Becoming Wild Book Cover

Review of Becoming Wild

Few books touch my heart and soul the way Becoming Wild (affiliate link) by Carl Safina did. I ordered this book spontaneously from the library when it became available, and it took me most of the loan period available to me to even pick it up. I’m very glad that I finally did, because once I first cracked the page of Carl’s world, I couldn’t put it down.

The book take us through the cultures of 3 different species of animal, while mentioning several others. If the word ‘culture’ surprises you connected with animals, you’re in for even more of a treat than average.

Animal culture, it turns out, is a rich and important part of the animal world. Sperm whales, for example, have their own language, and it includes names for their own clan. On top of this, they may even have individual names. Carlos has a poetic style of writing that makes you feel like you are living alongside these whales.

This made it all the more tragic when you read how intelligent and emotional these animals are, how much they love their children, and how brutal whaling must have been for them. This is made more powerful by true accounts of whaling events that speak of the pain of a mother whale losing her child.

While sperm whale life is much more peaceful now, attacks from killer whales, ship strikes, and entanglement are still causing these family groups to lose far too many members.

This by far was the most touching and beautiful part of the book for me. The second phase talked about parrots. While parrot culture is touched on a little bit, the main point was actually talking about the beauty of nature and why it might have come to be. While I appreciated this section, it didn’t hit me quite the way the sperm whales did.

The final section is one I was dreading, as I confess, I don’t really like chimpanzees. As I read the Carl’s descriptions of chimpanzee violence, death, and infanticide, they didn’t win me over anymore. Just like with humans and whales, chimpanzees all have unique cultures. Some of them are more relaxed than others, and have different tool uses and different customs.

He also compared different chimpanzee cultures to human cultures, and may have hit on just why I don’t like chimpanzees so much. They are very comparable to another species that regularly kills its own kind, and where child abuse and infanticide happens with surprising regularity–human beings.

I don’t like this dark side of human beings either, and quite frankly, I’d rather embrace whale culture. Although my favorite section will always be the time I got to spend through Carl’s eyes as he observed sperm whale culture, all of the book has value in it. I strongly suggest giving it a read, if no other reason than to catch a glimpse of how fabulously intelligent and rich the animal world is.

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