Cover Image: On Animals

On Animals

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Member Reviews

I really enjoyed this book. Each chapter is devoted to a specific animal and I thought the insights and experiences regarding the animals was wonderful. I read it because I like animals and I tend to like the writing style of Susan Orlean and I was not disappointed. I really liked how she taught me things about animals without it being dry.
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It was the summer of ‘07, I’d recently graduated college and was on a solo road trip  traveling south from the heart of Alaska to my favorite camping destination, Valdez. Epic views abound in the land of the midnight sun as I drove along listening to The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. It was my first introduction to her fantastic reporting style narrative non-fiction. 

While perusing NetGalley, I came across the cover of Susan Orlean’s newest book, On Animals, and instantly requested it. I didn’t even bother reading the description. After reading The Orchid Thief and The Library Book I knew I didn’t need to. 

Fast forward to about a month ago when I finally opened it up and much to my chagrin and realized that it is quite literally a book On Animals. I’m not what you would call “an animal lover.” Don’t get me wrong, animals are majestic, wonderful creatures, but let’s just say that I am not eagerly anticipating the day my daughter’s dreams of becoming a pet owner become realized. When Susan Orlean began sharing her pet experiences I suspected this wasn’t going to be a book I would enjoy.

……But I was wrong.

Susan Orlean has done it again! I’m fairly certain that regardless of her topic of focus, her particular journalistic style transcends those “fun facts” into fascinating essays that will ultimately lead to further personal research. Here are just a few of the highlights in the essays that take up the bulk of the book:
•a day in the life of Biff the Boxer, a show dog, and his brass crate
•”Tiger Lady” Joan Byron-Marasek, keeping a streak of tigers in her backyard in Jackson, NJ
•the mules’ commitment to survival: Army, Amish, and Middle-Aged Pleasure Riding 
•the American Racing Pigeon League is actually a thing, and it’s 10,000 members strong 
•the heartbreaking story of freeing Keiko (aka Willy)- cue MJ’s “Will You Be There” 

Susan Orlean concludes On Animals with her own personal forays into backyard animal husbandry. These short stories are the musings of an animal admirer. They reminded me of that pride felt from a farmer who expresses her love for her pigs through the stories she shares- the very definition of animal husbandry. 

It’s the perfect blend of  non-fiction memoir and investigative journalism. I enjoyed slowly savoring each story, going back to google more information. If you are an animal enthusiast, then this is the perfect book for you. If you’re not, but still appreciate the natural world around you then I highly recommend you give this book a chance. 

I can’t wait to see what’s coming next from Susan Orlean! Thank you so much to the author for sharing and the publisher for the opportunity to read and review.
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For those already familiar with Susan Orlean's work, this collection of previously published essays might feel redundant. As an introduction to her signature dry wit and keen observations, however, it shines. Animal lovers will be drawn to some of the essays, and may be surprised by the journalistic detail Orlean is able to bring to every essay. The way she is able to paint a scene brings readers fully into the moment, whether it is in the back of a plane watching mules parachute out or in a hidden backyard big cat habitat. Immersed in these stories, a reader will learn unexpected things all while chuckling at Orlean's humor.
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Some were quite sad and a bit tough to read. I love her writing and it's stellar as always but I think the topic just wasn't as resonant for me as some of her others. You'll always learn something from her stories though.
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Whenever I see that Susan Orlean has written a book, I immediately add it to my list. Her writing is so thoroughly engaging that subject matter is of no consequence. In this book she explores relationships with animals, and it absolutely hits the mark. I liked that it was the sort of book you could pick up snd put down (as if you would want to) due to each chapter being a separate essay. I enjoyed this book immensely and would highly recommend it to anyone, most especially people who have a special relation/kinship with animals. Thank you Net Galley for allowing me to read this book.
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Susan Orlean is an entertaining writer on any subject, and this eclectic collection of previously published essays, on animals from backyard chickens and tigers (yes, backyard tigers) to working donkeys and animal actors, is a delight. 

My thanks to Netgalley for the digital arc.
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First and foremost, Susan Orleans is an incredible writer and an Indefatigable researcher. Her THE LIBRARY BOOK was simply riveting.  This book collected her articles published over the years that focused on animals combined with ones about her personal experiences as an animal lover and caretaker of chickens, guinea hens, turkeys along with dogs and cats. Wide-ranging from rabbits to panda bears to donkeys to the lion whisperer to taxidermy, each article is personal and jam-packed with fascinating facts and tales. Highly recommended!
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On Animals investigates various animal/human interactions.  Where her previous books (The Orchid Thief, Rin Tin Tin and the Library Book) took deep dives into their subjects,  In On Animals Orlean introduces a different subject with each chapter.  The stories she tells are about people as seen in relationship to animals as much as they are about the animals themselves.  She explains her own enthusiasm for raising hens; from the preliminary research to the postal clerk’s announcement : “You have a package here … and it’s clucking” to the reactions she gets sitting in the vet’s office with a chicken.  She introduces us to a Westminster Dog Show champion Boxer named Biff Truesdale; takes us through the process of rewilding Keiko, the orca behind Free Willy; and paints a vivid picture of Fez, Morocco and the way donkeys there are considered good and useful tools.  As she says in the first line of this chapter:  “The donkey I’ll never forget was coming around a corner … with six color televisions strapped on his back”.  Orlean’s writing is light and diverting and her subjects are equally as engaging.
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Amusing, informative, and poignant, this collection of essays about animals will delight. Susan Orlean’s inquisitive mind, quirky observations and compassion for animals, their people and places, takes the reader on journeys domestic and abroad. What a wonder way to spend quality time with an author who cherishes the lives of animals. Highly recommended. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing this title.
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A collection of essays about our relationship with animals, whether they be pets or grown for food or work. I especially enjoyed reading about her farm and the many animals they kept. The personal pieces were the best. Most others were more "reporty"--about mules, people who kept tigers or show dogs, etc. compiled from previously published essays in magazines.
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Thank you to NetGalley, Simon & Schuster, and Ms. Orlean for the opportunity to read an ARC of this title. An honest review was requested but not required.

I have heard of Ms. Orlean but somehow have never gotten around to reading either the Library Book (scandalous, considering my day job) or the Orchid Thief. So, I can't say with any authority whether this collection of essays is in line with her normal writing style or content. I will say this: Ms. Orlean has a very engaging and relentlessly charming writing voice. Within only a few pages she managed to totally engage my attention and interest in a variety of topics: backyard tigers in New Jersey, Cuban oxen, Moroccan donkeys, the backstage life of a show dog, humble whitetail deer. Ms. Orlean had me half-convinced that I too need some chickens in my backyard [spoiler: I DO NOT need chickens. Like: not at ALL. Although my two very enthusiastic and very large dogs would no doubt argue otherwise]. 

Apparently most of these essays have appeared in print previously in various publications, although I have seen none of them. I'm not particularly bothered by this but I would say, if I was going to say anything critical at all, that it would have been nice if the author had added more current content, or at least refreshed some of the articles (particularly the tigers and Keiko's story) to incorporate some sort of "where are they now" updates. Many of the essays are timeless, though, and every single one catches your heart.

Highly recommended to anyone who likes and is interested in animals. Warning: you will need full strength to resist the allure of those tempting backyard chickens.
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As a fan of Orlean's writing I started this book with high expectations.  I really expected to like this book more than I did.  It's not that I disliked the sixteen essays but more they would give me more insight than they did.  Also, a few of the stories had content that was either had debunked or outdated and could have benefited by being updated with more up to date information.
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Calling all animal lovers!  This book is for you.  If you've ever shared and connected for at least one moment with an animal you'll love Susan Orleans stories.  Take a walk with the other creatures who inhabit our planet through Orlean's book.  There's a whole world out there and after reading these stories I think we need the animals more than they need us.
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Though I never met her, Susan Orlean and I are exact contemporaries, and co-alums of the University of Michigan, 1976. We are both animal lovers. I settled in to this with some enjoyable anticipation. It didn’t last long.
	Within a few pages, I was cocking an eyebrow with puzzlement: as a student, she spends an unexpected windfall on an Irish setter puppy, while living in a rented college-town apartment, with crazy hours and unsympathetic landlords (yes, I remember it well…). A few pages and years later, when she moves to Manhattan with her now-elderly setter, she worries because the dog had “never lived in an apartment.” A new boyfriend impresses her by bringing a friend with a fully-grown lion to her apartment. She decides she’d like to have only animals with red hair. And then she falls in love with chickens based on a Martha Stewart television show – whose chickens were always a marketing tool, and who sighs that she’ll “never get another Egyptian Fayoumi again” after the hen froze to death. Orlean seems oblivious to any problem with any of this. Throughout most of these essays, reprinted largely from The New Yorker and Smithsonian magazines, there is an unsettling sense of someone for whom animals are interesting and appealing, and some of whom she comes to be fond of, but who are more accoutrements, charming rural accessories, or colorful topics for an essay than individual, thinking, feeling, “complete” beings in their own right. She is frequently glib, surprisingly callous. There is an otherwise lovely vignette about the role of oxen in the agriculture of Cuba over the decades of pre- and post-Soviet dominion, and the character of these highly-valued animals – but she can’t resist a flippant comment about an ox who broke into a feed bin and “died happy of incurable colic.” Colic is a dreadful, painful way for an animal to die. 
	Then there’s the fact-checking… or lack thereof. There were statements of fact or incident that were questionable at best; wrong or outdated at worst. She mentions buying hay for her chickens nests; straw would be much more likely, preferred, and cheaper. Biff the show dog “beg[s] for chocolate”; I thought everyone knew chocolate is not a good treat for dogs, and the brand of dog food Biff shills for is lousy quality, mostly corn junk food. She blithely offers that knee-replacement surgery has boosted the market for riding mules because mules have a smoother gait and thus are easier on the knees; no substantiation is given, and most riders with replaced knees are fine in the saddle – it’s the mounting and dismounting that can be dicey. And perhaps this is old fake news, but she suggests there may be a connection between cellphone towers and disoriented homing pigeons – again, with no factual support, and which has been fairly well debunked buy Audubon Society researchers. And really, Susan, lions don’t sweat. 
	The best essays are the ones in which Orlean herself features the least. The strange and awful Tiger Lady saga (pre-Tiger King!) is a disturbing portrait of the wild-animal-as-pet trade and obsession. The piece on rabbit-keeping in the U.S. is a clear-eyed look at the ambivalence of rabbit fanciers who can’t decide if their charges are much-loved pets or meat stock. Taxidermists come across as a pleasantly loony, obsessed, creative and artistic bunch – but she completely avoids the figurative (and maybe even literal) elephant in the room about where the “trophies” they create come from, how, and at whose hands. However, the piece on the Lion Guy forcefully depicts the tragic state of lions in the modern world, and the unconscionable horrors of canned safari hunts. 
	The final section outlines a year or so in the life of Orlean’s hobby farm in the Hudson Valley: dogs, cats, poultry, and even a few cattle occupy her (though the cattle are actually a tax-avoidance project, as is a casual and joking reference to raising puppies for profit). Still, there is a weird lack of emotional connection to these, her very own personal menagerie. They take in a stray cat, and she seems to be mystified by why her resident cat hates the newcomer, whose sex she can’t even identify correctly. I will agree whole-heartedly with her assessment of the evils of ticks, though. I’d also like to know how Helen, the Rhode Island Red hen, is the lowest chicken in the pecking order on one page, becomes the top-ranking alpha hen a few pages later. 
	And then, the family ups sticks and move to Los Angeles for a job opportunity. The animals have to be handed off, arranged for, and away they go. They spend a few more summers in New York, but it turns out to be too much trouble, so they sell up what we’ve been told is a much-loved, long-dreamed-for place, and that’s that.  
	Animal lovers, if you are looking for dedication, loyalty, intimacy, and a recognition of animals as, in the inimitable words of Henry Beston, “finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth,” don’t look here. To be fair, she is never mawkish or sentimental, she does not anthropomorphize, and her approach seems to be one clinging to objectivity (with some factual issues), an eye for detail, and respect for the attitudes the human subjects may have toward their animal charges. But her own humanity has gaps, and she lacks “another and a wiser…concept of animals,” (Beston again) that respects them as they deserve.
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This book is comprised of a handful of essays Orlean has written, well, "on animals". The topics varied from mules used in the military to the rules governing the use of animals in the movies. Orlean is a lovely writer and I enjoyed the whole book. My favorite pieces, though, were her accounts of her own attempts at animal husbandry - pets and pets/farm animals, primarily chickens. I'm not an animal lover on Orlean's level, but I found this book well worth my time.
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I am a huge fan of Susan’s writing and this does not disappoint.  Any animal lover will love her essays on and experiences with different animals.  The stories cover domestic animals to wild animals.  Each story quickly draws you in, especially the ones about her chickens.  She examines human- animal relationship without judgement., except for canned hunts.   Quick read that all will enjoy.
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I really enjoyed this title! Susan Orlean writes beautifully and honestly, and always manages to take whatever topic she chooses to write about and make it something profound, funny, and interesting. I particularly loved the introduction, the chapter relating to tigers, and of course, anything involving dogs. I would recommend this title to anyone already familiar with Orlean’s work, but also as an introduction to her style and prose.
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16 essays on animals ranging from chicken to whales and even taxidermy. Fascinating to read the interactions and history between humans and animals. Fun read.
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I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. It's fine, it's just got a lot of dated material — how can you not amend the ending of your article on Keiko the orca without explaining the widely known facts that due to his decades of captivity, he wasn't ever able to "adjust" to life as a "wild animal," and he died a mere 18 months after he was "fully freed." There are a number of scientific papers on Keiko's story, and even a Retro Report video by the New York Times in 2013 about his tragic story features Orlean speaking about it, So, for me, not bothering to append that essay with just a couple of clear sentences about Keiko's ultimate fate makes me wonder about the veracity, or at least the fullness of the reporting, of the rest of her essays, which really don't hang together outside of them all being "about" animals, roughly. Also she sure loves her enormous domesticated farm animals, don't forget that.

I've always admired Orlean's writing, but this essay collection feels like more of an opportunistic move to sell already-published work interspersed with a few anecdotes about suburban farming, to appeal to people of her class, who have the means to live more remotely and care for so many animals. It's great that she's happy, but that still doesn't make this book worthwhile.
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Susan Orlean can write about anything she wants to and it is going to be an engaging, interesting read. I loved The Library Book and so I couldn't wait to read On Animals. It did not disappoint.

Each chapter could stand alone with one on dogs, another on mules and donkeys, and one on chickens (I'm still rolling with laughter over "Chicken Orlean.") Don't miss the chapter on the Tiger Lady! There are sixteen chapters and each is fascinating.

Orlean's style is so accessible and as a reader I feel like I'm sitting in the room talking with her. You may also consider the audiobook as the author has done the reading for this one.

Loved On Animals and thank NewGalley and the publisher for the ARC.
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