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The Hidden Life Of Deer: Lessons from the Natural World Hardcover – Sep 4 2009

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--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (Sept. 4 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061792101
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061792106
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.3 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 499 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #871,004 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


“In this slim and amiable book Ms. Thomas gathers a pile of small, not uninteresting observations about deer, and in doing so she subtly alters the way you look at them in a forest or from a window.” (New York Times)

Praise for CERTAIN POOR SHEPHERDS:“America’s foremost explainer of animal feelings and thoughts has woven fur and scent into the Christmas story, with amusing, moving results.” (John Updike)

Praise for REINDEER MOON“[The author] knows human feelings so well, in all their joy and bitterness. And her literary judgment is flawless. Her wisdom shines forth and, as always, her prose is strong and sure.” (Annie Dillard)

“The Hidden Life of Deer is a glorious achievement, giving new meaning to what it is both to be human and to be alive on this planet of wonders.” (New York Review of Books)

From the Back Cover

The animal kingdom operates by ancient rules, and the deer in our woods and backyards can teach us many of them—but only if we take the time to notice.

In the fall of 2007 in southern New Hampshire, the acorn crop failed and the animals who depended on it faced starvation. Elizabeth Marshall Thomas began leaving food in small piles around her farmhouse. Soon she had over thirty deer coming to her fields, and her naturalist's eye was riveted. How did they know when to come, all together, and why did they sometimes cooperate, sometimes compete?

Throughout the next twelve months she observed the local deer families as they fought through a rough winter; bred fawns in the spring; fended off coyotes, a bobcat, a bear, and plenty of hunters; and made it to the next fall when the acorn crop was back to normal. As she hiked through her woods, spotting tree rubbings, deer beds, and deer yards, she discovered a vast hidden world. Deer families are run by their mothers. Local families arrange into a hierarchy. They adopt orphans; they occasionally reject a child; they use complex warnings to signal danger; they mark their territories; they master local microclimates to choose their beds; they send countless coded messages that we can read, if only we know what to look for.

Just as she did in her beloved books The Hidden Life of Dogs and Tribe of Tiger, Thomas describes a network of rules that have allowed earth's species to coexist for millions of years. Most of us have lost touch with these rules, yet they are a deep part of us, from our ancient evolutionary past. The Hidden Life of Deer is a narrative masterpiece and a naturalist's delight.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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By Susan MacDonald on March 22 2010
Format: Hardcover
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) 78 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Moving and amazing April 19 2010
By E. M. Tennessen - Published on
Format: Hardcover
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!
22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
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.
19 of 27 people found the following review helpful
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Very slim May 2 2012
By Bjorn - Published on
Format: Hardcover
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.
12 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Misleading title -- Nothing "hidden" about it, just backyard observations Oct. 17 2009
By Carol M - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
From the title, "Hidden Life of Deer", I assumed this book was written by a naturalist and intended to give laymen more insight about these beautiful animals. But it's really written by a layperson, telling of her observation of the deer that she feeds on her property.

So my expectations were completely off. And I found myself really irritated with the lack of science, and the constant rationalizations of behavior that goes against recommendations of wildlife experts.

I might have really enjoyed this book, if I'd had appropriate expectations. Elizabeth Marshall Thomas obviously loves her deer friends, and has entertaining anecdotes to share. She's a kind-hearted soul, and a keen observer of "her" animals. Her writing is warm and friendly, rambling like a cozy conversation over a cup of tea - with occasional passionate outbursts.

If you'd like a cozy, relaxing narrative non-fiction about one woman's relationship with her local deer, this is your book. If you're looking for science, look elsewhere.