Book Report: The Inner Life of Animals

Back to my old habits of reading nonfiction about nature, I just finished this book: The Inner Life of Animals: Love, Grief, and Compassion―Surprising Observations of a Hidden World, by Peter Wohlleben. The author is a caretaker for a forest in Germany, which gives him lots of time to observe the habits of the animals and plants he encounters there. He’s also the author of The HIdden Life of Trees, which has amazing information about how trees feel, communicate, and more. There’s a third volume in the series coming out soon, too.

The author and his goats

You’ll either love Wohlleben’s approach to observing the feelings, morals, and behaviors of animals or be a little uncomfortable with it. He uses a lot of scientific evidence to back up his claims (the footnotes are a book unto themselves), but there’s plenty of gut feelings and assertions that an animal felt this way or that way, because it just looked like it to him.

dog on chair
Just assume I know I’m pretending to be a kitty as I sit on the top of the chair.

Of course, the instances where he makes assumptions are among the most charming anecdotes in the book, so I’m glad they’re there. Wohlleben has seen some really fascinating interactions among animals and between humans and animals. I learned a lot about various European deer, hogs, and birds from his observations.

Apache: I’m an interesting domestic animal who knows better than to stare straight at the sun when getting photographded. Photo by Sara Faivre

He also has lived with many interesting domestic animals, so I now have much more of a clue as to what horses, goats, rabbits, and dogs are feeling when we interact with them. Wohlleben’s gentle observations are just packed with useful tidbits (one of my favorites was that yes, there can be individual animals who are plain old mean, as evidenced by a cruel fluffy bunny he bought).

Who knows what kind of rich inner life this compost fly has. Perhaps my hand was a pleasant vacation spot for him or her.

In fact, one thing that struck me repeatedly was that, while I know a lot about animal life in the United States, there’s a lot I don’t know about what’s found in Europe. I got the start of a good education on central European wildlife from The Inner Life of Animals, in addition to enjoying little glimpses into the lives of foresters over there and learning about how we all share many emotions, even down to bees.

Pickle: Can you guess what I’m saying? Ruff. Ruff.

This book, as well as the one on trees, have been beautifully translated from German. I like how the translator explains German words that just don’t match anything in Engish.

This is a great book to read in short bursts, since each chapter is a self-contained story. It would be a perfect bedside book in the guest room, too.

Author: Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog and many others. I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I manage technical writers in Austin, help with Hearts Homes and Hands, a personal assistance service, in Cameron, and serve on three nonprofit boards. You may know me from La Leche League, knitting, iNaturalist, or Facebook. I'm interested in ALL of you!

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