Animal Madness (Braitman)

Animal Madness:  How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves
Laurel Braitman, 2014
Simon & Schuster
384 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781451627008

For the first time, a historian of science draws evidence from across the world to show how humans and other animals are astonishingly similar when it comes to their feelings and the ways in which they lose their minds.

Charles Darwin developed his evolutionary theories by looking at physical differences in Galapagos finches and fancy pigeons. Alfred Russell Wallace investigated a range of creatures in the Malay Archipelago. Laurel Braitman got her lessons closer to home—by watching her dog.

Oliver snapped at flies that only he could see, ate Ziploc bags, towels, and cartons of eggs. He suffered debilitating separation anxiety, was prone to aggression, and may even have attempted suicide. Her experience with Oliver forced Laurel to acknowledge a form of continuity between humans and other animals that, first as a biology major and later as a PhD student at MIT, she’d never been taught in school. Nonhuman animals can lose their minds. And when they do, it often looks a lot like human mental illness.

Thankfully, all of us can heal. As Laurel spent three years traveling the world in search of emotionally disturbed animals and the people who care for them, she discovered numerous stories of recovery: parrots that learn how to stop plucking their feathers, dogs that cease licking their tails raw, polar bears that stop swimming in compulsive circles, and great apes that benefit from the help of human psychiatrists. How do these animals recover? The same way we do: with love, with medicine, and above all, with the knowledge that someone understands why we suffer and what can make us feel better.

After all of the digging in the archives of museums and zoos, the years synthesizing scientific literature, and the hours observing dog parks, wildlife encounters, and amusement parks, Laurel found that understanding the emotional distress of animals can help us better understand ourselves. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Ventura, California, USA
Education— B.A. Cornell University; Ph.D., MIT
Awards—TED fellowship
Currently—lives in San Francisco, California

Laurel Braitman is a science historian, writer, and a TED Fellow. She was born and raised on a citrus ranch in Southern California where she was surrounded, as she says on her website, by "a small herd of donkeys, two parrots, a series of sickly hamsters, three dogs, a bunch of barn cats that didn’t like me, a rabbit named Violetta, an armored catfish named Harold, and a tarantula."

Braitman received her B.A. from Cornell University in biology and writing. She earned her Ph.D. in the history of science from MIT. In addition to her TED fellowship, she is an affiliate artist at the Headlands Center for the Arts and frequently collaborates with musicians and visual artists.

Her book Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves was published in 2014. She has also written for Pop Up Magazine, The New Inquiry, Salon, and a variety of other publications.  (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 6/19/2014.)

Book Reviews
In this illuminating contribution to the burgeoning field of animal studies, senior TED fellow Braitman suggests that the key to understanding mental illness might lie in our pets..... [A[nalytical scrutiny would not be the way to approach this book, whose continuous dose of hope should prove medicinal for humans and animals alike.
Publishers Weekly

Eschewing statistics and experimental data in favor of her own stories and historical anecdotes, Braitman, a trained historian of science, appeals directly to her readers' emotions with tales of anguished elephants and heartsick gorillas.... [E]ngaging, compassionate read... but is unlikely to convert skeptics. Readers...may be put off by Braitman's inclusion of details from her personal life a. —Kate Horowitz, Washington, DC
Library Journal

Humans aren’t the only animals that suffer from emotional thunderstorms, and author Braitman came to the ...conclusion...that nonhuman animals can suffer from mental illnesses that mirror those that humans endure.... Acknowledging mental illness in other animals, and helping them recover, obviously can be a comforting experience. —Nancy Bent

[Braitman] is thankfully willing to allow..."that other animals have many special abilities that we don't have and this may extend to emotional states." Braitman's gradual accretion of reasons to believe in animal emotional states that we can relate to, including the loopy ones, gives pause and sparks curiosity.
Kirkus Reviews

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