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What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their Trainers Hardcover – February 12, 2008

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Editorial Reviews


“Playful, passionate, and practical.”—Redbook

“A compelling argument for using techniques from animal trainers to help change bad habits and improve relationships.”—Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Sutherland’s a smart, engaging writer, and her stories about the hows and whys of exotic animal training are fun and fascinating.”—Boston Sunday Globe

“Part self-help guide, part animal psychology textbook and part memoir . . . Sutherland has a breezy style.”—New York Times Book Review

“In the little, private zoo known as marriage, it helps to remind yourself that you and your partner are just two bipedal primates trying to get along in intimate co-habitation.”—Globe and Mail

“Wise and pragmatic advice . . . The thing I love most about this book is that every other paragraph, Sutherland’s terrific wordsmithing, compelling logic, and anecdotes about exotic animals make me feel like she’s tossed me a biscuit.”—Martha Beck, author of Steering by Starlight and columnist for O: The Oprah Magazine

“Hilarious and persuasive.”—Good Housekeeping

“Invaluable . . . It succeeds nicely as an animal-training guide, and amusingly as a relationship book.”—Buffalo News

From the Trade Paperback edition.

About the Author

Amy Sutherland is the author of Kicked, Bitten, and Scratched and Cookoff. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and The Boston Globe. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. Her feature piece “What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage,” on which this book is based, was the most viewed and most e-mailed article of The New York Times online in 2006. Sutherland divides her time between Boston and Portland, Maine.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (February 12, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400066581
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400066582
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (97 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #774,297 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I left my career as a newspaper features writer behind in 2001 to write the first of my three books, "Cookoff: Recipe Fever in America". For a year I crisscrossed the country interviewing chili heads, cowboys, state fair cooking champs, and a few cheats. Next I headed to Moorpark Community College in southern California, where the top school for exotic animal trainers can be found, for "Kicked Bitten and Scratched".

My book chronicles the year I shadowed students through this improbable, magical, grueling program. I met my first binturong. I went on walks with the baboons, the cougars and the wolf. All of this understandably went to my head, which became apparent for all when I wrote a column for the New York Times on how I improved my marriage by using animal training techniques I had learned at the school. That insane outburst earned me a movie deal (Lionsgate-Summit) and the contract for my third book, "What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love and Marriage".

Along the way, I've written for magazines and newspapers as well as taught journalism at Boston University. Currently I write the Bibliophiles column for the Boston Globe's Sunday Books section and am at work on another book project. This one will be about shelter dogs, two of which, Penny Jane and Walter Joe, share my home office in Boston. If you don't find me at my desk it's probably because my two assistants below, Walter Joe and Penny Jane have convinced me it's time for a walk.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By thehappybookworm on February 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a fast and fun read, but also thought provoking. The author uses her experience with animal trainers to illumine our interactions with humans. Ms. Sutherland is a good story teller and provides insights on how not to take everything so personally and make our relationships more relaxed. Some former reviews seem to be taking the premise of this book a bit literally. The author doesn't suggest that we treat people like animals. Just that teaching techniques can overlap. This is a funny, light-hearted and enjoyable read! It will provide great discussion for your book club.
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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful By ChesterBear on February 13, 2008
Format: Hardcover
There is hope! After reading this, you will slap your forehead and think "Of course, why didn't I see that before"? This book gives some really good, practical advice on applying basic animal training techniques to improve our interactions with human animals. It makes you look at your own actions and behavior in a new light. And this book is a fun, light-hearted read; not some soul-searching, introspective quagmire. It's fast, it's fun and it's helpful (I hope)!
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46 of 58 people found the following review helpful By hydrophilic on March 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As the jacket advertises, this book was inspired by an incredibly popular article the author wrote for the New York Times last year. I happened to read the article myself, and enjoyed it quite a bit. I was very interested to see what other insights the author had regarding our own human behavior. Unfortunately, like many books inspired by articles, there's not much here beyond what Sutherland originally wrote.

I symphathize to some degree with the author, because there was probably a lot of pressure to capitalize on her 15 minutes of fame. However, if you want to save some money, just pop on over to the new york times online archives and read the original piece. You'll get just as much from that (for free) as from reading this book. In a nutshell, Sutherland worked as a journalist with an elite school for animal trainers in California, which inspired another book "Kicked, Bitten, and Scratched." I hate to say that I can't recommend that book either. In any case, she discovered that some of the techniques used to guide animal behavior can be used on people. This provided the basis for her highly entertaining NYTimes article, in which she described how she improved her relationship with her husband. When he engaged in an "undesirable behavior", such as getting angry about lost keys, she stayed out of it ("starve the behavior"). Instead of nagging him to pick up after himself, she started thanking him for the rare times when he did it unprompted ("catch the animal doing something good").

These are good ideas, but as Sutherland herself acknowledges, they are primarily lifted from Kathleen Pryor, a brilliant animal trainer and an accomplished author herself.
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40 of 51 people found the following review helpful By D. Baldwin on February 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I thought this was a lot of fun--a funny story about how being around animal trainers helped the author learn to live more peacefully with the other animals in her life--her humans. As long as you're not looking for some kind of "12 steps to the perfect marriage" I'd recommend this book to anyone. Sutherland's light-hearted, and often self-deprecating, approach to the relationships in her life made me think about my husband, my friends, and especially my kids--I related to so many of the anecdotes--"Shamu" definitely made me see animal behavior and human nature through a new lens. A great late night read. Terrific book for your next book group!
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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca L. Brunelli on February 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Ms. Sutherland isn't suggesting we dehumanize people! A positive reinforcement system is a GOOD thing. We use it all the time without thinking about it: when we give kids gold stars, when we give a big hug to someone for a favor they did, or even when we pat ourselves on the back for a good job. Ms. Sutherland is simply saying that these methods work better than punishing a child for not doing his homework, nagging someone to do something, or negative self-talk. She is suggesting that using them in more areas of our lives can have a very positive effect, and can make our relationships with people better. And she suggests that instead of rewarding negative behavior or nagging about it, we just ignore it, and that behavior will often decrease. It just so happens that animal trainers discovered this method and use it to increase behaviors they want in animals (and lets not forget that people ARE members of the animal kingdom). I feel like the people who gave a one star either didn't read the book at all, or went into it with a closed mind and completely missed the point. This is a great book, and highly recommended!
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful By graduatestudentextraordinare on February 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Forget the negative reviews on this book. I have read all kinds of books purporting to give away the secret to lasting relationships and understanding men. This book is more about self-discovery, and navigating the world (and reacting) in ways that are more positive than negative, and don't flare situations. If you read it as that, you will love the book. Plus, the author (though a bit self-absorbed) throws in funny stories about her husband and animals to keep things going. Its a very enjoyable book, and will keep your attention. :)
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