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Yale J Biol Med. 2017 September; 90(3): 517–518.
Published online 2017 September 25.
PMCID: PMC5612195
Focus: Comparative Medicine

Carnivore Minds: Who These Fearsome Animals Really Are

Reviewed by Michael M. Lacy

G. A. Bradshaw 
Carnivore Minds: Who These Fearsome Animals Really Are.
2017. Yale University Press: New Haven. ISBN: (Hardcover) 978-0300218152

. US $35.00. 360 p.

In popular media and public opinion, carnivorous animals are typically portrayed as mindless killing creatures: everybody knows of the “lifeless eyes” of a great white shark or the “killer instinct” of a wolf. However, closer investigation of these animals often reveals complex social, emotional, and psychological features that are often ignored by us fearful, fleshy humans. In this book, G.A. Bradshaw takes readers on a deep dive into the minds of animals that so have often been feared and misunderstood, exploring unexpected connections between various fields of animal science and novel findings in psychology and neuroscience.

Bradshaw begins by pointing out some of the logical inconsistencies and gaps in conventional thinking – for example, grizzly bears actually mostly consume fruits, berries, and grains and kill only occasionally. We humans hardly classify ourselves as carnivores and yet humans often inflict far more pain and suffering to the animals we raise in captivity and kill for food than what so-called “wild” animals do in nature. Each chapter focuses on a particular animal (sharks, grizzly bears, crocodiles, coyotes, and others), detailing studies of these animals’ psychology, emotional behaviors and social sensibilities. Bradshaw paints a vastly more detailed portrait of the carnivore’s minds than has previously been appreciated. Various fields of study have been applied to animal psychology, but there has rarely been much cross-talk between researchers in such disparate fields as neuroscience, animal behavior, field researchers, and wildlife conservationists. Bradshaw makes important connections spanning decades of research in human and animal psychology, highlighting key mechanisms and common biological principles across the animal kingdom. These insights have important implications for scientific researchers and the public alike, in animal science, wildlife conservation efforts, and reveal deeper insights in neuroscience and psychology by studying common mechanisms across species.

The book is intended for a broad audience of readers of popular science and academics alike, and the wonderful narrative style will appeal to readers of all types. Bradshaw’s own expertise (recognizing and studying post-traumatic stress disorder in elephants and other animals) as well as the detailed research of others provide breadth and depth to the text, and extensive notes and references provide sources for further reading. Her storytelling ability and the structure of the book around personal stories, and of course the content itself, make this book a fascinating read.

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