Beyond Words: What Elephants and Whales Think and Feel

Review by Celia Godkin for

“Packed with extraordinary stories from the lives of elephants and whales that will entrance animal lovers of all ages, Beyond Words will enlighten anyone contemplating an African safari, a whale watching trip, or a family outing to a zoo or aquarium.”

Beyond Words: What Elephants and Whales Think and Feel is an adaptation for young readers of the New York Times bestseller of the same name by Carl Safina.

Safina begins with a short prologue that describes how the homing pigeons his father kept in the family’s backyard led to an interest in understanding the inner lives of animals. To enlighten us on his chosen subject Safina takes us on a quest to two places where researchers are studying elephants and killer whales in their natural habitats.

In the first half of the book we visit field biologists who’ve been working with elephants in Kenya, sometimes for decades. Safina accompanies them on their rounds as they observe the lives of their subjects. Writing in an engaging, conversational, and often lyrical style, he tells story after story of the ways in which elephants interact with one another and with the world in which they live, as described by the researchers.

We learn that the basic unit of elephant society is a family group led by the oldest female, the matriarch, who “makes the decisions about where the family will go, when, and for how long . . . her personality—whether calm, nervous, firm, indecisive or bold— sets the whole family’s tone.”

Read more here.

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