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Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior Hardcover – December 28, 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 366 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Philosophers and scientists have long wondered what goes on in the minds of animals, and this fascinating study gives a wealth of illuminating insights into that mystery. Grandin, an animal behavior expert specializing in the design of humane slaughter systems, is autistic, and she contends that animals resemble autistic people in that they think visually rather than linguistically and perceive the world as a jumble of mesmerizing details rather than a coherent whole. Animals—cows, say, on their way through a chute—are thus easily spooked by novelties that humans see as trivialities, such as high-pitched noises, drafts and dangling clothes. Other animals accomplish feats of obsessive concentration; squirrels really do remember where each acorn is buried. The portrait she paints of the mammalian mind is both alien and familiar; she shows that beasts are capable of sadistic cruelty, remorse, superstition and surprising discernment (in one experiment, pigeons were taught to distinguish between early period Picasso and Monet). Grandin (Thinking in Pictures) and Johnson (coauthor of Shadow Syndromes) deploy a simple, lucid style to synthesize a vast amount of research in neurology, cognitive psychology and evolutionary biology, supplementing it with Grandin's firsthand observations of animal behavior and her own experiences with autism, engaging anecdotes about how animals interact with each other and their masters, and tips on how to pick and train house pets. The result is a lively and absorbing look at the world from animals' point of view.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Scientific American

Temple Grandin has been known to crawl through slaughterhouses to get a sense of what the animals there are experiencing. An autistic woman who as a child was recommended for institutionalization, Grandin has managed not only to enter society’s mainstream but ultimately to become prominent in animal research. An associate professor at Colorado State University, she designs facilities used worldwide for humane handling of livestock. She also invented a "hug machine" (based on a cattle-holding chute) that calms autistic children. In Animals in Translation, co-authored with science writer Catherine Johnson, Grandin makes an intriguing argument that, psychologically, animals and autistic people have a great deal in common—and that both have mental abilities typically underestimated by normal people. The book is a valuable, if speculative, contribution to the discussion of both autism and animal intelligence, two subjects on which there is little scientific consensus. Autistics, in Grandin’s view, represent a "way station" between average people, with all their verbal and conceptual abilities, and animals. In touring animal facilities, Grandin often spots details—a rattling chain, say, or a fluttering piece of cloth—that disturb the animals but have been overlooked by the people in charge. She also draws on psychological studies to show how oblivious humans can be to their surroundings. Ordinary humans seem to be less detail-oriented than animals and autistics. Grandin argues that animals have formidable cognitive capabilities, albeit specialized ones, whereas humans are cognitive generalists. Dogs are smell experts, birds are migration specialists, and so on. In her view, some animals have a form of genius—much as autistic savants can perform feats of memory and calculation far beyond the abilities of average people. Some dogs, for example, can predict when their owner is about to have a seizure. Delving into animal emotion, aggression and suffering, Grandin gives tips that may be useful for caretakers of pets and farm animals. She also notes that humans seem to need, and thrive on, the proximity of animals. Indeed, she states provocatively, in the process of becoming human we gave up something primal, and being around animals helps us get a measure of that back.

Kenneth Silber


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1 edition (December 28, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743247698
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743247696
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (366 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #207,437 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I savored every moment of reading this book. Grandin has an enthusiasm for her subject that she combines with endless quantities of fascinating research and observations about animals. The book isn't exactly what I expected - I thought it would focus more on her own interactions with animals. However, because the book is so engagingly written and the information is so interesting, the difference between what I expected and what I got didn't diminish my enjoyment in the least.

Grandin does a much better job of making the scientific information more interesting and less dry than in her previous book, Thinking in Pictures, which contained long passages about medications that could be used to treat autistic people. I found that book to be much more uneven. Animals in Translation, however, held on to my attention from the first page to the last. While she also includes a generous amount of scientific information in this book, it is all so interesting and sometimes surprising, that I was never bored. If you have pets or are simply interested in animals and/or biology, this is a must-read.
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Format: Hardcover
When the author focuses on what she knows - autism, neurobiology, and domestic livestock - this book offers many insights. By applying some excellent existing research in neurobiology about what animals are truly capable of perceiving and feeling (read some of the referenced books for confirmation of emotions in animals) and applying her own experiences with domestic livestock and insights founded in her autism (a much more visual world than "normal" people (her word, not mine)), Dr. Grandin shows how a more visual, detail-oriented animal encounters the world.

Sadly, Dr. Grandin - perhaps wanting to appeal to a wider audience - tries also to include predator species such as our companion dogs and cats in her book. Her lack of direct experience with predator species is palpable in everything she writes about them. Her data sources are extremely outdated(Monks of New Skete, anyone?) and her own discussions are highly anecdotal ("my neighbor's dog..." "my childhood cat..."). Her word choices reveal her discomfort with the subject matter (much use of terms such as "probably" "pretty much" "nobody knows why"). Nor does she make any effort to validate her suppositions. Her "Troubleshooting" chapter should be avoided like the plague (recommending a shock collar for chasing behavior can create aggression, as the dog learns to associate the chase object with pain).

If you read this book, take it with a grain of salt and by no means use it as your only reference. Her own references are excellent and can be used for further study. Also, for those interested primarily in dogs, Patricia McConnell has an exceptional new book, For the Love of a Dog, that is grounded in more recent data and a lifetime of working with dogs.
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Format: Paperback
What author Temple Grandin has attempted to do here is to use her own experiences as an autistic person to gain insight into the way animals perceive and react to the world around them. She explains that autism seems to impair the ability of the neocortex, or frontal lobes of the brain, to obtain and process information, and that animals likewise have less well-developed frontal lobes than normal humans do. Her theory is that the impairment of an autistic person's brain, in essence, makes them far closer to other animals than to non-autistic humans in how they view the world. As a result, Grandin has largely been able to help people better relate to their pets, and also to design more humane slaughterhouse equipment and more effective auditing procedures for slaughter facilities.

The book starts off well, with Grandin offering many insights that show that, in some ways, she really does have a better understanding of animal perception and thought than "normal" humans. Her principle examples revolve around the fact that animals, like autistic people, are detail-oriented. Their inability to generalize and see the "big picture" often leads to fixations on small things that the average person would not notice. Grandin illustrates this with stories from her inspections of meat plants, where something as simple as an abrupt change in lighting, or a reflection on a puddle - things which have entirely escaped the plant operators' notice - have been causing cattle to balk and refuse to go where they are being directed. She goes on to explain exactly why these details, which don't seem like much of a reason to be afraid, are so disturbing to the animals. Her observations, while not things that would immediately jump out at most people, make a lot of sense once she has explained them.
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Format: Hardcover
Animals in Translation: Using the mysteries of autism to decode animal behavior.
I will never think about animals, and about autism, and about "normal" people quite the same way again. This is a landmark book.
The book is badly organized. You will have to read every page. You may not be interested in the long pages where she talks about slaughter houses, but then right in the middle of a paragraph you suddenly come across a bit of wisdom that you would not want to have missed. Right then you must underline it or you will never find it back again.
The upshot of this book is that animals do not have a fully functioning frontal lobe, nor do autistic people, and she tells us throughout the book what that is like, over and over again until you start to get a deep understanding of what it is like. We get a better understanding of ourselves too. The frontal lobe "puts it all together", and having put it all together, we race over the details like a speed boat over water. We do not see the details. An autistic person on the other hand, can not help but see them. He sees all the details, and only the details. He is overwhelmed by them. He sees all forty shades of brown. He can not see the forest for the trees, and more trees, and more trees. He hears every tone. He smells every odor. His life is a jumble of details. As you might expect, her book is rich in details about her own life and about all the animals she knows and when you emerge at the other end of the book, you feel immersed. Being a "normal" person you can not remember all the details, but you "know" something about these people's lives, and about animals' lives in a way you could never get from a text book. And yet, at the same time, she also has a doctorate and she does her own research.
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