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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing journey...
I was very impressed with this book. Part of what Caitlin O'Connell experienced for long stretches of time is something the vast majority of us could not imagine. One particular chapter about the elephant Donna was a personal favorite, explaining in detail much of what this groundbreaking scientist (along with her husband Tim Rodwell) had to cope with in working with...
Published on March 7, 2007 by Barry Stevens

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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Would have been better as a magazine article
This is a frustrating book . . . just good enough to keep reading, but never really satisfying. If it had been a magazine article (say in "The Atlantic") centered firmly on the topic suggested by the book's title -- i.e., the unusual and surprising ability of elephants to sense and communicate via seismic vibrations -- I probably would have thoroughly enjoyed it...
Published on November 7, 2007 by R. M. Peterson


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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing journey..., March 7, 2007
By 
Barry Stevens (New Haven, Connecticut USA) - See all my reviews
I was very impressed with this book. Part of what Caitlin O'Connell experienced for long stretches of time is something the vast majority of us could not imagine. One particular chapter about the elephant Donna was a personal favorite, explaining in detail much of what this groundbreaking scientist (along with her husband Tim Rodwell) had to cope with in working with these gigantic subjects. Another chapter that detailed a African village experience was quite moving, especially as a dramatic event unfolded in a very unfamiliar, Third World setting. A must-read -- there are very few scientific, introspective books that have gone the necessary distance.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More memoir than elephant science, July 20, 2009
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This review is from: The Elephant's Secret Sense: The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa (Paperback)
In reading the summaries and reviews for this book, I had gotten the sense that it focused on the science of elephant communication. However, it is more the author's personal memoir about her experiences in Namibia than about elephant communication. O'Connell does tell some fascinating tales of escapes from lions and elephant politics. In one incident, a female lion stuck its head into the author's bunker, and I was left reading the book on the edge of my seat (even though I know the author survived). She is also good at interpreting elephant emotions and giving real character to the matriarchs and young bulls in the elephant families. When her research team tried dart one female elephant from a helicopter in order to radio tag her, the elephant's colleagues and babies flapped their ears, tried to use their trunks to swat the helicopter, and even charged the helicopter. These stories are the best part of the book.

I thought O'Connell discussion of the science of elephant communication left much to desired. There was too little of it, and when she does discuss the science it was a bit too quick and without enough explanation. She recounts a few anecdotes about elephants using seismic communication, but never actually gives us an idea of whether these observations were considered statistically significant. At one point, she discusses how she learned about the anti-aliasing effect in geophysics but looking at a computer graphic, but fails to give readers a photograph of that graphic in order to help us understand what she is describing.

If you want a conservation biologist's adventure stories, this book will work well for you. In fact, I think it does a great job explaining the politics and frustrations, but also the joys of the field. However, contrary to the impression I received in reading the Amazon page, this book doesn't deal much with elephant communication.
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Would have been better as a magazine article, November 7, 2007
This is a frustrating book . . . just good enough to keep reading, but never really satisfying. If it had been a magazine article (say in "The Atlantic") centered firmly on the topic suggested by the book's title -- i.e., the unusual and surprising ability of elephants to sense and communicate via seismic vibrations -- I probably would have thoroughly enjoyed it (especially if it had also received the editing of a good magazine). Instead, the book goes well beyond the subject announced on its cover, so much so that it becomes more like a memoir of the author's 12+ years of research into elephant behavior, especially her 4+ years in the field in Namibia. Thus, the book is by no means limited to how she first formulated and then proved her hypothesis concerning elephants' seismic communication. In addition, we read a great deal about her work with African governments and villagers towards finding non-lethal ways of keeping elephants from destroying gardens and crops, about some quite personal experiences and anecdotes from her life in Africa, and, more generally, about other problems in contemporary Africa such as AIDs, poaching, and the nigh-intractable conflict between conservation and maximum economic return for natives. All of this is interesting; it certainly makes for a more exciting life than I have led over the past 14 years, and to a degree I envy Ms. O'Connell. But even so, I have better uses for my reading time, and in deciding how to allocate my reading time I wish I could rely on how publishers describe their wares. I purchased the book because I was interested in the subject of elephant communication, not because I wanted to read the memoir of a naturalist's career in Africa. To a certain extent, the publisher, Free Press, has engaged in a bait-and-switch.

Is this sloppy inability to limit what is essentially a work of reporting to the subject at hand, instead allowing the writer to wander off into various and sundry other matters that were encountered as a reporter in the field, a by-product of the "New Journalism"? In any event, I have encountered the phenomenon all too frequently in recent years. I might add that the writing is rather ordinary, and the book could have benefited from a stronger editorial hand. That, too, is a phenomenon far too frequently encountered.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nonfiction with style, suspense of literary action thriller, January 5, 2008
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This book is filled with vivid characters both animal and human, heart-pounding adventure, and fascinating scientific and political information. Anyone intrigued with animal intelligence and personalities will be rewarded with this and much more. O'Connell recounts amazing adventures in a style that's both lyrically descriptive and gritty in details that bring the reader into the different world of today's Africa. Without an ounce of bragging, she reveals herself and her husband to be courageous, quirky and very smart action heroes that you'd enjoy seeing on the silver screen. Their heartfelt devotion to their quest - and each other - is compelling and very satisfying.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for animal lovers, host of Animal Tails, April 28, 2007
An intricate balance exists between humans and nature that undergirds even the most basic experiences. Ecological researcher, Caitlin O'Connell has spent her professional life exploring the lesser-known aspects of this relationship through her study of elephant behavior in sub-Saharan Africa, shedding light on their value within society and promoting the need for continued conservation and outreach. In THE ELEPHANT'S SECRET SENSE: The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa , O'Connell uncovers the fascinating and complex communication system of elephants, and conveys the deeper importance of this astounding discovery on modern African society.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not Animals in Translation..., May 20, 2007
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I was expecting a book similar to Temple Grandin's Animals in Translation. Unfortunately, this book is very much unlike that book. I expected the bulk of this book to focus specifically on elephant communication, but that is not the case. Much time is spent on African conservation in general and the history of certain African areas where she was stationed. When I bought the book, it was not to read about local tribes or their politics, it was to read about elephant communication. Not saying the other topics aren't interesting, but if I wanted to read about those, I would have bought a book specifically on that. Making things worse, her style of writing is very disjointed and skips around.

There are not many books that I don't finish reading, but this was one of them. I was very much looking forward to reading this book based on the reviews. Not sure why there was such a disconnect. Maybe it's expectations. If you are expecting a more in-depth book specifically on elephant communication, with lots of scientific detail, this isn't it.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who Knew Elephants Hear With Their Toes!, May 13, 2007
By 
Judith Price (Adelaide, South Australia) - See all my reviews
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Anyone who is interested in African elephants and their rich and amazing lives will find this an interesting read. Caitlin has added hugely to the body of knowledge about Elephant communication. It is part adventure story, as most intrepid young scientists who venture into Africa for their PHD theses discover. It tells of the beauty and terror and difficulties of this most diverse land and her rich wildlife.

Caitlin's book tells of her discoveries, elephant communication research, years of working with people in the Caprivi region to combat Elephant/Human conflict as well as her memorable times in hides stalked by lion and all the other adventures.

The book is well written for the most part, does lose some momentum toward the end of the book but this would appraer to be editing rather than Caitlin's writing. I thoroughly reccomend it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Humans And Elephants Share Common Traits, September 5, 2009
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This review is from: The Elephant's Secret Sense: The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa (Paperback)
It is a big world and we tend to get too wrapped up in our world and life - it is good to know that people like Caitlin O'Connell are observing and contemplating nature. It would be hard to imagine me giving up creature comforts to spend one night in an observation bunker at an African watering hole, but Dr. O'Connell does this for many months through the years. While doing this fieldwork, she observes that elephants are communicating in an unlikely way - through the ground. This fascinating read takes the reader through the scientific process related to this discovery and provides many insights into life in the Third World and in the bush. My favorite thought of Dr. O'Connell's is that "humans and elephants share common traits: neither appears equipped to compromise; both are refugees of war, struggling for a foothold, a patch to resettle, to reclaim and call their own."
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspired by Elephants' Ears, March 6, 2008
One would expect that a book written by a research associate at Stanford University on elephant communication would be boring and pedantic, but not so with Caitlin O'Connell's The Elephant's Secret Sense. The daughter of a doctor, whose earliest memories found her carrying her father's medical bag in hopes that he would use his tools to examine her ears, O'Connell grew up to study the enormous ears and hearing systems that encompass the elephant from head to toe. Her studies led her in a quest to help the Namibian farmers, resettled from South Africa during apartheid, by using sound to protect their farms from hungry elephants.

O'Connell's work combines the suspense of a mystery writer with the lyrical prose of a travel writer, and reveals her compassion for all living things. In her book, she chronicles her adventures and misadventures as she strives to understand how elephants communicate with each other within their African environment.

In the Caprivi, violent death is as much a part of the landscape as the capricious nature of rain. Nobody knows when it will come or how much to expect, but in the end it always comes. Death can snatch people away without warning--for example, a leopard stealing into a hut leaving a faceless victim, a croc seizing a laundress off the riverbank, or an elephant using its powerful knuckle to smash the ribs of a hapless person lost in the forest...And a neighbor may disappear simply for being from the wrong tribe, or from the cold sweat of the ever-present malarial fever, or even from an unexpected twist in the night, silencing the cries of an infant.

O'Connell traveled between two settings in Africa, one in the wild with elephants, lions, rhinos, crocodiles, and elands, and one in the villages of Namibia with unfamiliar residents, corrupt officials, and compassionate reserve stewards. As well, she dealt with various educational institutions in the US. Throughout the book, she shows the reader the contrasts between the different cultures.

...When it came time to leave the Caprivi, I was stricken yet freed. Which way did I feel? Which way should I go? How could I tease apart these feelings?...How is it that I had come to grieve for this land, for the animals, and for these people? How did I let it consume me? How could I put things in perspective? After leaving and gaining some distance, would I ever be able to return? I wanted desperately to help, yet my visions for the inevitability of failure paralyzed me. In the end, had I really helped these people?

Including pictures of many of the elephants she studied, O'Connell shows how a researcher can quickly become attached to the animal's personalities almost to the point of anthropomorphism. But she maintains the balance necessary to study the wild animals without interfering too much in their environment.

After reading this book, one will undoubtedly want to read more about preserving the last wild herds in Africa and support O'Connell and her husband, Tim Rodwell in promoting elephant conservation and scientific understanding around the world. For those interested in science and ecology, this very readable book also serves as an inspiration to the next generation of researchers.

by Susan M. Andrus
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved this book., June 9, 2013
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This review is from: The Elephant's Secret Sense: The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa (Paperback)
I loved this book. I think this book is successful on at least two levels. First, I think it paints a picture of what it's like to live and work in the field in Africa - Namibia in this case. It's a glimpse of life that many folks, myself included, would love to experience. On another level, it's a description of the important work that Ms. O'Connell in identifying important communication tools used by elephants and specifically the use of sound waves conducted seismically and picked up by the feet of elephants, which allows elephants to communicate over vast distances. The book is interesting and well-written. If you love elephants, you'll deeply appreciate this book. If you love Africa and African wildlife, you'll love this book. And if you simply have a curious nature and are interested in a good read, I think you'll find that this book hits the target.
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The Elephant's Secret Sense: The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa
The Elephant's Secret Sense: The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa by Caitlin O'Connell (Paperback - September 1, 2008)
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