On Animals - book cover
Essays & Correspondence
  • Publisher : Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster
  • Published : 12 Oct 2021
  • Pages : 256
  • ISBN-10 : 1982181532
  • ISBN-13 : 9781982181536
  • Language : English

On Animals


"Magnificent." -The New York Times * "Beguiling, observant, and howlingly funny." -San Francisco Chronicle * "Spectacular." -Star Tribune (Minneapolis) * "Full of astonishments." -The Boston Globe

Susan Orlean-the beloved New Yorker staff writer hailed as "a national treasure" by The Washington Post and the author of the New York Times bestseller The Library Book-gathers a lifetime of musings, meditations, and in-depth profiles about animals.

"How we interact with animals has preoccupied philosophers, poets, and naturalists for ages," writes Susan Orlean. Since the age of six, when Orlean wrote and illustrated a book called Herbert the Near-Sighted Pigeon, she's been drawn to stories about how we live with animals, and how they abide by us. Now, in On Animals, she examines animal-human relationships through the compelling tales she has written over the course of her celebrated career.

These stories consider a range of creatures-the household pets we dote on, the animals we raise to end up as meat on our plates, the creatures who could eat us for dinner, the various tamed and untamed animals we share our planet with who are central to human life. In her own backyard, Orlean discovers the delights of keeping chickens. In a different backyard, in New Jersey, she meets a woman who has twenty-three pet tigers-something none of her neighbors knew about until one of the tigers escapes. In Iceland, the world's most famous whale resists the efforts to set him free; in Morocco, the world's hardest-working donkeys find respite at a special clinic. We meet a show dog and a lost dog and a pigeon who knows exactly how to get home.

Equal parts delightful and profound, enriched by Orlean's stylish prose and precise research, these stories celebrate the meaningful cross-species connections that grace our collective existence.

Editorial Reviews

"Every essay in the book is magnificent. . . . Part of what makes this book so immensely readable is the coupling of a brilliant essayist's friendly, funny voice with a committed generalist's all-embracing curiosity. There appears to be nothing in the world that doesn't interest Orlean, and she has such a companionable way of conveying her fascinations that readers can't help being fascinated too. . . . [Orlean] is a writer who sees crucial connections between animals and people. This emphasis on interconnectedness emerges not just from one essay after another but also from the cumulative effect of the collection as a whole. Even more than the linguistic pyrotechnics, the friendly wit or the mesmerizing storytelling, that's the true gift of On Animals."
-Margaret Renkl, The New York Times Book Review

"Original, perceptive, and clever . . . Orlean excels as a reporter. . . . Her pages are crammed with quirky characters, telling details, and flabbergasting facts. Readers will find these pages full of astonishments. . . . Even though Orlean claims the animals she writes about remain enigmas, she makes us care about their fates. Readers will continue to think about these dogs and donkeys, tigers and lions, chickens and pigeons long after we close the book's covers."
-Sy Montgomery, Boston Globe

"Beguiling, observant, and howlingly funny . . . Beware: Cuddling up with On Animals is even more absorbing than watching a bear rummage through a Tahoe kitchen on YouTube."
-Rachel Levin, San Francisco Chronicle

"A close read of her new book suggests that beneath the surface variety of subjects and locales in her writing, there's an underlying unity: heedless, headlong enthusiasm. . . . She is a moth drawn to moths who are drawn to the flame. . . . Ms. Orlean has a rare knack for finding these people, and an even rarer one for starting them talking. . . . Do not underestimate her curiosity, or the sharpness of her eyes."
-Jeremy McCarter, The Wall Street Journal

"Spectacular . . . One is likely to imagine Susan Orlean's eyes sparkling as she composed the essays in On Animals. . . . Orlean strikes a perfect balance between hilarious and informative. . . . Orlean has a gift for the indelible detail. . . . Readers fond of seemingly effortless writing about animals will savor this book."
-Minneapolis Star Tribune

"She relies on her powers of observation, conveyed with unflappable curiosity. . . . Orlean is committed to investigating the dizzying multiplicity of roles animals serve-employee, best friend, harbinger of climate change-and the places where those functions intersect."

Readers Top Reviews

My 2 CentsL.
On Animals was an interesting collection of essays written and published by the author over the last 25 years. Each of the essays examines animal-human relationships from the ones we are most familiar with: the animals who become a part or our family to farm animals and exotic animals as well. Some of the animals featured in the essays were: tigers in New Jersey, lions in Africa, working oxen pairs in Cuba, the use of pack animals in rocky terrain like Afghanistan, show dogs, dog breeders, donkeys, rabbits, pandas, racing pigeons, Keiko, the orca whale featured in Free Willy and more. One essay in particular made me sad when the author wrote about the use of animals in the early movies. Animals in movies at that time were considered disposable, especially horses in movies like Ben Hur. It was terrible how cruelly they were treated at that time. The essays were based on some of the authors previously published articles, observations and travel research over the last 25 years. The author, at one point, also gave up city life in Manhattan for farm life in upstate New York where she was able to grow her animal passion - when she moved her animals moved as well. As an animal lover, I found this collection of essays to be informative and fun to read. I enjoyed the writing style as well I think most animal lovers will enjoy this book which was so full of interesting information. This was a combo read (eGalley) and (audio download) for me. The audio was read by the author. For some reason the author's tone seemed a bit flat and uneven to me at times so I opted for eGalley as a supplement. Thanks go to Simon & Schuster Audio, Avid Reader Press and Edelweiss for allowing me early access to this interesting collection. RATING - 4/5 stars
She Treads Softly
On Animals by Susan Orlean is a very highly recommended entertaining and thoughtful collection of fifteen essays about animals. Susan Orlean has, as she writes, always been "animalish," something people who have a relationship or interactions with animals will understand. In this collection of essays, previously published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Smithsonian Magazine (the earliest from 1996), she covers a wide variety of animals and animal-human relationships, including: chickens, show dogs, tigers, mules, homing pigeons, animal actors, Keiko the killer whale, oxen, taxidermy, lions, rabbits, pandas, missing dogs, donkeys, and life on a hobby farm. There should be an essay within this collection that will appeal to almost everyone. What sets this collection apart is the excellent quality of the writing and the variety of the essays. Admittedly, some of the earlier essays, particularly that of Keiko, are dated and perhaps should have included an update. Orlean is not just writing about the particular animal, she's depicting the animals in a specific setting and often time and place. The homing pigeons story, "Little Wing," involves a teenager and her homing pigeons. Biff is the boxer who was a winning show dog. Kevin Richardson is known as the "lion whisperer." Two essays involve the donkeys which seemed to be everywhere in Morocco, and the common sight of oxen in Cuba. She writes about the New Jersey woman kept 23 tigers in her yard. Did you know that most rabbits have the ability to pretend that they’re healthy even when they’re quite sick. And Orleans details the work involved with raising chickens as well a caring for a large variety of animals. And this is just a small part of the topics covered. Overall this is a very strong collection that should hold the interest of most readers throughout, although, as with any collection of stories, some will resonate more with various readers than others. I found it delightful, perceptive, and engaging, just as I have found other books by Orlean. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.
joanneDenise Donalds
Random stories disconnected about animals with a few personal chapters about her own farm animals but nothing more okay but overall disappointing