(A big thank you to NetGalley for supplying a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review!)
Most of the time, reading is a solitary activity. When I started reading Aesop’s Animals by Jo Wimpenny, I quickly realized my experience with this particular book would be a bit different. Namely, I couldn’t stop reading out animal facts to my husband as I learned them.
For example, did you know the lyrebird is so great at mimicking frequently heard sounds that it can actually replicate the sounds of chainsaws with astonishing accuracy? (Watch this BBC video and get ready to have your mind blown. These birds can also mimic the sounds of camera shutters!)
Did you also know that a fox can hear a mouse squeak from almost 150 feet away? Or that a donkey needs only around half the calories that a similarly sized horse needs?
These are just a few of the many fascinating facts Wimpenny shares from her ample research, carried out in an effort to discover whether the animal traits the renowned storyteller Aesop assigned to his classic fables were in fact scientifically accurate. For instance, are foxes actually tricksters as they are portrayed in the fables? Are wolves bloodthirsty beasts that should be feared? Do lions embody characteristics of noble leaders like Aesop suggests?
Of course, Aesop likely didn’t set out to spout scientific studies to his audience, but Wimpenny stresses how (accurate or not) the animals’ traits expressed in Aesop’s famous fables have become engrained in our culture. They’ve often shaped our own opinions about certain animals and our reactions to them.
If you’re looking for an in-depth analysis of Aesop or his fables, you’ll want to look elsewhere. Rather, this book provides just a brief summary of a fable in a few paragraphs at the beginning of each chapter. The rest of the chapter is dedicated to studies of the selected animal’s characteristics and behaviors both in the wild and in the lab.
While you might initially think reading about scientific studies is incredibly dry, Wimpenny does an excellent job of presenting the material in a manner that bypasses most of the technical jargon. I appreciated the in-depth research that went into the book, as well as the inclusion of the author’s own experiences with wild animals.
If you’re fascinated by cute, startling, or purely mystifying animal behavior, go out and buy this book! It’s a lot like reading an episode of Planet Earth. Just let your housemates know to expect animal fact updates every few minutes as you make your way through the book…
Is Aesop’s Animals on your To-Be-Read list? Do you have suggestions for other animal-centric books? Let me know in the comments section!