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The Hidden Life of Deer: Lessons from the Natural World [Hardcover]

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book by Thomas, Elizabeth Marshall

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4.0 out of 5 stars a great find March 22 2010
When a local family of deer showed up at my birdfeeder one morning, I was entranced with their gentle behaviour and wanted to learn more about their habits.
After fruitlessly searching the internet, I was thrilled to finally come across "The Hidden Life of Deer." Ms. Thomas's accounting of her local deer families enlightened me as to many of their characteristics and social interactions, exactly the information I was seeking. After reading the book, I was able to identify with the deer out my window and understand more of their social behaviors.
Well written, filled with great information, I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in learning more about these gentle and fascinating creatures of our forests.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.4 out of 5 stars  78 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving and amazing April 19 2010
By E. M. Tennessen - Published on
I read this book because I wanted to learn about deer behavior, but I learned so much more. Thomas writes honestly and passionately about caring for and loving animals, not in an anthropomorphic way, but because they are themselves fellow creatures with us on this planet. Through her story of the deer groups surrounding her farm and how she fed them one winter, she brings in other stories about the inter-relatedness of other animals and plants in that ecosystem, including bears, coyotes, turkeys, oaks, and more. She relates how she gets a hunting license, not so she can hunt, but so she can understand the mentality of hunters and learn the tricks of how to track deer. Thomas is also poignantly candid about nature mistakes she has made, like when she put out poison to get rid of a giant rat in her house that was terrorizing her family and her pets, and the long-term consequences of that. And she tells about mice singing. The attitude of this book is summed up by her answer to the question, Why did you feed the deer? She replies, "They wanted to live. So I fed them." This book is for anyone who loves the earth and the animals (including ourselves!) in it. Engrossing and highly recommended. Easily readable by anyone!
21 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nice Memoir but hardly science. Feb. 24 2011
By Stormslegacy - Published on
As someone who has taken classes in animal biology and intelligence to earn a degree in biology, I was excited to see a book that appeared to be a study of animal behavior. Now, I'm not a believer that science need only be performed by those with degrees or laboratories--anyone with observational skills can be a scientist or naturalist. That said, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas is not.

She writes about how she attracted the deer for the winter by feeding them corn--she goes on for a whole chapter about why she felt that the laws were BS and that she was just supplementing their diet, saving them from a winter of starvation. If she read up on the subject a bit she'd find that ruminates that eat corn have the acidity in their rumen go up and kill off the good bacteria causing difficulty digesting food and sickness. It's why we pump our cows full of antibiotics and other chemicals during finishing when they are on a high-corn diet. In other words--she not only was harming them but is encouraging others to harm them as well. Deer aren't meant to eat high carbohydrate feed in the winter--their system is meant for fibrous stems and grasses at that time. Please don't follow her lead!

She also doesn't observe so much as come up with her own random hypotheses without actually testing them in any way through her observations. She just gets excited and sees any little details as confirming whatever she believes. At one point in the books she feels she could "thought-speak" to one of them. She's very emotional, and I think the biggest example of her misinterpretation of animal behavior is when she thought that the small male deer were claiming a larger buck's territory after he was shot was them "honoring his spirit." No lady, it's very obvious that these animals were taking advantage of the fact that they could look larger than they really are by running their scent all over the areas where he rubbed his antlers higher than they could actually reach. FOr the reviews that say she doesn't anthropomorphize--I have no idea if they read the same book I did because she does it left and right.

I'm not going to deny that her writing style is easy to read an enjoyable--if it weren't for the crazy misinformation she has because she assumes so many things rather than look at others' research as well as a modern naturalist ought to. I would not be so annoyed if this book were touted about what it really is--a misguided animal lover who likes to come up with stories about the animals in her backyard. If this were a work of fiction or a memoir on naturalism I'd rank it 4 stars--as a book that pretends to be science I'm rating it 2. You will learn nothing of worth here, except an appreciation of nature.
16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The Book Which Should Have Remained Hidden Aug. 29 2009
By jd103 - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
If spoilers are possible for a non-fiction book, there are a lot of them ahead to explain my strong opinion.

Welcome to the first one star review I've ever given. I didn't plan it that way; I thought it would be interesting to read something about deer from a non-hunting perspective, and I was just going to take the feeding as an unpleasant given without comment.

But the author spends so much time trying to justify her feeding the deer that it's impossible to not write about it. The attempt at justification of a primate feeding deer relationship is very poor and the author surely knows this. The fact that langur monkeys in India eat only parts of leaves and chital deer wait beneath the trees to eat what's dropped is completely irrelevant to putting out hundreds of pounds of corn.

Ultimately, her stated reason for feeding them is that they are individuals who want to live. To fully appreciation my opposition to her behavior, you need to understand that I live by that principle more than the author does--I don't eat animals, don't believe in using them for entertainment or experimentation, and I don't support hunting them. I've been a wildlife rehabilitation volunteer, and I occasionally toss something out the window for squirrels or crows or whoever wants it and enjoy watching them eat. In short, I completely understand the desire to feed them and if deer existed in a vacuum, I'd say feed away.

But of course they don't exist in a vacuum and her choice has far-reaching consequences, from directly depriving other animals of the food which would have been provided by predation and scavenging of weakened and dead deer, to the later destruction of rare plant life and ecosystems by the resulting overpopulation of deer. Anyone able to view things objectively can see what the overpopulation of the human species has meant to other life forms.

She cites one example of seeing a deer with claw marks which she hypothesizes came from a bear, and wonders with pride if her corn gave the deer the strength to escape. If it did, shame would be a more appropriate emotion for anyone who actually cared about nature as a whole. And of course by feeding the deer in a year of low acorn production, she's directly undermining the reason why there are years of low acorn production. Even the deer themselves attempt to override her feeding of them when the strongest prevent the weakest from eating.

In any case, the fact that deer are individuals who want to live apparently doesn't matter to the author when it comes to hunting. She declares that she'd rather be shot than killed in a slaughterhouse as if it's an either/or choice when in fact neither one has to occur. And then goes on to mention overpopulation as a justification for hunting even as she contributes to that overpopulation.

Although she claims that she has no interest in taking a life, she eagerly goes along to watch a hunter do so, and after he kills a deer he doesn't think is good enough for him, agrees to his suggestion that she lie and claim she killed the deer so he can kill another bigger one. This from someone she considers one of the best hunters, a man who elsewhere in the book she prevents from killing an injured bear who then lives for many years, a man she also criticizes for painfully dragging a deer who'd been hit by a car into the woods instead of shooting the deer on the spot. Considering her claim that the will to hunt is deep in our psyches, I suppose we should all be amazed that the overwhelming majority of people don't do it. Or maybe her claim is just nonsense.

Most of what she writes about the deer is as much imagination as observation which was OK but is there anything actually good in this book? Yes, there's a page about scat which is well-written, and the last chapter of non-deer related nature anecdotes was good enough that I was going to boost my rating up to two stars. Then I came to the epilogue where she declares she's going to keep feeding the deer as long as she's alive regardless of conditions. One star is being generous for the way this book left me feeling.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very slim May 2 2012
By Bjorn - Published on
This book may be physically slim, but the amount of information about the titled subject is microscopic. Now If I had been looking for a book about the rambling misgivings of an entitled and opinionated arm chair pseudo-naturalist with a guilt complex, this would have been just the ticket.
I was not!
I only wish the title had been a bit more honest.
19 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Don't feed the deer, already. Sept. 24 2009
By Arthur Digbee - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
At root, this is a book about a writer who lives on a farm in New Hampshire and watches deer the field out back. If that's your thing, well, then, read this book.

If you're not so sure, here's some more information. She's learned to be a pretty good observer of the natural world - - not a great observer, but pretty good. She figures out how to identify individual deer not by individual marks but by observing the small groups they live with, and then distinguishing individuals within that. She notices some aspects of deer behavior. If you were a deer scientist, I don't think you'd be impressed, but Thomas probably writes a lot better than our imaginary deer scientist. So it evens out.

She spends a lot of time obsessing about whether she should feed the deer when they're starving. She decides that she should, or that she will, which is not the same thing. However, the worries seem to take up half the book. Here's what I would tell her, if she asked me: if you worry so much about it, then you know it's not right even if you want to do it. So don't do it.

The best stuff comes at the end, when she talks about other animals. So, ironically, this book is at its best when she stops talking about deer.

She writes well, and it's a pleasant book to have in your lap in front of the fire with a snifter of brandy. But I find it hard to get much more enthusiastic about it than that.
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