Animal Madness

  • by Laurel Braitman
  • Narrated by Madeleine Maby
  • 11 hrs and 36 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Fascinating book!

This book will touch you deeply and leave you believing there is hope in the world. Laurel Braitman begins with the story of her own adopted dog Oliver, who was clearly emotionally disturbed (at some point diagnosed with separation anxiety, phobia of thunderstorms and a form of animal OCD). Her interest in the plight of Oliver eventually led her to start combing the records for stories of other animals who had strange behaviors, not always understood by their owners, to see if there were indications that other animals have emotional illnesses, much as humans do.

The stories she tells, of dogs, cats, elephants, gorillas, etc...who exhibited unusual, sometimes frightening behaviors, have often resulted in tragic outcomes. But she is able to trace many of the conditions described to similar backgrounds for the animals--such as too early separation from a mother, abusive care from humans, being uprooted from familiar surroundings. She talks with animal behavior specialists and human psychiatrists about treatment for such animals.

There is extrapolation from the suffering of animals to the suffering of humans--in both cases leading to mental illnesses (and in more recent times the knowledge and ability to treat them). But she is very careful not to anthropomorphize (project our human beliefs and conditions onto the other animals). This book is fascinating to listen to. If you love animals it should be a "must read" (listen) on your list. It reminded me, in some ways, of the very moving book by Virginia Morell, "Animal Wise," in which she shows repeatedly how our fellow animals have a wisdom in life that we often miss.

The narration is very good, but in books of this sort, I often find myself wondering why they are not read by the author. Nevertheless, this book is wonderful. I stayed up late into the night listening to it. Highly recommend!
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- Kathi

We have so much to learn.

What made the experience of listening to Animal Madness the most enjoyable?

Probably the author's innate curiosity and desire to know what made her dog act as he did. It was very relatable.


What did you like best about this story?

Hmmmm... Probably the stories about primates and a close second about the elephants. There are so many people in rural parts of this world who sacrifice so much just so, for example, an elephant doesn't have to cry himself to sleep.


What about Madeleine Maby’s performance did you like?

She disappeared into the story. She didn't get theatrical and let the stories stand on their own merit.


Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I hate crying while listening because I don't want to look like a nut, but the parts about the abuse of circus, and other, elephants hurt me to my core. That, and the testing animals had to go through so we could learn fundamental truths in psychology.


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- Heidi

Book Details

  • Release Date: 06-10-2014
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio