The title of primatologist Frans de Waal's (Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?) captivating exploration into animal emotion comes from a touching event involving his former dissertation supervisor, Jan van Hooff, and a dying chimpanzee matriarch named Mama. In the video of their encounter, viewers see behaviors they can recognize as their own as Mama consoles and reassures the scientist. Using this story and others involving various mammals in the animal kingdom, de Waal makes his case that humans are not the only species that experiences emotions.
In addition to telling Mama's life story, de Waal discusses the differences between emotions and feelings--"We show our emotions, but we talk about our feelings"--and debunks the idea that most animals act strictly out of instinct: "Nothing could be less adaptive for an organism than to blindly follow its emotions." He examines laughter, empathy and guilt across mammal species, covers topics such as murder and free will, and shows parallels between human politics and animal power structures, ensuring readers are clear on the meanings of alpha male and alpha female. All the while he weaves in wonderfully humorous comments and observations, fascinating facts, study data and pertinent anecdotes. De Waal's vast experience with both captive and wild animals is readily apparent, as is his willingness to let the evidence drive his conclusions, rather than preconceived biases or beliefs. Regardless of whether one is an animal lover or not, Mama's Last Hug offers amazing insights you only need to be human to benefit from. Truly eye-opening. --Jen Forbus