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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"Loving animals is easy. Thinking clearly about them can be almost impossible. Only a writer as earnestly curious as Laurel Braitman – so irrepressibly game to understand the animal mind – could draw this elegantly on both the findings of academic scientists and the observations of a used elephant salesman in Thailand; on the sorrows of a famous, captive grizzly bear in nineteenth-century San Francisco and the anxieties of her own dog. Animal Madness is a big-hearted and wildly intelligent book. Braitman rigorously demystifies so much about the other animals of our world while simultaneously generating even greater feelings of wonder."
– Jon Mooallem, author of Wild Ones
"Animal Madness is a landmark book. Researchers have long ignored animals in need, especially in the wild. However, just as we suffer from a wide variety of psychological disorders so too do other animals. But they make a remarkable recovery when they are cared for, understood, and loved."
– Marc Bekoff, author of Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed and editor of Ignoring Nature No More
"Animal Madness is the sanest book I've read in a long time. Laurel Braitman irrefutably shows that animals think and feel, and experience the same emotions that we do. To deny this is crazy – which is why this fine book should be required reading for anyone who cares about healing the broken inner lives of both people and animals."
– Sy Montgomery, author of The Good Good Pig
"This is a marvelous, smart, eloquent book – as much about human emotion as it is about animals and their inner lives. Braitman's research is fascinating, and she writes with the ease and engagement of a natural storyteller."
– Susan Orlean, bestselling author of Rin Tin Tin, Saturday Night, and The Orchid Thief
"Braitman assembles the shattered pieces of others' minds into a thoroughly considered and surprising realization that many familiar animals possess the same mental demons that haunt us. This insight challenges us to accept that our ancient kinship with other animals is as apparent in our psyche as it is in our physique."
– John Marzluff, Author of Gifts of the Crow
"Humane, insightful, and beautifully written, Animal Madness gives anthropomorphism a good name. Laurel Braitman's modern and nuanced definition of the word helps animals, helps people, and bolsters the connection between the two. Her thought-provoking book illuminates just how much we share with the creatures around us."
– Vicki Constantine Croke, author of The Lady and the Panda and Elephant Company
"In the tradition of Marc Bekoff and Virginia Morell, Laurel Braitman deftly and elegantly makes the case that animals have complex emotional lives. This passionate, provocative, and insightful book deeply expands our knowledge and empathy for all species – especially, perhaps, our own."
– B. Natterson-Horowitz, M.D. and K. Bowers, coauthors of Zoobiquity: Astonishing Connections Between Human and Animal Health
"Animal Madness takes us on a roller-coaster of an emotional journey among emotionally unhappy animals. There are lows and highs here – the fears and worries of disturbed animals, and the joy and hope of humans trying to help them. In this compelling and provocative book, Braitman shows us sides of the animal mind few have imagined, and in doing so, opens our eyes anew."
– Virginia Morell, author of Animal Wise
"Eschewing statistics and experimental data in favor of her own stories and historical anecdotes, Braitman, a trained historian of science, appeals directly to her readers' emotions with tales of anguished elephants and heartsick gorillas. The writing, informed by the author's academic background, relies heavily on the views of 19th-century naturalists, e.g., Charles Darwin and William Lauder Lindsay, although Braitman does cite such modern ethologists and psychologists as Mark Bekoff and Jaak Panskepp. Braitman highlights the similarities between human and nonhuman emotion but seems focused on proving that nonhuman animals can feel. The author's book is more overtly evangelical than Virginia Morell's Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures, but both titles make similar arguments: that the time has come to rethink our ban on anthropomorphism, that beasts can indeed think and experience other senses, and that we ought to do more for (and less to) our furry and feathered cousins. VERDICT This engaging, compassionate read will touch the hearts of animal lovers but is unlikely to convert skeptics. Readers in search of a straightforward review of current animal-cognition literature may be put off by Braitman's inclusion of details from her personal life and should turn to Morell's book, mentioned above, instead."
– Kate Horowitz, Library Journal (04/01/2014)
"Humans aren't the only animals that suffer from emotional thunderstorms, and author Braitman came to the same conclusion that Charles Darwin arrived at: that nonhuman animals can suffer from mental illnesses that mirror those that humans endure. Starting her fascinating account of animal neuroses with her own dog, who snapped at nonexistent flies and jumped out of a fourth-floor window, Braitman began to read scientific papers and historical literature, eventually traveling to many countries in search of troubled animals and to observe what people did to help them. She found parrots that plucked out their feathers and primates who pulled out their hair, elephants that were so aggressive that their mahouts feared for their lives, tigers with facial tics, and a neurotic donkey who loves massages. The wonderful thing she discovered is that it is possible for these animals to heal, a message crystallized by her encounters with friendly gray whales who sought out human contact, even though they still bore harpoon scars from the whaling days. Acknowledging mental illness in other animals, and helping them recover, obviously can be a comforting experience."
- Booklist (05/01/2014)
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MIT PhD in the history of science, Laurel Braitman has written for Pop Up Magazine, The New Inquiry, Orion, and a variety of other publications. She is a TED Fellow and an affiliate artist at the Headlands Center for the Arts. Laurel lives on a houseboat in Sausalito, California, and can be reached at AnimalMadness.com.