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45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a pleasure
There are few books which are just a pleasure to read on every page. This was one of them.

The author instructively weaves episodes from his life with his wolf, Brenin, around philosophical arguments he makes to illustrate his insightful points about life. The book obviously isn't hardcore philosophy writing; but even as a philosophy major I found myself...
Published on March 31, 2009 by KP

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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Mark Rowlands "wolf" is really a Malamute!
I have been involved with wolves and wolf rescues for years, including phenotyping canines of unknown heritage. The dog belonging to Mark Rowlands clearly is NOT A WOLF no matter what the author was told by the breeder at purchase, which unfortunately is common practice to raise the retail value of the pups. Since the dog pictured on the cover of his GB released book and...
Published on January 11, 2012 by Ron Hargrove


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45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a pleasure, March 31, 2009
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This review is from: The Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death, and Happiness (Hardcover)
There are few books which are just a pleasure to read on every page. This was one of them.

The author instructively weaves episodes from his life with his wolf, Brenin, around philosophical arguments he makes to illustrate his insightful points about life. The book obviously isn't hardcore philosophy writing; but even as a philosophy major I found myself intrigued by many of the thought-provoking points the author made. I particularly liked his thoughts about time, and his hypothesis that dogs and wolves experience time as moments, rather than as future-oriented like we do. It is also refreshing to read someone who critically challenges humanity's smug claim to superiority over all else in the universe.

Coincidentally, while I was in the middle of this book, my own dog of 8 years became suddenly ill and died a few days later. We were very close, but did not spend nearly enough time together (I was away at college most of the time). She might have been the most generous-hearted creature I've ever known. I identified very closely with the author's grief at loosing so magnanimous a friend as Brenin. It makes me wonder whether it is worth it to get to know creatures of this caliber when it hurts so much when they are gone.

I don't ever cry reading books (or watching movies). But I cried when Brenin died.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I really tried to dislike this book, August 5, 2009
By 
W. V. Buckley (Kansas City, MO) - See all my reviews
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Once I starting reading The Philosopher and the Wolf I was almost sure I wouldn't like it and would have to force myself to wade through it if I ever intended to get to the end. Having read a number of books on wolves, Rowlands' book challenged what I had come to believe: wolf-keeping should be left to the professionals; never allow a wolf off a leash in a city; wolf owners and their "pets" are tragedies waiting to happen, etc.

But a funny thing happened about midway through the book. Rowlands and Brenin won me over with their special bond. Oh sure, there were still times when Rowlands' actions made me roll my eyes and wonder 'what the hell were you thinking?' But beneath it all, this is a story about two very different souls who have much to teach each other - and us. Or maybe, as a middle-aged man and a bit of a misanthrope myself, I could just relate to Rowlands and his bond with Brenin which seems so close to my bond with my more conventional four-legged family.

I suppose I could still quibble about how I'd rather see wolves running free in their natural environment rather than turned into pets, but once I got over my prejudices it made for fascinating reading. I know of no other book where you can find an account of a wolf tearing up an apartment only a few lines away from philosophical musings on time and life's meaning. But being a misanthrope myself I feel obligated to criticize Rowlands for something; thus let me state unequivocally that his writing style can get a bit pedantic when he starts loading up his sentences with too many independent clauses.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In what sense is death a bad thing?, April 23, 2012
I thought I was taking a big risk when I picked up this book. Judging by the cover, I thought it would be a giant hokey disappointment like so many other books I've picked up from the library. It's extremely hard to write about animals (or people) you love without the reader looking at you like you are a pathetic heap of sentimentality. I didn't expect an academic -- and still more, a *philosopher* -- to be able to pull off the near-impossible.

Not only was the book not disappointing, it is one of the most influential books I've read. The problem with most philosophy is that its cold abstraction has no hope of reaching our nerve endings, and so no hope of touching us in any real or lasting way. Rowlands understands this:

"With the possible exception of the higher reaches of pure mathematics or theoretical physics, one can scarcely imagine anything more inhuman than philosophy. Its worship of logic in all its cold, crystalline purity; its determination to stride the bleak and icy mountaintops of theory and abstraction: to be a philosopher is to be existentially deracinated. Philosophers should be offered condolences rather than encouragement."

Rowlands teaches -- really teaches, not just lectures -- philosophy's most important lessons through Brenin the wolf. What matters is not that Brenin was a wolf -- there is nothing particularly special about the qualities of a wolf that make this book meaningful. What matters is that Rowlands loved Brenin.

And that is why I offer one caution: You probably need to have loved an animal for this book to work for you. I don't just mean had a pet that inhabited the same space; I mean had an animal that was less a pet and more a brother. It will be hard to relate to Rowlands's intense emotions unless you've felt this.

This book could not have come at a better time for me. I picked it up shortly before someone close to me passed away. There were some sections from the book that I read many, many times. They, more than anything, helped me with the loss.

Some selected quotes:

1. Episodic memory is just the flapping of wings. It is not particularly reliable at the best of times, and is the first to fade as our brains begin their long but inexorable descent into indolence. But there is another, deeper and more important way of remembering: a form of memory that no one ever thought to dignify with a name. This is the memory of a past that has written itself on you, in your character and in the life on which you bring that character to bear. You are not, at least not typically, aware of these memories; often they are not even the sorts of things of which you can be conscious. But they, more than anything else, make you what you are. These memories are exhibited in the decisions you make, the actions you take and the life you thereby live.

It is in our lives and not, fundamentally, in our conscious experiences that we find the memories of those who are gone. Our consciousness is fickle and not worthy of the task of remembering. The most important way of remembering someone is by being the person they made us -- at least in part -- and living the life they have helped shape.

2. What I learned was, in effect, the antithesis of religion. Religion always deals in hope. If you are a Christian or a Muslim, it is the hope that you will be worthy of heaven. If you are a Buddhist, it is the hope that you will attain release from the great wheel of life and death and so find nirvana. In the Judaeo-Christian religions, hope is even elevated into the primary virtue and renamed faith.

Hope is the used-car salesman of human existence; so friendly, so plausible. But you cannot rely on him. Time will take everything from us in the end. Everything we have acquired through talent, industry, and luck will be taken from us. Time takes our strength, our desires, our goals, our projects, our future, our happiness, and even our hope. What is most important in your life is the you that remains when your hope runs out.

3. In what sense is death a bad thing? Not for other people, but for the person who dies? In what sense would your death be a bad thing for you? Death, whatever else it is, is not something that occurs in a life. Death is the limit of a life; and the limit of a life is not something that can occur in that life any more than the limit of a visual field is something you see: you are aware of it precisely because of what you don't see.
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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Mark Rowlands "wolf" is really a Malamute!, January 11, 2012
I have been involved with wolves and wolf rescues for years, including phenotyping canines of unknown heritage. The dog belonging to Mark Rowlands clearly is NOT A WOLF no matter what the author was told by the breeder at purchase, which unfortunately is common practice to raise the retail value of the pups. Since the dog pictured on the cover of his GB released book and with him in a google image search (and verified as the canine in the book) is clearly a Malamute/Mal mix, a very friendly breed completely dissimilar to pure wolves in attitude. Mr. Rowlands cannot possibly know anything about wolf behavior from him, and therefore the whole premise of the book and his speaking tour is fake. I also take offense at his swapping the photo of his dog on the cover of his GB released book to that of a real wolf to further fool a trusting public for the United States release. Check the cover art on amazon.co.uk for this book. The title should realistically be changed to "The Philosopher and the Dog".
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific, July 29, 2009
This review is from: The Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death, and Happiness (Hardcover)
Rowlands dismisses mere happiness as an end unto itself, that purpose- especially self-purpose- has a greater place, and uses the example of Sisyphus to demonstrate, for even were the gods to avail Sisyphus of the balm of enjoying his futile task of rolling his stone up his hill, that joy would still not be a thing worthy, in and of itself. It would be an absurdity, and even a cruelty inflicted by the gods. Rowlands argues for measurable objective success, not subjective joy derived, as what determines if something is good or not. Then he gets to his rub, that once a purpose is chosen and completed, there is no further meaning, and this point is one that Rowlands has addressed in other venues, but never seems to have tackled fully. To me, the answer is clear: one must choose a purpose that perpetuates itself beyond yourself, and the only things that do this are things that serve not the self, but others: art, science, medicine, public service. Purpose, therefore, can only avoid Rowlands' logical meaningless dead end if it is directed away from the self. In this way, only in altruism can one selfishly gain a deeper sense of satisfaction. And this can only be achieved, as most things are, via personal volition, willing meaning from the ether, so to speak. Rowlands wraps up his book with the conclusion that one's own personal meaning thus comes from those few moments that one is at one's best. These are not those things that are `essentially' you, for stubbornness, stupidity, greed, duplicity or worse, can all be equally essential to a person, but the moments that are the de facto `reason' for one's existence, as determined via the formulations above, are those in which we are at our peak, in whatever sense of the term best suits one's fancy- when we are at our most generous, fittest, smartest, fastest, kindest, funniest, etc. As Rowlands puts it, in a pitch perfect diss of religion and blind faith:

Hope is the used-car salesman of human existence: so friendly, so plausible. But you cannot rely on him. What is most important in your life is the you that remains when your hope runs out. Time will take everything from us in the end. Everything we have acquired through talent, industry and luck will be taken from us. Time takes our strength, our desires, our goals, our projects, our future, our happiness and even our hope. Anything we can have, anything we can possess, time will take from us. But what time can never take from us is who we were in our best moments.

At the risk of sounding arrogant (but who cares?), I couldn't have said it better myself, and bravo! Mark Rowlands' book, The Philosopher And The Wolf, is not just a great read, a great memoir, nor even a great book. It is all of those things, but, if it can just get enough readers, I think it can take on a life of its own, and become a book of sustained and continued philosophic and personal influence. And I mean that of the positive sort, not the way The Prophet nor Jonathan Livingston Seagull are considered such. Rowlands' book is a masterful work that deserves to be seen as a classic that combines the highest and broadest of human achievement and art. It is didactic without being ponderous, self-deprecating without being precious, and far superior to all the bad self help books on life's meaning that clutter shelves because the latest Oprah-endorsed guru wants to scam unthinking zombies. I only hope an Oprah, or some other person of influence in the mass media, will stumble upon this book, and give it the larger audience that it deserves. In service to that directed away from the self goal, I urge readers of this review to buy the book, read the book, and thank me later. I can wait. Most others cannot.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I wish there were more books like this one, June 30, 2009
This review is from: The Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death, and Happiness (Hardcover)
This book has become my all-time favourite. An uplifting, loving, amusing and intelligently thought out work that is philosophical yet humane, and an absolute must-read for all animal lovers. I laughed and I cried throughout, and so did my husband. This book is what all my friends will be getting for Christmas this year.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ...a profound and original book, March 1, 2014
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The Philosopher and the Wolf is a profound and original book. But I never would have found it if it hadn’t been recommended to me.

Even after I ordered it, it sat on my shelf for over a year before I finally picked it up.

I can understand why the back cover copy didn’t grab my attention, because this is a rather difficult book to describe. It’s not quite an autobiography, because the author is often overshadowed by the wolf, and neither of them is the main character. It’s not quite philosophy — although Rowlands presents complex theories with a brilliant ease that makes them applicable to everyday life. And it’s not quite a nature book, either.

And so we’re stuck with that vague catch-all term “memoir”. But this feels unsatisfying somehow. Because to me this book is so much more…

The Philosopher and the Wolf is a beautiful and often hilarious story about a man’s relationship with a wild creature who became his friend and brother: Brenin was “…an extraordinarily well-travelled wolf, living in the US, Ireland, England, and, finally, France.” And because the wolf’s penchant for property damage meant he couldn’t be left at home alone, “He was also the, largely unwilling, beneficiary of more free university education than any wolf that ever lived.” Rowlands was a philosophy professor, and so he brought his wolf to work with him. Brenin sat beneath his desk each day, through all his lectures. And their constant companionship forms the underlying thread of the story.

The prose is crisp and powerful. And Rowlands’s honesty — both about himself and his struggles — is admirable, and sometimes painful to read.

This passage about the author’s reclusive misanthropic tendencies really spoke to me: “There is something lacking in me. And, over the years, it has slowly dawned on me that the choices I have made, and the life I have lived, have been a response to this lack. What is most significant about me, I think, is what I am missing.” He attempts to come to terms with these realizations through the lessons that his friendship with Brenin have revealed to him.

But to label this book as a memoir would be to ignore so much else.

The Philosopher and the Wolf is also about ourselves as a species: the ways in which we differ from the creatures around us. And how our simian cunning and deceptiveness gradually shaped our worldview in ways that set us on a developmental path which veered sharply from that of other animals.

And The Philosopher and the Wolf is also about our constant search for happiness. In one of the most moving chapters of the book, as Rowlands struggles to come to terms with Brenin’s death, he writes:

“The human search for happiness is regressive and futile. And at the end of every line is only nevermore. Nevermore to feel the sun on your face. Nevermore to see the smile on the lips of the one you love, or the twinkling in their eyes. Our conception of our lives and the meaning of those lives is organized around a vision of loss. No wonder time’s arrow horrifies us as well as fascinates us. No wonder we try to find happiness in the new and unusual — in any deviation, no matter how small, from the arrow’s path. Our rebellion may be nothing more than a futile spasm, but it is certainly understandable. Our understanding of time is our damnation.”

And in the end, The Philosopher and the Wolf is about how to find meaning in a life that doesn’t have an intrinsic meaning of its own.

Rowlands’s life with Brenin taught him what he was made of in his greatest — and most painful — moments.

And this is something that not even time or futility or the void can take away from us. “What is most important in your life is the you that remains when your hope runs out.”
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars True Goodness, October 12, 2012
By 
Birdman (Minnetonka, MN USA) - See all my reviews
The author cites a powerful quotation from the great Milan Kundera (THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING) on p. 101 of Rowlands' magisterial little book:

He quotes: "True human goodness can manifest itself, in all its purity and liberty, only in regards to those who have no power." Then, knowing the most powerless among us are animals, he continues: "...And it is here that exists the fundamental failing of man, so fundamental that all other follow from it."

In a work just shy of 245 pages, I encountered a wealth of cross-disciplinary ethical counsel, not only about the proper relationship between humans and animals, but between humans and humans. Whether we read a mammoth work such as Jian Rong's magisterial WOLF TOTEM or Lois Lowry's tender JULIE OF THE WOLVES, Rowlands reveals the myriad ways in which humans show their true selves in the presence of wildlife and wilderness, and does so in an original, readable, quirky way.

As I write this, the state of Minnesota is preparing for its first Gray Wolf hunt in over 40 years, spurred on by special interests who control the legislature - somewhat interested in science, but ethically and logistically inert. The hunt will go on.

Rowlands did what none of us has done: adopted a wild wolf, helped it adapt to his lifestyle and traveled with it for over a decade across the globe. In the process, he learned lessons few of us will ever learn directly. While some will take issue with the fact that he berates us for our simian origins -- and draws sharp contrasts between simian and lupine instincts -- Rowlands has raised the animal/human debate to a higher level.

By combining his learning from disparate fields and humanizing his prose in a fetching way, Rowlands has created a book I shall read again and again, and send others. By confronting the wild eye-to-eye, he confronts the ways in which we fall short of humane values, and suggests attitudes on which we might rely to shape future regional planning, sociobiological studies, and even knowledge.

A beautiful, beautiful book which stands on the same shelf I use to house Wendell Berry, Jane Goodall, Edward O. Wilson and Charles Darwin.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A deeply reflective exploration of animal and human bonds, November 26, 2012
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At the advice of a friend and colleague I have just re-read Rowlands' The Philosopher and the Wolf. It is a gem, not only through the author's powerful story about his life with a beloved animal, but as a deep reflection on many themes relevant to human life and our attempts to deal with these themes.

I was encouraged to read this "wolf book" (actually a hybrid wolf-dog most likely, but no matter) as I am engaged in writing my own book about a wolf I lived with in England, New York, Oregon and Nova Scotia, where he died. In this book, Lupey Journals: Lessons From The Heart Of A Wolf (see lupeywolf.com), I attempt to weave three themes together, the journals and my initial reflections upon what I observed, a brief summary of what science can tell us about nature, and the deep mysteries that experience and science open up to us.

The task is not easy, as I need to speak in different voices, and thus deeply admire Rowlands skills as a powerful thinker and literary craftsman. His experiences with his animal are deeply moving and insightful. I have much to learn from his writings and explorations of what makes us tick, as will all readers who have any compassion for the diversity of life with which we share this planet.

I am delighted my friend suggested I give the book a re-read. Even better on the second read. It is a treasure.

John C. Fentress, PhD
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The horror of being human, February 28, 2013
This story of the relationship between Dr of Philosophy Mark Rowlands, and a wolf he bought as a cub, whilst a very young lecturer in Arizona in the 1990s, is fascinating, touching, meditative, troubled, thought provoking and as heartbreaking at times as it is amusing at others.

Rowlands was, as he admits, on one level quite a troubled individual - misanthropic, intensely reflective but not particularly comfortable with himself or other members of his own species, and veering into a relationship, far less instructive and elevating than his relationship with a wolf or part wolf part dog - with the bottle. The ability to drink a couple of litres of spirit in agonised despair on one particular, heartbreaking night, as he recounts, is clear evidence of hardened heavy drinking.

This book is part a loving recount of an 11 year relationship with Brenin, but, as importantly, a reflection on what it is to be human - or, as Rowlands, in disgust puts it 'ape' or 'simian', by contrast with what it means to be a lupine, vulpine or canine animal.

There is much which fascinatingly turns our own perception of ourselves as fine and advanced, on its head - Rowlands marks all our achievements down, from the highest to the lowest, as based on the evolutionary road which started in other primates, before homo sapiens, namely, the ability to work an advantage in deceiving each other, carried forward in speech, to grandiose mendacity, to ourselves as well as others, and, in order that the deceived do not lose evolutionary advantages, the development of the ability to read each other, see through lies and deceptions, and the never ending content between deceivers and deceived which then goes on permanently. And of course, the fact that each of us is both, simultaneously.

He contrasts the colder, cleaner concept of relationships built on loyalty within the pack of non-primate social species, with the sort of tricky behaviour (so similar to our own) which can be observed by animal behaviourists who study primate tribes over years in the wild.

I very much appreciated the debunking of arrogant superiority which we are prone to, as a species, but, increasingly, as I read, I could not help but be reminded, again and again, that the insistance, almost, on our innate debased nature, in comparison to a more noble non-human animal nature, seemed as flawed as those who believe we are the pinnacle, and the rest, dumb beasts.

Much of the book seemed to inhabit a place of self-loathing - and that loathing was projected outwards to the species as a whole of which the author seemed to be a reluctant and repulsed member.

Man, like wolf, is neither wholly flawed nor wholly perfect and part of our ape-ish evolution also leads to that very ability to self-reflect, even at times to be brutally honest in our self-reflection and attempt to see the world through another's eyes.

Yes, for all I know non-primates may indeed be able to try and empathise with what it might mean to be lupine or avian, or even to try to perceive the world through cockroach or evergreen tree perspective, but I think this is definitely a pronounced human characteristic - and one which, if developed, can work to overturn the undoubtedly also present duplicity of simian development.

At times I very much was in 5 star territory with this book, as it made me think and ponder deeply, but I got pulled back to 4 star because some of the arguments really felt due to the fact Rowlands' own nature made him often peer at the world through ordure-tinted spectacles. Which, in the end may be just as partial in view as rose-tinted ones
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