Means to Be Human

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jillian Doherty

    Whimsical, while maintaining its deeply scientific narrative - it's fascinating, thought provoking, and delightfully readable! Like how Isabel Wilkerson exposed engineered superiority in Caste, How to Be Animal illustrates how we are feigning to be something which we created. Deeply researched, while using fun metaphors like comparing scientific entropy to a slowly melting Gin and Tonic. If you're a fan of Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens, Helen Macdonald, Barry Lopez, Diane Ackerman, or E.O. Wilson you Whimsical, while maintaining its deeply scientific narrative - it's fascinating, thought provoking, and delightfully readable! Like how Isabel Wilkerson exposed engineered superiority in Caste, How to Be Animal illustrates how we are feigning to be something which we created. Deeply researched, while using fun metaphors like comparing scientific entropy to a slowly melting Gin and Tonic. If you're a fan of Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens, Helen Macdonald, Barry Lopez, Diane Ackerman, or E.O. Wilson you may thoroughly enjoy this too! Galley borrowed from the publisher.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Annie Graiden

    I so expected to thoroughly love this book. The author is a favorite (see On Extinction) and I’ve found myself deeply immersed in topic because of her writing style and expertise. This book captivated me in a similar way through the first third. But then I found myself feeling as if I was a skipping stone, touching down now and then to experience one message but then lifting off to another with little connection. Similarly, another reviewer mentioned a lack of flow. The first third of the book w I so expected to thoroughly love this book. The author is a favorite (see On Extinction) and I’ve found myself deeply immersed in topic because of her writing style and expertise. This book captivated me in a similar way through the first third. But then I found myself feeling as if I was a skipping stone, touching down now and then to experience one message but then lifting off to another with little connection. Similarly, another reviewer mentioned a lack of flow. The first third of the book was gorgeous and here’s a few take-aways. Having subjective consciousness has allowed us to view ourselves as different, separate and superior: ”obviously related...convincingly different”. And to imagine a linear existence for both ourselves and our species...the great march towards goodness and progress. Finding ourselves part of the animal world, subject to natural forces, begets moral uncertainty and existential dread. It is so much easier to deny - hence the “psychology necessity” of religion. Personally this takes me to the bargaining one does within organized religion; the promise to make that all disappear “if…” Yet we live as organisms in the world - breaking bread with friends, a loving touch, the smell of saltwater or cedar. “Which is the truest part of the human experience, the animal, bodily feelings or the mental flickers of a wilful, storytelling intelligence?” I sense this line every day now. I trust this sense more. (See Mary Oliver “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” in Wild Geese.) The ordered appearance of life resulting from “eating” free energy and “pooping” entropy is a deceit conveying an immunity to natural forces. “The provenance of all we enjoy is a sequence of events and processes that have no obvious concern for what we now think of as the rightness or wrongness of something.” This thought is the shoehorn we need to detach from the value-laden view of being convincingly different. This may explain why I live by big water and mountains; I don’t kayak or hike but I so love the reminder of the proper scale of things. The rest of the book consists of thoroughly researched and detailed supportive arguments and this is where I started to lose that flow. And while I believe in her work, it’s a tough, but necessary, sell. How will humans begin to accept a perceived “demotion”? It skewers our schadenfreude. And so I worry about that shift from narrative to presentation. All in all, I would recommend the book. Once I had found the beauty in the early chapters, perhaps I expected too much from the followers. Challenger is a beautiful writer and thinker. And I’ve come away with much to consider and ponder. I received a copy courtesy of the Good Reads giveaways and am grateful.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lorraine McCann

    One of the most profound and important books I've ever read. If you've ever wondered about why our world and societies are the way they are, this is for you. As humans, we are first and foremost animals - and yet that isn't really how we live or act. Our political and social systems are confusingly constructed to exploit and yet deny our animal beings. Weaving a highly readable story that brings together philosophical, psychological, political and social research, Melanie Challenger pitches her One of the most profound and important books I've ever read. If you've ever wondered about why our world and societies are the way they are, this is for you. As humans, we are first and foremost animals - and yet that isn't really how we live or act. Our political and social systems are confusingly constructed to exploit and yet deny our animal beings. Weaving a highly readable story that brings together philosophical, psychological, political and social research, Melanie Challenger pitches her book as part of an emerging debate that goes to the very heart of issues such as the climate crisis and how we can begin to share this planet as a fellow species rather than vandals and parasites. This book is wise and gentle and much needed. Full disclosure: I copy edited this book. I don't make any money from it once it's published.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Adam Ferris

    I was excited to pick up this book based on its title and subject matter. It took me a while to get into the flow of Melanie's writing on this very important and relevant topic. The writing was very scientific at parts and I guess I had expected it to be a more accessible read. That being said, I learned a lot and completely agree with the author on most points. A book like this is important to read for everyone, and perhaps if it was more accessibly written, it would help shift people's ideas t I was excited to pick up this book based on its title and subject matter. It took me a while to get into the flow of Melanie's writing on this very important and relevant topic. The writing was very scientific at parts and I guess I had expected it to be a more accessible read. That being said, I learned a lot and completely agree with the author on most points. A book like this is important to read for everyone, and perhaps if it was more accessibly written, it would help shift people's ideas towards the saner that are stated in this book. I would recommend this read to anyone as this book was a great read. I realize my high expectations played a part in how I approached this book which is why it is a 4 star and not 5 for me.

  5. 4 out of 5

    John

    Maybe I’ve just had too many years (decades!) of reading non-fiction but I just found this disappointingly uninspiring, which is a pity as it is a subject I’m very interested in. Although I read to the end and found some interest along the way, I found myself unable to ‘latch on’: as such, there is a strange lack of narrative flow, which made it a more difficult read than it should have been.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kurt Weideling

    Fascinating, insightful and surprisingly poetic.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Diana

    I struggled with this book at the start, because I have always considered humans animals. It never dawned on me to not consider it so. However, I did enjoy the authors commentary and comparison of non-human animals to humans based on their societies, relationships with each other and so on. I have known a lot of people who do not consider themselves to be animals, but better than animals or machines since we invent and can build things that no other animal can. Very interesting concepts and I re I struggled with this book at the start, because I have always considered humans animals. It never dawned on me to not consider it so. However, I did enjoy the authors commentary and comparison of non-human animals to humans based on their societies, relationships with each other and so on. I have known a lot of people who do not consider themselves to be animals, but better than animals or machines since we invent and can build things that no other animal can. Very interesting concepts and I really enjoyed the quotes from poets and scientists throughout the book. Occasionally the writing is somewhat obtuse and used double negatives which make the writing more difficult to read than it needed to be. I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tamara

    Beginning with our refusal and fear to accept our animal side, Challenger unabashedly jeers at our misconceptions, jabs at our pre-conceived notions of superiority and prods us to view our own animal qualities. Join the speculation about duplication and the critique of Clark and Chalmers' extended mind. Imagine the frontiers of social immunity while recognizing that our current pandemic conditions point to the blur between human and animal. Glimpse your future self. A being that could be hybrid Beginning with our refusal and fear to accept our animal side, Challenger unabashedly jeers at our misconceptions, jabs at our pre-conceived notions of superiority and prods us to view our own animal qualities. Join the speculation about duplication and the critique of Clark and Chalmers' extended mind. Imagine the frontiers of social immunity while recognizing that our current pandemic conditions point to the blur between human and animal. Glimpse your future self. A being that could be hybrid - partly animal. Challenger paints a beautiful creature. If only we could also see ourselves this way. I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne Irving

    I don’t have much to say about this book that other reviewers haven’t said already. It really is an exceptional well researched and written book. I usually read books straight through but I had to keep stopping with this one. Not in a bad way, but I felt like I had to stop and think about what she had said. I kept going over certain things and I definitely will be rereading this book many times and I will recommend it to everyone I know who is a human type animal. I received a free copy of this b I don’t have much to say about this book that other reviewers haven’t said already. It really is an exceptional well researched and written book. I usually read books straight through but I had to keep stopping with this one. Not in a bad way, but I felt like I had to stop and think about what she had said. I kept going over certain things and I definitely will be rereading this book many times and I will recommend it to everyone I know who is a human type animal. I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Emily

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mauricio Santoro

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lucy

  13. 5 out of 5

    Keith Vient

  14. 4 out of 5

    August Edwards

  15. 5 out of 5

    Clare Russell

  16. 4 out of 5

    MLD

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rinn

  18. 4 out of 5

    Angharad Morgan

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kelly K Hunter

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rafael Silva

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mew Jones

  22. 5 out of 5

    Arthur Bloye

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kami

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mehdi Nawa

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nic

  26. 5 out of 5

    TEELOCK Mithilesh

  27. 4 out of 5

    Christina Stockard

  28. 5 out of 5

    Arthur

  29. 4 out of 5

    Annabel Gold

  30. 5 out of 5

    Joan

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