Book Review: Mama’s Last Hug

Trigger/Content Warnings: Some discussion of animal abuse and animal testing/experimentation.


51Vq4GOKWLL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Official Blurb: 

Primatologist Frans de Waal explores the fascinating world of animal and human emotions.

Frans de Waal has spent four decades at the forefront of animal research. Following up on the best-selling Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, which investigated animal intelligence, Mama’s Last Hug delivers a fascinating exploration of the rich emotional lives of animals.

Mama’s Last Hug begins with the death of Mama, a chimpanzee matriarch who formed a deep bond with biologist Jan van Hooff. When Mama was dying, van Hooff took the unusual step of visiting her in her night cage for a last hug. Their goodbyes were filmed and went viral. Millions of people were deeply moved by the way Mama embraced the professor, welcoming him with a big smile while reassuring him by patting his neck, in a gesture often considered typically human but that is in fact common to all primates. This story and others like it form the core of de Waal’s argument, showing that humans are not the only species with the capacity for love, hate, fear, shame, guilt, joy, disgust, and empathy.

De Waal discusses facial expressions, the emotions behind human politics, the illusion of free will, animal sentience, and, of course, Mama’s life and death. The message is one of continuity between us and other species, such as the radical proposal that emotions are like organs: we don’t have a single organ that other animals don’t have, and the same is true for our emotions. Mama’s Last Hug opens our hearts and minds to the many ways in which humans and other animals are connected, transforming how we view the living world around us.

My Take: 5/5 Stars

The heart has reasons of which reason knows nothing

~ Frans de Waal

MAMA’S LAST HUG was recommended to me by my father, an environmental engineer who reads … well, not that much. Because of this, I was over the moon excited to get a book recommendation from him, and his recommendation did not disappoint.

This book is for animal lovers everywhere. While it focuses on primates and primate relationships and emotions (including the pivotal primate: us), it delves deep into the emotions (separate and distinct from feelings) of all mammals as well as birds and fish. As a dog lover, I especially enjoyed the bits about our canine companions, and it was interesting to see de Waal’s take on some research conducted by canine behaviorists whose work I’d read (such as Patricia McConnell and Alexandra Horowitz).

Mama’s Last Hug wasn’t all facts and research and science, though. Otherwise, it would probably have been a bit unreadable. Instead, the book hugged the science lightly around anecdotes, including some hilarious stories from de Waal’s years spent observing chimpanzees as well as an entire chapter comparing Donald Trump to alpha chimps (spoiler: the comparison isn’t particularly flattering for The Donald).

What lingered with me the most about this book, however, besides learning all kinds of new information, was the questions about animal welfare it brought to light. We still test products on animals in the United States. We keep chimps in cages, away from their family. We have beagles who spend their entire lives in laboratories, never feeling grass, or smelling the scents of the world. We slaughter animals inhumanely and without much thought. And how do we assuage our guilt and shame over these atrocities? We convince ourselves that animals can’t feel, that they don’t experience pain or terror or curiosity. They live in the moment, we often say about our dogs. They don’t know the difference between yesterday and today and tomorrow. But if Frans de Waal’s research is to be believed, that’s not entirely true. And if it isn’t, it raises some questions we might not like the answers to.

All in all, I would highly recommend Mama’s Last Hug to those who love animals, and to anyone who is interested in the most recent science into the animal (and therefore, human) mind.

Give me your favorite animal anecdote in the comments!

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❤ Always,

Aimee

Book Review: Becoming

Official Blurb:

Books-Michelle ObamaIn a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.

My Take: 5/5 Stars

“Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.” ~ Michelle Obama

First of all, I have to say that I’m really glad Michelle Obama narrated this herself. It gave the text an extra layer of richness, and really made me feel like I was getting a special insight into the words she’d written. Also, she just has a lovely voice. Second, this book was technically brilliant. Probably my very favorite thing about it was how it managed to capture so much in so little space. Every word seemed to be selected with care, so that without using many words at all, a huge world could be opened up for the reader. Even by the end of the book, I found myself marveling over how much story and information I’d received in such a seemingly short space. That’s something that everyone, but especially a writer, can certainly appreciate.

Technicalities aside, Becoming was everything I had hoped it would be. It was inspirational, emotional, moving, and empowering. I laughed (often), I cried (a couple time). I was amazed at the courage of the storytelling. Without giving anything away (because you should seriously just go read it yourself as soon as you can), I will say that Michelle Obama attacked this book with a fearlessness I admire. There was no subject she was unwilling to tackle, no door she wasn’t going to walk right through, carrying herself with grace, dignity, and honesty.

Everyone should read this book, but especially girls. All girls, but especially girls of color. Girls who are marginalized, who feel unseen and unheard. Girls who come from families that are broken or intact, from families who don’t have much money but have richness elsewhere. Girls who need a little push to see their power. Because though this was Michelle Obama’s story, I couldn’t help but feel those girls are the ones she wrote it for.

Buy Links:

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If you need a little bit of hope, do the thing. Read the book.

❤ Aimee