What goes on in an animal's mind? How does it experience the world? In Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel (Henry Holt, 2015; 480 pages), ecologist Carl Safina explores these intriguing questions. “Speculation about animals' mental experiences happens to be the main quest of this book,” Safina writes, as he skillfully weaves together research on animal behavior and cognition with tales of his journey across the globe to observe how different animals live. In his quest, he discovers that many mammals and birds possess rich personalities and display complicated social behaviors and group politics. These traits sometimes parallel our own but are unique to them in other important ways. Elephant expert Cynthia Moss characterizes the distinction well: “Elephants experience joy. It may not be human joy. But it is joy.”
Dolphins, in particular, seem to fascinate us. After swimming with dolphins while on vacation in Hawaii, best-selling author Susan Casey became entranced with the intelligent, beautiful creatures. In Voices in the Ocean: A Journey into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins (Doubleday, 2015; 320 pages), Casey embarks on an exploration to understand dolphins and our relationship with them. She travels to meet people who adore dolphins, delves into research on dolphin intelligence and social behaviors, and investigates humans' ongoing cruelty toward them. Although Casey often gets caught up in dolphin mystique instead of facts, she provides compelling insights into their world.
Another recent book chronicles the life and times of a different ocean dweller, the octopus. Slippery octopuses may be less popular than majestic dolphins, but award-winning author Sy Montgomery reveals their beauty in The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness (Atria Books, 2015; 272 pages). The book takes its readers on a vivid tour of their complex inner world. Montgomery explores their proclivities, their relationships and their intelligence and ultimately tries to deduce whether they possess consciousness. Although much is still unknown about the octopus, it is hard to come away from this book without a new appreciation for these wonderful creatures.