Ed Yong is a fantastic writer – I loved the way he explains things with similes and metaphors – but I just wasn’t interested in the fantastic senses of other animals. This meant that the book felt like a list of senses so much better than ours that other animals have and I know this was not the intention or how other readers view the book.
Yong is a staff writer on The Atlantic and his series of articles for them based around COVID won him a Pulitzer Prize. I thought ‘The Pandemic’s Legacy is Already Clear‘ article was very good. Well-researched and clearly explained even if the conclusion is hard to swallow – ‘All of this will happen again.’
Anyway, back to the book. Yong’s writing meant that I was prepared to listen to the whole book. We may feel that we are at the top of the hierarchy of animals (if such a thing exists) but this is exactly what his book sets out to prove is wrong, wrong, wrong. We may have good eyesight but a mallard’s is better, we may have a good sense of smell but think about a dog. Touch is important to us but even more so to a star-nosed mole and a manatee with its lips and so on. There are even animals with receptors for senses that we are not aware of literally! And Yong is not afraid to say that he can’t imagine what it must be like for some animals – to enter into their umwelt, the world they perceive through their senses.
But every animal can only tap into a small fraction of reality’s fullness. Each is enclosed within its own unique sensory bubble, perceiving but a tiny sliver of an immense world.
From this book you understand that there are more than 5 senses: there are also echoes, magnetism and electricity and perceptions that we are familiar with such as pain, temperature and colour.
Part of the book is also a bit blow-your-mind with the unusual – ears on your knees (crickets), tongues all over your body (catfish) and the 200+ scallop eyes that all have pupils – and I did find myself a little over-loaded at these points. But his argument that we as humans can completely destroy the umwelt of others with our noise, light and chemicals is one that I completely agree with and would want to reduce.
I don’t know how to score this book – it is a 5 for writing but a 2 in terms of interest in content – so it goes on the 5 list.