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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Review: MADE FOR EACH OTHER by Meg Daley Olmert

Title: Made for Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond
Author: Meg Daley Olmert
Pub info: Da Capo Press, 2009; 312 pp
Genre:  adult nonfiction / biology & animal behavior

The third book in my ambitious 2014 reading project is the first nonfiction book of the year, Made for Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond by Meg Daley Olmert. Just to clarify, this is a book meant for adults, not kids, but I think kids ages 14+ would have no trouble with it.

Goodreads summary:
Nothing turns a baby’s head more quickly than the sight or sound of an animal. This fascination is driven by the ancient chemical forces that first drew humans and animals together. It is also the same biology that transformed wolves into dogs and skittish horses into valiant comrades that would carry us into battle.

Made for Each Other is the first book to explain how this chemistry of attraction and attachment flows through—and between—all mammals to create the profound emotional bonds humans and animals still feel today.

Drawing on recent discoveries from neuroscience, evolutionary biology, behavioral psychology, archeology, as well as her own investigations, Meg Daley Olmert explains why the brain chemistry humans and animals trigger in each other also has a profound effect on our mental and physical well being.

This lively and original investigation asks what happens when the bond is severed. If thousands of years of caring for animals infused us with a biology that shaped our hearts and minds, do we dare turn our back on it? Daley Olmert makes a compelling and scientific case for what our hearts have always known, that we were, and always will be, made for each other.
Status: Finished 2/9/14

My impressions:
 I've had pets all my life: cats, mice, hamsters, turtles, dogs, and birds of various types, including large parrots. I've never thought much about why, but the fact is that I'm irresistibly drawn to all animals, and especially those in the wild. I've always longed to have that magic touch that allows a human to approach a deer in the forest. (Perhaps that's why I'm a sucker for the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs film.) Meg Daley Olmert's book illuminates that urge to bond with the animals.

This may sound shallow, but I really appreciate a scientific book that's broken up into bite-size chunks. Made for Each Other is easy to read partly due to the author's breezy, layperson's style, but also because the sections are short. Right off the bat, this is an easy book to pick up and get into.
As to the meat of the book, I enjoyed learning the history and science behind the attraction humans have for animals. Our prehistoric ancestors shared it, as we can see from the meticulous paintings they left behind on cave walls. Eventually they managed to tame some of these wild creatures, and (for the most part) the bond was beneficial on both sides. Olmert discusses the role of oxytocin, a hormone that bonds mother to child and makes humans more cooperative and loving to each other, in a fascinating new way. Her examples are clear and interesting, her research solid, and the findings exciting. 

I got bogged down and found the book dragged a bit in the middle, but I suspect that was more my issue than the author's. I found the domestication of wolves much more interesting than that of cattle, partly because I don't know how helpful it was to the cattle to be domesticated. 

This is a lightweight science read--no cumbersome footnotes (though plenty of end notes), no tightly spaced, lumbering paragraphs full of tech talk. I'm afraid I've become a lazier reader than I once was and don't read as much nonfiction as I'd like. But this book makes reading about science easy. I highly recommend Made for Each Other to all who seek to better understand our fellow species and how we connect to each other.

About Meg Daley Olmert:
Meg Daley Olmert has created and produced documentaries for National Geographic, The Discovery Channel, and PBS. She blogs regularly for Psychology Today, and is currently the director of research and development for Warrior Canine Connection, Inc., a canine therapy program designed to reduce the symptoms of combat PTSD.

Online: Read Meg's interview at here, and watch her TEDx Talk on this topic here.

To follow my progress as I bulldoze my way through a stack of 51 to-be-reads this year, search for the tag 2014 TBR Shelf. Read all the reviews here.


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