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Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves Hardcover – June 10, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (June 10, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451627009
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451627008
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,906 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, June 2014: As a kid, Laurel Braitman read Charlotte’s Web and suspected that animals really could talk. As a PhD student at MIT studying scientific history, she again honed in on animals in her research. But it wasn’t until she and her husband adopted a Bernese Mountain Dog named Oliver that animal psychology became the puzzle she most urgently wanted to solve. Oliver was inexplicably, uncontrollably anxious, snapping at invisible flies and shredding furniture when he was left alone. When he chewed through a screen, leapt from a fourth-story window, and—incredibly--survived, Braitman became intent on finding a way to help him. In Animal Madness, she shares how “one anxious dog brought me the entire animal kingdom.” Elements of memoir make the story more poignant, but it’s primarily a lively, deeply researched history and an unflinching look at the trauma of modern-day captivity in medical labs and faux-natural zoos. What she discovered about how animal minds go awry and the ways their disorders--from depression to anxiety to OCD and PTSD--look so much like our own (and vice versa) challenge and transform our understanding of the animal experience. What she discovered about how they heal illuminates how humans, too, can come back from the brink. --Mari Malcolm

From Booklist

Humans aren’t the only animals that suffer from emotional thunderstorms, and author Braitman came to the same conclusion that Charles Darwin arrived at: that nonhuman animals can suffer from mental illnesses that mirror those that humans endure. Starting her fascinating account of animal neuroses with her own dog, who snapped at nonexistent flies and jumped out of a fourth-floor window, Braitman began to read scientific papers and historical literature, eventually traveling to many countries in search of troubled animals and to observe what people did to help them. She found parrots that plucked out their feathers and primates who pulled out their hair, elephants that were so aggressive that their mahouts feared for their lives, tigers with facial tics, and a neurotic donkey who loves massages. The wonderful thing she discovered is that it is possible for these animals to heal, a message crystallized by her encounters with “friendly” gray whales who sought out human contact, even though they still bore harpoon scars from the whaling days. Acknowledging mental illness in other animals, and helping them recover, obviously can be a comforting experience. --Nancy Bent

More About the Author

Laurel Braitman has written stories about science, animals and other topics for Cabinet, Orion, The New Inquiry, and other publications, and performs live for Pop Up Magazine in San Francisco. She received her PhD in history and anthropology of science from MIT and is an affiliate artist at the Headlands Center for the Arts. She lives on a houseboat in Sausalito, California.

Customer Reviews

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The author's passion about this topic comes through on every page, and I already want to read it again!
Alice Hartwell
In it, Braitman shares science, anthropology, history, and personal narrative and weaves them all together using her elegant and engaging writing style.
Andrea R Sutton
You will also feel empathy--for the writer, the animals she loves, the world she explores, and for yourself.
Emily Weinstein

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Laurel Braitman's experiences as a twelve-year-old on a farm with Mac, a miniature donkey she bottle fed, affected her whole life when he grew up to be a biter and kicker despite her love. Years later, she and her husband adopted a four-year-old Bernese Mountain dog on which they had no background information, and again, the results were not what she had hoped. Desperately in need of attention, Oliver received it from Braitman and her husband without restraint. Despite this, he still remained so anxious whenever he was left alone that he literally "went crazy," eventually he becoming a "liability at the dog park." Separation anxiety was just the tip of the iceberg with Oliver, who becomes a recurrent image in the book.

Beginning a serious, very intense study of animal behavior, Braitman spends three years at animal sanctuaries, zoos, aquariums, water parks, and animal research centers throughout the world, creating a body of work that is thorough and academically rigorous enough to have earned her a PhD in the History of Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She recognizes, however, that the audience for this book is quite different from the academic audience to which she presented her original research. Here her goal is to show that all animals do share some basic characteristics and needs with other animals, including humans, and they are often subject to the same psychological problems as humans. She also understands and hopes to assuage the emotions of guilt, helplessness, and sadness among pet lovers like herself who have discovered that love is not always enough in dealing with a seriously disturbed animal.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By D_shrink VINE VOICE on June 22, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author tries to explain how aniamals are basically driven mad by the actions of humans, and that if we learned to compassionately coesixt with other species we would all be better off.

Early in the book the author does a nice job of showing how Alzheimers in humans and dementia in dogs are closely correlated, with the primary difference being that due to the shorter life span of dogs they don't have time for plaque to build up in their brains but instead suffer dementia from atherosclerosis [hardening and narrowing of cranial arteries].

She also points out how anxiety occurs among the lower ranking animals of a pack or group with their brains being constantly bathed in stress hormones as opposed to the higher ranking members who suffer from much less stress which can correlate nicely to the differences in human society between the very well off and the middle and lower ranking members of society trying to make do.

Something that I never realized before is the primate mothers who were raised in isolation as babies, say in old time zoos and circuses do not know how to nurse and will often push their young away. They are now provided with lactation consultants by watching other primates nurse theier young and sometimes even human surogates, this use of human females as surrogates more frequently done in poorer countries.

We are also told that as late as the later 19th century, it was thought that animals contracted rabies as punishment for some evil act they had done, and throughout the 19th and well into the twentieth century homesickness was considered a physical illness with the terms nostalgia and homesickness being used interchangeably.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Carli Davidson on June 17, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fun to read even if you've never heard of Konrad Lorenz and backed up by scientific studies from the new-ish and exciting field of ethology (mindful animal behavior), Animal Madness is a refreshing cutting edge way to read about the animals in our lives. Braitman shows us relationships to animals not as simply anthropomorphic projections, but intelligent beings who suffer and thrive just as we do. A must read to better understand our animals mental health or just to validate that yes, maybe your dog IS crazy!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Sharon Price on June 18, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Laurel Braitman translates the world of psychology and behavioral studies through stories so entertaining you forget you're actually learning stuff. Leave it to an MIT Ph.D. who grew up on a southern California coastal ranch to weave together distant worlds. #1 in Animal Psychology right now on Amazon, although this book reaches far beyond your "normal" definition of animal and reminds us to include humans as animals too. Highly recommended.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By DM on June 12, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Braitman writes with so much intelligence and wit and curiosity and heart. I'm reading the book now and it's fascinating.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Martin Milbank on June 16, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Smart, entertaining, affecting and memorable. Laurel Braitman has written a wonderful book, as insightful about the human mind as it is about non-humans. Recommend!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Elaine on June 29, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As an animal lover and owner of three dogs at present, I enjoyed this book tremendously. It confirms what I have always thought: that animals' mental lives are more like ours than most people realize. This book is written with humor, intelligence, and compassion. I recommend it highly.
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