Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?

Book - 2016
Average Rating:
Rate this:
WW Norton
A New York Times BestsellerFrom world-renowned biologist and primatologist Frans de Waal, a groundbreaking work on animal intelligence destined to become a classic.
What separates your mind from an animal’s? Maybe you think it’s your ability to design tools, your sense of self, or your grasp of past and future—all traits that have helped us define ourselves as the planet’s preeminent species. But in recent decades, these claims have eroded, or even been disproven outright, by a revolution in the study of animal cognition. Take the way octopuses use coconut shells as tools; elephants that classify humans by age, gender, and language; or Ayumu, the young male chimpanzee at Kyoto University whose flash memory puts that of humans to shame. Based on research involving crows, dolphins, parrots, sheep, wasps, bats, whales, and of course chimpanzees and bonobos, Frans de Waal explores both the scope and the depth of animal intelligence. He offers a firsthand account of how science has stood traditional behaviorism on its head by revealing how smart animals really are, and how we’ve underestimated their abilities for too long.People often assume a cognitive ladder, from lower to higher forms, with our own intelligence at the top. But what if it is more like a bush, with cognition taking different forms that are often incomparable to ours? Would you presume yourself dumber than a squirrel because you’re less adept at recalling the locations of hundreds of buried acorns? Or would you judge your perception of your surroundings as more sophisticated than that of a echolocating bat? De Waal reviews the rise and fall of the mechanistic view of animals and opens our minds to the idea that animal minds are far more intricate and complex than we have assumed. De Waal’s landmark work will convince you to rethink everything you thought you knew about animal—and human—intelligence.

Baker & Taylor
A Time magazine top-100 influential notable and the author of Our Inner Ape presents a groundbreaking work on animal intelligence that offers a revolutionary exploration of the intricate and complex nature of the animal mind.

Book News
Frans de Waal, the director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, is author of Our Inner Ape and nine other books on primate research for general readers. In this accessible book for general readers and students, he uses plain language and many b&w illustrations to explain past and present research on animal intelligence, highlighting gaps and problems in the research. Offering many stories from his own observations of primates, as well as evidence from controlled experiments, he surveys recent research showing that animals, from insects to undersea creatures to primates, have the ability to design tools, carry out plans, and identify individuals of other species, and even demonstrate a sense of empathy and justice. The book includes an extensive glossary and a wealth of b&w illustrations explaining research concepts. Annotation ©2016 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (

& Taylor

A groundbreaking work on animal intelligence explores the intricate and complex nature of the animal mind, discussing how the study of animal cognition has revealed how humans have underestimated animals' intellectual abilities.

Publisher: New York : W. W. Norton & Company, 2016
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780393246186
Branch Call Number: 591.513 W111a
Characteristics: 340 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

AL_ANNAL Mar 03, 2018

You will never think about your pets or the birds in your backyard or the chimps at the zoo in the same way again!

Jul 07, 2017

Very good book about animal cognition!

Feb 24, 2017

Silly me, I thought this was going to be about animals. It's really about the history of the author's own field, and how much smarter he is than all other humans, especially those who've had the temerity to write something other than what he believes. I found it boring, plodding, and way too wordy.

Jan 25, 2017

A fascinating look into the science of animal cognition and how it has changed over the years. de Waal pulls mostly from his experiences and expertise with primates but he does a wonderful job of pulling in studies from a relatively wide range of other animals as well. It's certainly not a breezy read, but is one that will open your mind to fascinating new concepts. I think he says the point of it best in his conclusion, "Instead of making humanity the measure of all things, we need to evaluate other species by what they are."

ellensix Dec 29, 2016

I'm not sure I'm even smart enough to understand how smart Frans de Waal is. Pretty sure I'm smarter than a chimpanzee and less smart than a raven.

Nov 22, 2016

If you enjoyed this book, I have another really wonderful book to recommend! It is titled, Beyond Words, by Carl Safina. Check it'll love it! After reading it, I felt such affection for elephants and wolves, especially.

Nicr Nov 21, 2016

Erudite, informative, fascinating and accessible.

AL_LESLEY Nov 09, 2016

An easy enough to understand argument for the reality of animal intelligence, this book is a refreshingly balanced look at current ideas and theories surrounding ethnology. The answer is 'yes' if you're willing.

AnnabelleLee27 Oct 20, 2016

A well-written and entertaining book about the study of animal (and human!) cognition. De Waal writes with warmth and wry humor as he explores the scientific progression and his personal research over his career. The reader will come away with new insights and new appreciation for animals.

Oct 19, 2016

Very readable, thought provoking and almost entertaining at times.

View All Comments


Add a Quote

ellensix Dec 17, 2016

Cognition is the mental transformation of sensory input into knowledge about the environment and the flexible application of this knowledge.

ellensix Dec 17, 2016

But those stories inspire observations and experiments that do help us sort out what’s going on. The science fiction novelist Isaac Asimov reportedly once said, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny.

ellensix Dec 17, 2016 chickens that were not particularly good at noticing the finer distinctions of a maze task.


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at SJCPL

To Top