A Mem­oir in Thir­teen An­i­mals

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight Popular Science -

Sy Montgomery, Re­becca Green (Il­lus­tra­tor) Houghton Mif­flin Har­court (SEPTEM­BER) Hard­cover $20 (208pp), 978-0-544-93832-8

“I am blessed with a mul­ti­species fam­ily,” Sy Montgomery writes in How to Be a Good Crea­ture, her mem­oir of life as an an­i­mal lover: “a fam­ily made not from genes, not from blood, but from love.” Fol­low­ing her sur­prise 2015 best­seller The Soul of an Oc­to­pus, a fi­nal­ist for the Na­tional Book Award, she delves into her past, ex­am­in­ing it through thir­teen an­i­mals that be­came her dear­est friends, taught her to over­come her fears, and helped her to de­velop zest for life.

First came Molly, the Scot­tish ter­rier who was like a sis­ter to Montgomery while she was grow­ing up in Brook­lyn. Scot­ties are stub­born and dif­fi­cult to train; so was this head­strong lit­tle girl who, as a tod­dler on her first trip to the zoo, headed straight for the hippo en­clo­sure. There have been other im­por­tant dogs in her life since then, es­pe­cially Tess the bor­der col­lie. But none matched the charisma of Christo­pher Hog­wood, the sub­ject of Montgomery’s break­through book, The Good Good Pig (2007).

The trou­ble with lov­ing an­i­mals is that they gen­er­ally have a much shorter life­span than hu­mans do, and the deaths of her dear friends has some­times plunged Montgomery into de­pres­sion. How­ever, her sci­en­tific field­work—whether with aquar­ium oc­topi, tree kan­ga­roos in the Pa­pua New Guinea cloud for­est, or emus in the Aus­tralian out­back—has con­soled her again and again, re­mind­ing her of “the wild­ness that keeps us sane and whole, the wild, de­li­cious hunger for life.”

This is a slen­der vol­ume, and cer­tain of its chap­ters feel in­sub­stan­tial, but with its pull quotes, pho­to­graphs, and whim­si­cal il­lus­tra­tions by Re­becca Green, it would make an at­trac­tive gift book for any an­i­mal lover.

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