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Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us about Humanity

4.6 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0300127317
ISBN-10: 0300127316
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This thoughtful book by animal trauma specialist Bradshaw draws analogies between human and animal culture to illustrate the profound breakdown occurring in elephant societies. Extraordinarily sensitive and social, elephants' survival has long depended on their matriarchal lineage—now sundered by culling the herds, which disrupts the hierarchy—and their psyches have been broken by prolonged isolation and separation, painful hooks used as training tools and general cruelty. Captured elephants meet the criteria of the psychiatirc handbook DSM for suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Drawing on research on animal trauma, concentration camp survivors and Konrad Lorenz–type ethology, Bradshaw makes a multidisciplinary condemnation of elephant abuse and celebrates those working on rehabilitating and healing the animals—including an elephant massage therapist and the owners of an elephant sanctuary in the Tennessee hills. In the end, anthropomorphizing isn't the issue; Bradshaw says that instead of giving animals human feelings, we should observe that they have feelings that correlate with what we may feel in similar circumstances. With its heartbreaking findings and irrefutable conclusions, this book bears careful reading and consideration. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“A poignant presentation of the eradication of elephant societies. . . The arguments transcend the subject matter of elephants and herald a new cultural stance on human-animal relationships.”—Lori Marino, Emory University

(Lori Marino)

“At times sad and at times heartwarming, Elephants on the Edge successfully bridges the gap between species. Bradshaw helps us to understand not only elephants, but all animals, including ourselves.”—Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation

(Peter Singer)

“Revolutionary and very exciting, this book is important both in terms of elephant biology and elephant welfare.”—Cynthia Moss, Amboseli Trust for Elephants
(Cynthia Moss)

“This book opens the door into the soul of the elephant. It will really make you think about our relationship with other animals.”—Temple Grandin, author of Animals in Translation
(Temple Grandin)

Elephants on the Edge is very thoroughly researched and beautifully presented—a devastating, scientific chronicle of the ignorance, cruelty, and mismanagement that placed these magnificent creatures in their present dire situation. Among Bradshaw’s many virtues is that she exposes the cowardice of scientists who are well aware of the damage now in progress but are unwilling to support animal rights or to condemn animal holocausts. We cannot possibly understand the world we live in unless we acknowledge the role we play in its destruction. Should we continue our Nazi-like behavior toward elephants, and indeed, toward any living creatures? Those who read this book won’t want to.”—Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of The Hidden Life of Dogs and of The Old Way: A Story of the First People


(Elizabeth Marshall Thomas)

"This book. . . is fascinating. . . [and] sheds light on disturbing phenomena relevant to the future not only of elephants, but also of humans subjected to similar disruption. Read it.”—Robert M. May, Professor Lord May of Oxford OM AC Kt FRS

(Robert M. May)

"Elephants on the Edge is a wide-ranging, passionate, well-researched, and urgent call to action. These magnificent, intelligent, and emotional giants are quintessential poster animals for the wounded world in which we live. Read this book, share it widely, and please do something to increase our compassion footprint before it's too late. Healing demands collective cross-cultural action now.”—Marc Bekoff, University of Colorado, coauthor with Jessica Pierce of Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals
(Marc Bekoff)

"Bradshaw brings home to us forcefully what we should have realized long ago:  that destroying the family life of highly social, intelligent animals leads inevitably to misery among individual survivors and pathological misbehaviour among the group."—J. M. Coetzee, Nobel Laureate in Literature, 2003
(J. M. Coetzee)

“In Elephants on the Edge, G. A. Bradshaw helps us face our ethically flawed relationship with animals and nature and what is at stake for all of us.”—John P. Gluck, University of New Mexico; Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Georgetown University

(John P. Gluck)

“Gay Bradshaw clearly demonstrates in this fascinating book, which is a groundbreaking and remarkable feat of scholarship, that we cannot understand the tenuous relationship between man and elephant (or any other co-inhabitants of the natural world) without a self-reflective insight into the deeper psychological and ethical substrata of our own minds.”—Allan N. Schore, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, David Geffen School of Medicine University of California at Los Angeles

(Allan N. Schore)

"This achingly lovely book will resonate with anyone endowed with compassion and curiosity about the workings of animal minds." —Seed Magazine

"An existentialist’s tract wrapped in a naturalist’s treatise, this unusual volume explores a mighty species from the inside out. . . . A reasoned appeal to morality that’s as heartwarming as it is heartbreaking."—The Atlantic Monthly
(Atlantic Monthly)

Winner of the Gold Medal for the 2009 Book of the Year Award in Psychology category, presented by ForeWord magazine
(Book of the Year Award ForeWord Magazine 2010-01-01)

“A remarkable study of elephant–human interactions."--Tim Flannery, The New York Review of Books
(Tim Flannery New York Review of Books 2010-04-29)

“Bradshaw suggests we have completely underestimated elephants' emotional capacities. . . . The evidence that human and elephant behaviors are similar is compelling. . . . This book is engrossing and will appeal to a general audience."--Paula Kuhumbu, Conservation Biology
(Paula Kuhumbu Conservation Biology)

"African peoples and wildlife have been bound together in a delicate network of interdependence since ancient times. The arrival of colonialism tore apart these bonds:  human brother now fights against elephant brother, and mothers of both species mourn. Elephants on the Edge is an urgent call to end this strife and for humanity to embrace once more the traditions that kept the peace with our animal kin."—Archbishop Emeritus Desmond M. Tutu, 1984 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

(Desmond Tutu)

"Bradshaw has shown that science has now provided us with the knowledge we need to chnage the way we treat other animals, especially those like elephants and cetaceans with complex societies. It is time for humanity to catch up."--Wildlife Activist
(Wildlife Activist)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (October 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300127316
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300127317
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #896,085 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lori Marino on October 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In response to the comments by Aldo Matteucci I'd like to inject a dose of current scientific reality into the situation. Matteucci does not appear to be familiar with the most recent neuroscience and comparative psychological research. So, I'd like to correct some of his misinterpretations of Gay Bradshaw's arguments. Matteucci makes the naive claim that the human brain is a "chaotic structure" that seems to be haphazardly put together and, by implication, so much more complex than the brains of other species that inference from humans to other animals is untenable. To the contrary, the available research converges on the finding that all animals, including humans, share the same brain structures related to the processing of emotions and that these structures and their biochemical connections to the rest of the body are among the most conserved evolutionarily. In decades of neuroscientific investigation we have yet to find a single attribute of the human brain that sets it apart qualitatively from the rest of the animal kingdom. Moreover, findings on cognitive abilities in other animals are appearing in well-respected journals practically on a monthly basis showing that so-called uniquely human capacities are distributed across many other species. Dr. Bradshaw's arguments are based on a solid body of scientific evidence, which clearly refutes Matteucci's point.

Might I suggest that the strident nature of Matteucci's criticism be best understood in the context of his archaic argument that by attending to the needs of elephants and other animals we are allowing the "starvation of billions of people". Underlying such remarks is the banal and unsupported perspective that it is "us against them" and that we must choose between humans and other animals.
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Format: Hardcover
Thanks to scientific discoveries that tell us more and more about the lives, abilities and consciousness of non-human animals, we have dwindling justification for drawing a line between humans and other animals. A subtitle for this powerful, deeply moving book might be, "We are them; they are us."

In this sweeping book, G.A. Bradshaw reviews what humans have done to elephants and, perhaps more important, explores what that has meant for elephants and elephant society. I think anyone who advocates for animals will find this a disturbing but deeply satisfying book. Bradshaw reminds us how much we have to learn from elephants which, in the end, will bring us back to ourselves.

Jane Goodall says it's not about animal rights, it's about human responsibility. Bradshaw's book is a landmark contribution for those who seek to accept full responsibility for ourselves and our actions.
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Format: Hardcover
This book has not only enhanced my understanding of elephants and other animals in radical and important ways. This beautifully written learning experience has expanded my vision about the world and the role that humanity (or the lack thereof) plays in it for all of us ... Individually and collectively. Scrupulously supported by peer-reviewed research conducted by the author and her colleagues. The ideas presented are at once both brilliantly revelatory yet make so much common sense in the ways we need to make it - instead of breaking it - in this pivotal time in our world's history. This book has changed my life on a soul level as well as make me a better researcher. We don't just owe it to the elephants to read this book - we owe it to ourselves and our own communities.
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Format: Paperback
If you look at some of the commonly known trivia about animals - that elephants grieve and occasionally bury their dead, that chimps can speak sign language, that some species of monkeys display exhibit traits like fairness or cognitive dissonance - it's shocking to see how much it conflicts with currently used preservation tactics. For instance, take the culling of a herd of elephants through relocation or hunting. We all sit and watch National Geographic specials that marvel at their social structure, their abilities to communicate with each other and form relationships and then simply assume that these efforts have zero repercussions.

The book's premise is that these species suffer trauma much in the same way that people do. It mentions a herd of elephants in Africa where two rogue teenage males deliberately killed dozens of rhinoceros without explanation - this, they say, is no different than the gang violence we see in inner cities, cities racked by the same dislocation, disappearing resources and exploitation. Whether you agree with it or not, there is something to be said for books that turn over entire lines of thinking. I especially like books that take logic and findings from unrelated fields and apply them in interesting and provocative ways. This book does just that.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read Elephants on the Edge when it was first published. Although disturbing in terms of humanity's involvement in decimating intelligent social wild beings, surely this book would educate us. It is intense and seriously written so that we may know the truth about ourselves.

Unfortunately, even if our society has started to focus on preservation, other societies have started to pursue ivory, and have learned to systematically and brutally kill elephants . We have not yet learned about humanity.
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