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on May 6, 2003
In this book, the authors Masson and McCarthy compile thoughtful and deeply educational stories that demonstrate the presence of emotions in non-human animals. Throughout the book these two authors draw from numerous stories and experiences that range from love to jealousy, to hate and compassion to convey to the reader the capacity of animals to experience emotions and feelings. One would expect such a book that is predominantly based on secondary information to be less informative and lack the knowledge to deliver a quality piece of writing. However Masson and McCarthy are able to communicate the controversial subject of the emotional lives of species other than are own, in a crystal clear manner.
The book delivers intelligent arguments that force the reader to pry deeper into the idea that animals do in fact have emotions. If emotions such as joy, grief, fear, and hope are able to cross cultural boundaries, why shouldn't it be plausible for these very same emotions to cross an interspecies boundary as well? By viewing animals as simple species that are incapable to feel and understand their emotions; we are robbing them of their capacity to be equal with the human race. The book continues to deliver the idea of a "double standard" that humans have developed when it comes to ethical treatment; and finds the route of this problem to be deeply imbedded in the minds of our civilization. Descartes has referred to animals as senseless machines, incapable of emotions and feelings, but is countered by Masson and McCarthy.
"To describe the lives of animals without including their emotions may be just inaccurate, just as superficial and distorted and may strip them of their wholeness just as profoundly. To understand animals, it is essential to understand what they feel." (Masson 23)
By delivering a variety of stories about different animals ranging from butterfly fish to elephants, When Elephants Weep is able to show the large spectrum of feelings that animals have been known to experience in their own existence. It does however bring to light one of the most worrisome and critical aspects of animal emotions: the idea of anthropomorphism. "Science considers anthropomorphism toward animals a grave mistake, even a sin," (Masson 32) states Masson. Reflecting human emotions on to individual animals changes the way in which mankind views other species, and in essence takes away their individuality as separate beings. We may think that a dog is happy, yet we have no capacity to feel the feelings and emotions that a dog has ever experienced. "Anthropocentrism treats animals as inferior forms of people and denies what they really are." (Masson 42) Being the controversial subject that it is, anthropomorphism has its pros and cons, and is constantly the focus when it comes to behavioral analysis in animals.
Once the topic of anthropomorphism is discussed and dissected, the book continues on to its primary focus which is the actual existence of emotions in non-human animals. Littered with short, second hand stories that have been collected through the century; each emotion that is known to humans is applied to animals in a variety of ways. Love and friendship between chimpanzees; grief and mourning of elephant herds, as well as jealousy through gray parrots; these are just an example of the broad range of emotions that span through the natural world of animals. This book does something that most books about animals cannot do; it portrays them not as savage beasts but as highly delicate and meaningful creatures that are more evolved emotionally than once believed. One unique story that is told is that of the trap-door spider and their capacity to love.
"Moggridge shook the baby spiders off her back and dropped her into the alcohol. After a while, supposing her to be "dead to sense," he dropped her twenty-four babies in too. To his horror, the mother spider reached out her legs, folded the babies beneath her, and clasped them until she died." (Masson 68)
Many other stories are told throughout the pages, some sad, and portray animals as humans, while other stories distinctly draw the line between humans and animals.
If animals are able to feel shouldn't society acknowledge this and treat them accordingly. It once thought that the ability to cry was a human trait, and only a human trait. As a habit, most people consider bodily fluids disgusting (such as urine, feces, etc.), but embrace the concept of tears and crying. The reason for this mindset was because it was an action that only humans had the capability of performing. Mason proves otherwise through the stories of a particular elephant. "Okha does cry at times, but that he had no idea why. Okha sometimes shed a tear when being scolded, it is reported, and at least once wept while giving children rides." (Masson 106) This does not just end with the idea of elephants crying and shedding tears, but also delivers stories of poodles, apes, and seals crying in painful or distressful situations. Not only does the topic of animals weeping relate directly to the title of this book, it demonstrates that other species besides humans are capable of a multitude of emotions.
Another major topic that is brought up is that of zoos and animals being imprisoned by them. When a human is put behind bars, they feel lonely and an aurora of despair and depression overtakes them; the same emotions have been found in animals. Many studies have been conducted to see if animals do in fact have these emotions. There is a story that tells the tale of a monkey who was put in a black isolation chamber for six months and then placed in a cage with other monkeys who were left to socialize during the six month time period. Once the isolated monkey was placed with the others, it immediately ran into the corner and embraced itself and was assaulted by his mates until the monkey perished away. These studies in fact are a lot like zoos; the animals cannot enjoy their abilities, a function that is labeled as "funktionslust". A cheetah may appear to be happy in an enclosed pasture, however it does not have the freedom to sprint for miles or to hunt and reproduce under its own terms. What happens now that it has been revealed that we share many human attributes with animals; is it time we stop their suffering, is time we discontinue using them as a food resource? Masson is still unclear about this. Has the time finally arrived where we as a society have realized that we hold no dominion over animals and that they are in fact equal to us in the field of emotions, or shall we just imprison more species behind the steal cages we call zoos.

I enjoyed reading this book and only have a slight criticism of this book. I would have liked to read more about the stories that are touched upon rather than have them summarized in a few sentences. Masson and McCarthy touch on some amazing accounts of animals exhibiting truly unique emotional qualities that could be better understood if detailed more. I have also realized that perhaps testing on animals is not the best way to learn their emotions, if in fact it is true that they share emotions with humans, why not test on humans themselves.
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on December 14, 2000
It's true. I picked up When Elephants Weep on audio as an impulse and listened to it in one sitting. Besides awakening in me a renewed respect for the subtleties and beauty of the natural world, it gave me the push I needed to finally make the jump to vegetarianism.
The book was fascinating, without being too dry or academic. My only complaint is that the author tends to rant a bit on the subject of eating meat. While I have been a vegetarian for a year and a half, I still believe that it is an individual choice and shouldn't be encouraged through guilt and emotional intimidation. Even as I read the book, I was making the choice to go meatless--but I still thought the tone was too scolding and accusatory. Other than that, I loved the book and recommend it quite often.
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on October 28, 1999
This book has been an eye-opener for me. It outlines the hidden assumptions, as well as the explicit scientific philosophies, behind the academic world's disrespect and irreverence for animals. Because it analyzes and weighs ideas, it is not an easy read in many sections--thus, I think, the number of reviews which gave it 1 or 2 stars. Like some readers, I thought there would be a lot more anecdotes in the book, and yet, I learned a lot more about the flaws in how we think about animals from the authors' discussions about human viewpoints. Be prepared to put on your thinking cap when you sit down with this book--although there are entertaining vignettes, that's not the main point. Also, the reader(s) who were incensed about the authors' "attack" on scientific method did not closely read the text, I believe. The authors' arguments were based on voluminous research and are in line with many dissenting scientists' viewpoints. I find that there are many folks who believe in reductionist science so strongly that it becomes almost a religion for them--and when their "religion" is "attacked", they simply ignore the evidence on the other side whilst saying the opposing views are bogus. The authors should probably take it as a positive sign that they have triggered this sort of outrage. This book is aimed at minds willing to work, rather than be spoonfed. If you want an easy read, buy "Ring of Bright Water" or something along those lines.
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on December 7, 1998
It infuriates me when someone tries to make the argument that because non-human animals are not, in fact, human, that they are lesser. It's arrogrant and stupid.
What I love about this book is that it gives concrete examples, through research results, of animals acting more "human" and more civilized than many people roaming this earth. The best example is the study about the rats saving infants of many other species. They knew it was a baby and risk endagerment to protect it. Rats protecting chicks and kittens...
Now imagine a human (other than animal lovers, that is) risking him or herself to protect a rat?
Have you ever seen how they keep rats in pet stores? Piled on top of each for snakes. But have you ever held a domesticated rat? (one from a pet store that is, not a NYC subway) They're affectionate, mild-mannered and sweet. They know people...they know if you're their human or if you're a stranger. They cuddle. Animals are amazing, amazing creatures. They're beautiful and pure, not tainted by long hours on the Internet or in front of the TV. They do exactly what is natural to them. Watch your house cat stalk or scratch his claws on a thick tree. We live peacefully with animals--our pets--but for some reason, we (they) lose that love and respect.
Because animals are not human, doesn't mean they inferior. In any way. They have emotions and they feel pain and they're often suffering at the hands of humans. And I hate to say it, but PETA is making it worse.
If people associate a desire to treat animals with dignity with PETA's terroristic acitvities, they instantly turn off. They don't even listen to the message.
This is an awfully long review, isn't it? Well, the book is beautiful and intelligent and interesting. It's, I hate to be corny, but it's actually heartwarming.
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on April 10, 2003
In "When Elephants Weep", author Jeffrey Moussaief Masson attempts to demonstrate that humans are far from being the only animals to lead complex emotional lives. If someone wanted to make a case for animal rights, it would probably have a greater chance of success if it were based on animal intelligence, as that is much easier to prove and quantify than emotions. But there is already a body of literature on animal intelligence, and many researchers continue to pursue an understanding in that area. This is why Jeffrey Masson has written a book on animal emotions. It is a topic that is very much underrepresented in literature, probably because the idea of animal emotions is much vilified in the scientific community. The content of "When Elephants Weep" comprises, almost entirely, evidence of the existence of emotions -some primitive, some complex- in animals other than humans. Most of the evidence is anecdotal, although there are some examples of controlled studies as well. Most of the emotions that are discussed fit into these broad categories: fear, hope, love, sadness, grief, rage, compassion, shame, aesthetic appreciation, and a sense of justice. Apart from the evidence presented, the text contains a lot of criticism of the scientific community's staunch reluctance to acknowledge the existence of emotions in animals on the basis that any such idea would be anthropomorphic. But the fact is that the scientific community can no more prove the existence of emotions in humans than it can in animals. And it will not be able to do so until it possesses the technology to identify and detect the neuropathways responsible for emotions. Until then, we accept that humans have emotions based on their behavior and our own experience. The author believes it perfectly reasonable to acknowledge the emotional lives of animals for the same reasons. The quality of the writing itself in "When Elephants Weep" is not especially good, but I do recognize that it is very difficult to produce a pleasant and engaging writing style when one is simply cataloging a lot of data. And the author occasionally does seem to be imagining emotions where they could not possibly exist. But I give this book 4 stars and recommend it because it tackles an important subject that we read about all too little. And, despite its faults, readers will come away from this book having learned a lot about the lives of animals. If you need more encouragement, Dr. Jane Goodall has given the book high praise.
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on July 8, 2002
To start with, I agree with much of the authors' concerns about those who equate the scientific caution against anthropomorphizing with the notion that animals do not possess emotions at all. The problem? The authors point at anecdotal evidence for emotion in animals and simply ask the reader if an emotional explanation for the observed behavior isn't reasonable. That's it! There's no science here, and in fact it could be said there's anti-science here. This does a disservice to the promotion of this field of study and rightly brings the scorn of working scientists.
I'm focusing on the negatives here because I had high expectations for a more objective approach to this discussion. If emotional people focus on animal emotions with nothing more than anecdotal evidence, and objective scientists focus on animal behavior in terms of only environmental factors, why should it be a surprise that there is disagreement? The one way to break the deadlock is for the emotionalists to design and carry out experiments that will develop evidence for an emotional basis for behavior, because scientists will respond to that. There's little reason for them to respond to anything in this book.
So, if you're looking for science don't read this book. If you're looking for some interesting stories about animals and disposed to read some ranting about those who give animals little regard, you'll like this book.
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on May 18, 2002
I love animals. Anyone who has ever lived with a dog, cat, horse, or many other species of animals knows that they have emotions. Some humans just don't have the time or the heart to respond to them. This book deserved to be so much better than it actually was. Great idea executed poorly. "When Elephants Weep" ended up being too much of an intellectual discussion about what is wrong with the human race and is written from a sophomoric slant enough to bore all but the most devout pop psychology buff to complete and utter insanity. In the first two chapters, authors Susan McCarthy and Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson just rail on unfeeling humans (there is actually a chapter entitled "Unfeeling Brutes") and all we get for over 40 pages is a diatribe against the scientific community. The author even goes so far to discuss the deficiencies in Freudian psychology in the area of human child sexual abuse, but never fully explains why this is relevant to the topic of the book.
Opinions, opinions, and more opinions. I kept waiting for even moderately detailed, heartwarming accounts of animal emotions and all I got were short burst of dry, clinical accounts of various animals followed by paragraphs and paragraphs of human psychology. The main author Masson has a PhD in Sanskrit. Maybe he should stick to something he knows about, because he doesn't demonstrate that he knows anything about emotion in this book - animal or otherwise. This book is overwrought, poorly written, not well thought out, disorganized, doesn't make a good argument for animal emotions (which deserves one), and doesn't do anything to seriously convince the scientific community why they should study this subject more closely. Books like this actually hurt the cause more than they promote it. I just can't believe he got this published. I don't care what the critics say, or the fact that this was a New York Times best seller. Don't waste your money on this book. The authors come off like raving lunatics, making a respectable topic for research and further study look like it belongs on the magazine rack with the tabloids.
I have learned more about being human from my dog than I have ever learned from another human being. Animals have emotions - and I believe they have souls. Most humans know that by instinct and we'll have to rely on instinct until better written books and thorough research on this subject are published.
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on April 20, 2002
The authors of this book clearly meant well. Their basic premise is one that I agree with- that animals are more than non-feeling automations.
They do a good job of making their case- if you don't know much about their sources or the scientific process. They misundersand and misinterperet much of their evidence and to add to it I caught them in one boldfaced lie.
The brunt of their argument relies on the use of annedotes. Many of these stories are compelling but deal more with the opinions of the witnesses which in some cases are highly questionable.
The authors site some well known scientific researchers. I have read a few of the works sited and can tell you that the authors often "forget" to include the words of caution the researchers included about the dangers of anthropomorphizing their subjects and about the fact that although we may guess about an animals emotions we cannot know about them.
The authors of this book have a big problem with anthropomorphization, and do not understand the very real need to avoid it. If scientists are to be allowed to guess and assume things instead of prove them through research, then many would be able to declare that there is life on Mars or that evolution does not exist. We can theorize about these things and try to find proof of them but we cannot SCIENTIFICALLY declare them to be so. If you doubt the fact that people are capable of making big errors in judgment when trying to read animal emotions read the prologue of this book.
While there are scientists and animal researchers out there who claim that animals cannot have emotions, there are plenty of others who believe that they probably do. However, just because we think something is true doesn't mean we can say it is scientific fact.
The authors make the claim that zookeepers don't ask if the animals in their care are "happy", only if they are well fed etc. This is a blatant lie- ask a zookeeper yourself.
Finally, the authors do not seem to understand that just because there is an evolutionary advantage for an emotion does not invalidate that emotion. They continually attack biologists who seem open to the idea of animal emotions. I found this puzzling and it did not help their case.
A number of good points are made in this book, however knowing that the authors lied at least once and misinterpeted/misunderstood so many of the stories they cite as evidence, I am left to wonder about anything they say.
I picked up this book with the hope of enjoying it and learning more about the emotional lives of animals but I was deeply disappointed. This book did more to discredit the idea of animal emotions than it did to support it.
If you really are interested in the subject please do yourself a favor and read the works they cite for yourself.
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on June 4, 2000
My philosophy students and I looked forward to discussing this book in our "Animal Minds" class, but found it to be a dreadful disappointment. Masson's sloppy reasoning and egregious biases undermines his impressive and meticulous research on this extremely important topic. What shame!
Traditionally, scientists and philosophers have extremely reluctant to integrate emotionaluty into their theories of animal minds. We desperately need a book that will spur both disciplines to repair this deficiency, but Masson's contribution is too flawed to prompt this.
The good news: Masson offers numerous interesting and entertaining anecdotes that provide good "raw data" for future theorists of animal emotionality, and his footnotes and bibliography provide lots of excellent resources for further study. The terrible news: Masson's interpretation of the anecdotes are truly disappointing. His explanations are dogmatic, his standards of analysis and clarity low, and the sheer number of fallacies and non sequitors make his prose really hard to stomach. He also revels in ad homimen attacks against his opponents.
The result is a shallow rhetorical work rather than a deep and balanced analysis. I am greatly sympathetic to Masson's general conclusions, but this book does our cause a disservice. Read this book for the excellent bibliography and the many thought-provoking anecdotes, but don't venture here if you are looking for sound intellectual foundations for understanding animal minds.
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on November 24, 1998
From the Animal Defense League of New York City: <<The struggle for animal rights requires the recognition of the individuality of other-than-humans. Advocates of animals commonly frown at expressions and stereotypes that belittle others. However, we are frequently the ones who, in our attempts to individualize animals, "objectify" animals by holding them as "pure beings" who can do no evil. We, like those who demean animals with stereotypes, are just as guilty for depriving them of their individuality by stereotyping them with these objectifying views (i.e. animals do not wage wars, animals do not rape, animals only kill when necessary). Jeffrey Masson's "When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals" (with contributions by Susan McCarthy), a New York Times Bestseller, is a must read book for all advocates of animals and those who question the emotional capacities of nonhuman animals. We have all unconsciously objectify animals and deprive them of their individuality. Masson's book illustrates the whole spectrum of the individuality of animals, from love, joy, happiness, to sadness and cruelty. "When Elephants Weep" will awaken you to the identities of animals. - Reviewed by Patrick Kwan >>
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