Despite being written more than two-and-a-half thousand years ago, Aesop's Fables are still passed on from parent to child, and are embedded in our collective consciousness. The morals we have learned from these tales continue to inform our judgements, but have the stories also informed how we regard their animal protagonists? If so, is there any truth behind the stereotypes? Are crows smart enough to reason? Are donkeys really stubborn and dumb? Are ants truly capable of looking ahead to the future, and planning their actions?
In Aesop's Animals, zoologist Jo Wimpenny turns a critical eye to the fables to discover whether there is any scientific truth to Aesop's portrayal of the animal kingdom. She brings the tales into the twenty-first century, introducing the latest findings on some of the most fascinating branches of ethological research – the study of why animals do the things they do. In each chapter she interrogates a classic fable and a different topic – future planning, tool use, self-recognition, cooperation and deception – concluding with a verdict on the veracity of each fable's portrayal from a scientific perspective.
By sifting fact from fiction in one of the most beloved texts of our culture, Aesop's Animals explores and challenges our preconceived notions about animals, the way they behave, and the roles we both play in our shared world.
Dr Jo Wimpenny is a zoologist and science writer. After researching crow intelligence at Oxford University, she co-authored Ten Thousand Birds, an award-winning book on the history of ornithology, and has since written for magazines such as BBC Wildlife. Her latest book, Aesop’s Animals, turns a zoologist’s critical eye to a selection of Aesop's fables, asking whether there is any scientific truth to some of humanity’s most famous animal characters. Jo lives in Oxford, UK, with her partner.
"Come for the fables and stay for the behavioral research in this jam-packed but delightful collection. Aesop's Animals is both an intense and playful look at how humans – storytellers and scientists alike – consider the mysteries inside the creatures with whom we share this planet."
– Scientific American
"A spirited romp through modern cognitive ethology."
– Wall Street Journal
"Engaging and comprehensive, this is highly readable popular science."
– Hannah Beckerman, The Observer
"Every once in a publisher's blue moon, along comes a book so simple and original in its concept that it verges on brilliance and 1,000 science and nature writers howl: "Why did we not think of it?" Such is Aesop's Animals by zoologist Jo Wimpenny, which does precisely what it says on the lid: it puts the anthropomorphic fables of Aesop under the electron microscope of modern science. [...] a clever cadastral survey of animal behavioural studies."
– Country Life
"I simply couldn't put it down. The clever ways in which Wimpenny weaves in current scientific facts about topics including future planning, tool use, self-recognition, cooperation, and deception with Aesop's lessons was spellbinding."
– Psychology Today
"Wimpenny has the knack for bringing interesting research to life with anecdotes without obscuring the more significant challenges of determining just what animals can do and what they may be thinking."
– Wellbeing International
"Wimpenny pumps life into the hard science and keeps her discussions accessible, offering plenty of insight into how humans interpret the natural world."
– Publishers Weekly