Being With Animals – Book Review and Giveaway

To feel that mutual kinship with another creature is a special experience, one that brings us into attunement with the whole world. It’s a feeling deep in the chest, resonant in the heart: I share with all creatures a way of being in this world. All animals, in their own ways, struggle to live, and feel their lives in different ways. I belong here in this world, with them. – from Being with Animals, page 4 –

From dogs that dream, to reindeer that choose to die for their human companions, to shamans’ animal guides, animals ignite the spirits at large in the world or inside the human heart, in locally variable but equally intense ways. – from Being with Animals, page 134 –

Anyone who has ever worked with animals, or shared their life with a beloved pet knows the specialness of being with animals. Science tells us that stroking a dog for half an hour can lower a person’s blood pressure by ten percent (for the dog, the result is immediate). We have all read about dogs who can detect cancer or those that warn a person that a seizure is imminent. But, in Barbara King’s fascinating book Being with Animals, we learn even more about the history of our relationship with the creatures with whom we share our world. The first chapters of the book take us back thousands of years ago. King invites the reader into the Chauvet Cave where the oldest known paintings in the world can be found. Located in a region of France called Ardeche, the cave contains visible traces of bears, including more than 2,500 bones, over 170 skulls, along with their claw marks and prints…and on the walls are incredible paintings of animals along with ocher-colored palm prints from the people who inhabited the cave at least 32,000 years ago. Dating of the bones found in Chauvet  indicates that people and bears visited the cave during the same time period.

The incredible art images that grace the cave walls blazed to life in a space inhabited by both humans and bears. – from Being with Animals, page 19 –

King next takes a look at the history of domestication, and picks apart the two theories of how this process was initiated, asking the question: Did humans tame the animals, or did the animals choose to become domesticated? The book moves naturally forward examining animals as symbols and spiritual or sacred beings.

Animals give life to humans through milk, meat, and wool, enhance human life through labor and companionship, ward off the unknowability and danger of the wild by bringing it closer or under human influences. Yet animals die, of course, just like we do. They take on sacred resonance when they pair with nonmortal beings (gods) that defy death, or when they pave the way for an afterlife. – from Being with Animals, page 72 –

It is this idea of spirituality that rings loudest through King’s text. Barbara King the scientist is uncomfortable with theories embodying spirit in order to explain animal behavior, yet she cannot deny that much of what happens in the space between humans and animals is on a spiritual plane.

Does being-with-animals today bring people closer not only to the earthly world but also to the supernatural one? Are animals “God’s messengers,” as the title of one books says? That is, does God (or, in other cultures, gods or spirits) speak to us and send us messages of love or comfort through animals, a message that can guide us toward greater compassion for each other? – from Being with Animals, page 94 –

King reflects on animals as religious symbols, the mystical history of ravens, animals as moral teachers, and the Native American connection to the bison.

For the most part, we don’t explain our cultures’ origins by mythic reference to animals. We don’t accord to bears and buffalo sanctified roles for teaching our children about our lifeways. Yet threaded through our cultures nonetheless is a bedrock acceptance of animals as moral teachers. – from Being with Animals, page 128 –

King does not confine her book to just that of the relationship between humans and animals, but she also spends some time looking at unique animal to animal relationships, specifically focusing on apes and elephants and their shared lives.

In the wild, the females and youngsters live in close-knit groups. The females rule, and their extended family members cluster around them; together they express their joys and sorrows. Just as chimpanzees and bonobos come together and separate in fission-fusion patterns, the subunits of elephant society part and reunite. – from Being with Animals, page 161 –

Being with Animals is a fascinating and important book about our history and experience with animals. As humans, we share our homes with animals, but we also relate to them on religious and spiritual levels as well. Animals not only help us in our work, they provide companionship and unconditional love. Barbara King knowledgeably provides the reader with a plethora of well-researched information that helps define not only why animals are so important to humans, but how that relationship has evolved across time and cultures. Being with Animals narrows the gap between humans and animals, and reminds us of what we share vs. what separates us.

We see ourselves in other animals – in their everyday expected behaviors and their are unexpected behaviors. Being with animals brings forth the deep knowledge that we once were animals, and are animals still. – from Being with Animals, page 216 –

Anyone who has ever been fascinated with or loved an animal, will delight in Barbara King’s amazing book. Highly recommended.

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FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me  for review on my blog.


Barbara J. King  is a biological anthropologist and Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at the College of William and Mary. She has studied monkeys in Kenya and great apes in various captive settings. She writes essays on anthropology-related themes for and the Times Literary Supplement (London). Together with her husband, she cares for and arranges to spay and neuter homeless cats in Virginia. Her previous books include Evolving God and The Dynamic Dance. Learn more about King and her work by visiting the author’s website.

Check out this cool show about animals on CBS Sunday Morning…Barbara J. King weighs in on cross-species “friendships”:


I am happy to be able to offer a copy of this wonderful book (via the publisher) to one lucky reader here on my blog.

  • Entries are limited to U.S. and Canada addresses only.
  • To enter for a chance to win, please leave a comment on this post indicating you would like to be entered in the giveaway.
  • Contest closes at 5:00 pm PST on April 28th. I will draw a winner on April 29th via and announce their name on my blog. I will also send them an email.



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    • Julie on April 20, 2011 at 04:27

    This book sounds fantastic! Like you, I love dogs and have the sweetest little shih-tzu/Cavalier spaniel mix. I would love to be entered in the giveaway. Thank you!

    • Linda B on April 20, 2011 at 05:05

    I have always had pets, enjoyed the love and companionship they provide. Recently my daughter has become involved with her local humane society and I am amazed by the number of people who give so unselfishly of their time and finances in the pursuit of animal welfare. this sounds like a wonderful book. thanks for the giveaway.

  1. We are a family of animal lovers, and have always had a lot of pets. I do have to say that the impact that my animals make on my life are astounding, and I love them each like a mother would love her children. I think this book sounds amazing and can’t wait to get the chance to read it. Please do include me in your giveaway, and thanks for hosting it!

    • Shannon Lind on April 20, 2011 at 07:27

    Fingers crossed!

    • anne on April 20, 2011 at 08:01

    What a wonderful post today. I love animals and had a dog when I was young. We have two dogs now, one is a rescue who is loveable and a sweetheart, the other adorable and sweet. Thanks for this great giveaway.

  2. As a dog lover, I think this book sounds wonderful. I loved the video too.

    • Margie on April 20, 2011 at 13:21

    I’m a dog lover and would love to read this book. Thanks for the giveaway.

    • Linda Kish on April 20, 2011 at 14:57

    I am an animal lover. I would love to read this book.

    lkish77123 at gmail dot com

  3. This sounds like an insanely good book! I love your review and am DEFINITELY a new subscriber!

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  4. Oh, this sounds delightful! I’ve been slacking on my dog reading, lately, and I have to start back up.

    iwriteinbooks at gmail dot com

    • Tiffany D. on April 22, 2011 at 12:43

    This book sounds wonderful. We are a family of animal lovers. We have two dogs and three cats and I just adore them. We always had pets growing up with my mom, who still has tons of pets. I’d love to pass this book on to her after reading it. Thank you for the chance of winning a copy 🙂

    • Margaret on April 22, 2011 at 20:33

    That sounds like a wonderful book! I’d love to be entered in the giveaway! Thanks!

    • Alyce on April 23, 2011 at 08:19

    I would love to be entered! I love books about animals and this one sounds like it gives a lot to think about.

    • ikkinlala on April 23, 2011 at 08:25

    I’d love a chance to read this book!

    ikkinlala AT yahoo DOT ca

    • Jan McAfee on April 24, 2011 at 05:56

    I have four animals of my own (sometimes five, as I foster and rehab dogs) and I work at a vet. I would love to read this book. Please enter me in the giveaway!


    jmcafee at numail dot org

  5. This book sounds like one I really need to read. Thanks for such a thorough review. Please enter me for the giveaway *fingers crossed*!

    • Sandra on April 24, 2011 at 09:19

    Thank for the giveaway! I love my birdie babies!

    • gavin on April 24, 2011 at 14:36

    Put my name in the hat, and hug Raven for me –

    • gavin on April 24, 2011 at 14:37

    Put my name in the hat for this one.

    • Jaclyn Phillips on April 26, 2011 at 02:45

    Please enter my name in the contest.

    • Julie L on April 27, 2011 at 10:21

    My daughter loves dogs-she would enjoy this book

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