A heartwarming tale of the bond between humans and animals, Running With Sherman (Knopf, $27.95), by Christopher McDougall—best known for his bestselling Born to Run—is another masterful, fun, and inspiring memoir. This time he tells the story of Sherman, an abused donkey McDougall and his family adopted and brought to their farm in the Amish Country. Sherman was not expected to survive, but after McDougall did as someone advised and gave him a job—the donkey began to thrive. The job was preparing for the World Championship Leadville Burro Race in Colorado, an annual marathon run by humans and donkeys, side-by-side. Full of the kind of kooky characters and long-distance runners typical of McDougall’s other books, this one is more than just a compelling, feel-good page-turner. It’s also a powerful argument for why animals matter in our evolution of society, and how damaged we humans become when we turn away from them.
Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers, an evolutionary biologist and science journalist, respectively, taught us a lot about animals, humans, and the diseases we share in their groundbreaking Zoobiquity. Again skirting the twin dangers of anthropomorphism—making animals too much like us—and anthopodenialism—missing the connections between us and animals—their new work looks at how both animals and humans experience adolescence. Shared by nearly all species, from insects and amphibians to birds and mammals, adolescence, or, as the authors term this pivotal developmental stage, Wildhood (Scribner, $28), is crucial to helping the young develop skill sets concerning safety, status, sexuality, and independence. Examining each life lesson in detail, the book tracks the experiences of a juvenile penguin leaving her Antarctic birthplace for the treacherous seas; a young male hyena, born at the low-end of his species’s totem pole; the complicated romantic history of a humpback whale; and a wolf who has to go off and survive on his own. Full of fascinating details about these four species and many others, these coming-of-age stories also bear profound similarities to those of their human counterparts. If teens seem maddeningly reckless, over-sensitive, and obsessed with status, this book shows that they are only behaving as evolution prepared them to.
Richard Louv struck a nerve with his Last Child in the Woods, which diagnosed a host of physical and psychological ills as symptoms of nature-defi cit disorder. Simply put: if we get outside more, we’ll feel better. We’ll feel even better—and treat the planet better—Louv shows in Our Wild Calling (Algonquin, $27.95) if we cultivate relationships with animals. Making his case with stories buttressed by studies, Louv shows how bonds with animals have changed people’s lives, and often that of the animals as well. Moving and thought-provoking, these accounts—featuring dogs, foxes, crickets, turtles, elk, wounded birds, and others—illustrate how relationships with animals ease loneliness, connect us to something larger than ourselves, and stimulate empathy and generosity. This “magic” lies behind the increase in service and emotional support animals, and it will also serve as the foundation for new kinds of relationships with wild animals—to the point that we can stop the crises of the Anthropocene and move instead into an era “where we advance through a deep sense of shared connection with other living things.” As reflected in new accommodations to animals in urban spaces, such as wildlife corridors and biophilic architecture, and even granting legal rights to rivers and land, we’re already taking the first steps.