When Elephants Weep by Jeffrey Masson and Susan McCarthy

May 30, 2012

Summary (from the publisher): For over 100 years a chasm has separated animal lovers – who know that their dog, cat, horse, or parrot have complex emotional lives – and scientists, to whom attributing any emotions to animals has been equivalent to heresy. And while a groundswell among a new generation of scientists has begun chipping away at this traditional taboo, and animal lovers eagerly consume whatever they can find about the subject, no one book has yet gathered all the available information into an engaging and authoritative portrait of animals emotional lives. Not, that is, until now.

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 impressive sketches have been praised by artists Willem and Elaine de Kooning. Meet Koko, a bashful gorilla proficient ins 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 gray 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, ethnologists, and animal behaviorists whose anecdote-rich field notes and studies paint compelling portraits of their subject’s 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 animal’s lives that will permanently change and enrich the way you look at animals.


I listened to the audiobook, and after reading the summary I just posted above, I have to wonder if I somehow got an abridged edition. I don’t remember the parrot, the chimp who nursed someone back from malaria, or any of the other anecdotes except for Koko. Nor do I remember any sections about Guide Dogs for the Blind. WTF??? Those sound like wonderful enhancements to this book! How could some editor have randomly excised those passages?

My main complaint about this book was that it didn’t have enough anecdotes or examples of real animals exhibiting what could be construed as emotion. Now it turns out that the author may have included those things after all; I simply didn’t get my hands on the right edition. To think that I might have missed out on stories of animals dancing to those music zumba games or bopping in rhythm to Justin Bieber makes me want to go find the print version so I can start over again!

Well, if you plan on listening to the audiobook like I did, don’t waste your time! All the good stuff has been removed from the abridged version! I give the audiobook 3 stars out of 5, but realize that I got shortchanged (by a lot) here.

One Response to “When Elephants Weep by Jeffrey Masson and Susan McCarthy”

  1. I’m one of the authors, and I did not know this either! How terrible! I hope you will get the “real” book one day. Jeff

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