Cover Image: If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal

If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal

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Member Reviews

Thanks to Netgalley and Little, Brown and Company for the ARC of this! I switched back and forth between that copy and the audio from my library. 

This was an interesting and easy to understand look into animal intelligence from ants and bees up to humans, and that how sometimes “smarter” doesn’t result in better outcomes. I liked the tone that this took, and it was enjoyable to read or listen to.
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Delightful. If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal is a conversational, thoughtful, and entertaining exploration into the idea of intelligence and human exceptionalism. Gregg packs in philosophy with natural science adeptly and accessibly, making this book an easy read. As someone who has studied animal behavior and its point of conflict with human expectations and worked within behavioral ethology, Gregg and I do not see eye to eye on everything (if anything, Gregg gives humans intelligence far more credit than I would and that's saying something). However, this book is a great thought-piece and some fun mental gymnastics, especially for someone who may not have come across these concepts before.
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Entertaining and engaging - the title practically guarantees it circulates. A recommended purchase for most general nonfic collections.
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Highly recommend this one! This was my first book to read by this author but definitely won't be my last. The characters will stay with you long after you finish the book and you will find yourself wishing the story would never end.
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Who knew a non-fiction book could be so enlightening AND so entertaining? I chose it because the title intrigued me, and I was immediately drawn in by how funny it was. I learned many facts, and my core belief about the relationship between mere humans and the rest of nature was resoundingly reaffirmed. 

If only other subject matter had been taught this way, I'd be valedictorian in any class.

Thanks again for a great read, Net Galley.
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Funny and fascinating, a good read for the curious mind. I found myself stopping and thinking about every chapter because every few pages my curious wandering mind was set alight by the stories told.
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This book was very entertaining and I learned a lot about animal adaptations and how human intelligence might be a great gift but also could be would is the end of us.
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An interesting attempt to define consciousness, this book tries to be entertaining while answering "Is being smart all that great?"

Like when a creationist tries the classic line "If humans evolved from chimps, why are there still chimps?!?" as if this question means something, this book asks a dumb question, but then does a good job discussing it instead of just answering it.

To creationists, chimps still exist because there is no reason for them not to... humans evolved to do something else in the food web, using different resources.  The original resources are still there, so chimps didn't go extinct.  Could I write a whole book about this?  No, but other people have, so good for them.  

Gregg does a good job discussing the idea that animals aren't smarter than they are now because there is no advantage to being smarter.  Not in an "ignorance is bliss" way, but a "once you're smart enough to get the job done, extra isn't better" way.  If a woodpecker is smart enough to find food, mate, etc., why would being smarter help?  He doesn't talk down to the reader but finds good examples of different examples of intelligence and why problem solving defines "success" differently in different contexts (usually survival for the animal involved).

Recommend to all nerds and first-year philosophy students.  

**I received an advance review copy for free from NetGalley, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.
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If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal is a surprising book by Justin Gregg about whether or not intelligence is really all that important and laudable. 
Over seven chapters, Gregg covers different aspects of "intelligence." He compares and contrasts these topics with animals, such as what he calls death wisdom, the knowledge that we will inevitably die, which humans have and animals do not. But is this really important? How does knowing we are going to die make us smarter than another animal? Or how does having sophisticated languages make us smarter than another animal? Or consciousness? 
This book was entertaining. It was humorous, seeming more like reading a conversation than a nonfiction science book. This made it very accessible and easy to understand, even the more confusing terms that Gregg uses. He also clearly put in a great deal of research, in a wide range of things. I enjoyed that he used many different examples, not just the normal ones. Yes, he talks about chimps and "intelligent" animals like dolphins and crows a lot, but he also talks about keas. The normal example of mass genocide is the Holocaust, but he also mentions and goes over the lesser known Residential Schools in Canada. He also does not just cover Western issues, he covers other issues like the Sakai incident. This allowed me to not just learn about the subject of the book, but also different people and creatures. 
All in all, I think this was a very good book. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for an easy to read book about human intelligence. It is both science and philosophy, so I would recommend it to people who are interested in either.
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An illuminating educational and at times humorous read, I look forward to reading more from this author.
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Entertaining, thought-provoking, and informative but not convincing
Justin Gregg studies dolphin communication for a living, and, given dolphins’ reputation for intelligent behavior, it is not surprising that he has thought a lot about how animals think or if they think or even if they are conscious. In If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal, Gregg explores the human mind and compares us to other animals to try to determine whether the human mind is exceptional and whether we would be better off with the mind of some other animal. 
Each chapter begins with a quote from Nietzsche, then discusses some aspect of the human mind  and looks at the degree, if any, that aspect also is present in other animals. Not surprisingly, he finds that many of the traits of our minds are also present in many animals, such as consciousness. Others, though, he argues are purely human, such as our ability to ask “why”, which can be a significant advantage in problem-solving. 
I do not always agree with his conclusions about what traits other animals have. For example, he seems to think animals lack imagination, but any cat owner who has watched their pet play with a toy mouse knows that imagination is at play. The discussions did provoke me to think about the traits, though, and Gregg’s straightforward, conversational style made the exploration entertaining and enjoyable as well as informative.( This would be a nice choice for many book groups.)   My friends all heard my recommendation that they change their investment advisors after I read of a study that compared the investment success of three wealth advisors, a group of students, and a cat named  Orlando. Orlando won after a year of investing. My cats are now available to manage your portfolio in return for treats!  There were also a wealth of fun factoids, like the number of bacteria in poop and when the lawn mower was invented.
The conversational style may have weakened the impact of the book on me, though,  as I had to question some of the arguments and the terminology. In a simple example, a man died after he jumped off a trestle hooked to bungee cords but forgot that the elasticity of the cords would make him smack down on the surface below.  Gregg calls this a math error. It is not; it is a misunderstanding of the nature of the equipment he was using. Other issues I had were more significant.
As the book progresses,  the author spends more attention on extended discussion of some of the serious consequences of our mental flaws rather than concentrating on the flaw itself. He perhaps rightly labels “prognostic myopia” the most dangerous flaw in human thinking. Prognostic myopia is “the human capacity to think about and alter the future coupled with an inability to actually care all that much about what happens in the future”. The example he chooses is our role in causing climate change coupled with our inadequate attention to addressing it. I tend to agree with him, but the lengthy discussion of climate change, in my opinion, really belongs in a different book. 
Gregg’s final verdict is that homo sapiens are no more likely to experience pleasure than other species, and pleasure is the ultimate objective. Despite my disagreements with a number of his positions during the book, this is one I cannot really dispute. And it did, indeed, bring a lot of pleasure to me along the way. 
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley and Little, Brown
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This book comparing how humans and other animals relate to the world was a bit of a roller coaster ride for me, and I feel like I want to write so much about its topics on a personal level that I plan to buy a paper copy (which I still find much more pleasurable and easier to use than an ebook) and write a long essay which I think will be a more appropriate response than this short and rather random review. 

The introduction was fascinating enough to me that I got a Nietzsche biography from the library; narwhals are much closer to my usual areas of interest. But the early chapters went downhill for me--some long examples which didn't interest me, and a lot of repeating, rephrasing, recapping. Many sections ended with a variation on how the characteristic written about might lead to our upcoming doom or impending extinction or being wiped off the planet--not that I disagree, but all the repetition just didn't seem like great writing.

But then about halfway through, the book started making me think more than a book has done in a long time. I've never been a fan of modern civilization or its effects on people, and care more about ecology than the economy, so I was very open to the ideas expressed in the subtitle and throughout the book. I'm more like Greta (who's mentioned as an exception) than the author or most people. 

Morality being used as justification for anything, a talent for lying while assuming others are telling the truth, embracing all short-term "progress" and comfort without caring about the long-term effects, exceptionalism as a species or a nation--these are among the topics to contemplate here.

Like the author, I was shocked to discover that I have aphantasia. Or more accurately, we were shocked to learn that 98% of people don't. 

Very down to earth, and occasionally earthy, writing rather than academic. Although there are many examples about other species, this is primarily a book about humans. Spoiler: if Nietzsche had been a narwhal, he probably would have been a lot happier.

Thanks to Little, Brown and Company, and NetGalley for the advance review copy.
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My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Little, Brown and Company for this book on animals, humans and how we think.

Consider the Narwhal. Now the Narwhal would not get that reference to the David Foster Wallace essay that I was referring to, nor would the narwhal really care in the long run. Humans might get it, might not get it, feel bad about not getting it, or just think that the writer who starts a review with that is a pretentious twit. Humans have art, language, has mastered the atom and has learned to escape the planet that humans are rapidly depleting. Narwhals swim,change color with age and can live up to fifty years. They lack what we would call intelligence, but does that make their lives less living, or is intelligence just overrated. Justin Gregg in his book  If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal: What Animal Intelligence Reveals About Human Stupidity discusses the differences in humans and animals and how being blessed with intelligence might be a little bit of a curse. 

The book is broken into 7 essays, each looking at something unique to humans and in each Gregg breaks them down from what we assume is right, but well those assumptions do get in the way. Gregg looks at cognition, how humans can bring a few more factors and thoughts to cognition, but in actuality there is really no difference between humans and animals. The most interesting thing is that Gregg shows that animals really didn't have to evolve a better intelligence to do the things they do, animals are quite successful without having to think things out, or feel guilty about what they have to do to survive. Almost every page raises quite a lot of fascinating questions and facts.

The book is not heavy, but told in a more conversational style, with plenty of facts and figures, and humor. There is a mix of both nature writing and science with a lot of philosophy thrown in featuring the works of Nietzsche. This also is explained well and really raises a lot of valid points. The book never bogs down, and the author knows when he is getting too heavy or too much into a subject before moving on. 

An interesting and different look at the thinking between animals and humans, that is both educational and humorous. Recommended for readers of the books Flow by Mihaly Csiksmentmihalyi and Stolen Focus by Johann Hari.
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I loved this book. Justin Gregg tells a great story about human intelligence and what it has done for us and the world, for better or worse. The book is a thoughtful blend of science and philosophy, that is not overly opinionated. What science there is was well-explained, and the overall tone was pleasantly conversational. I liked how Gregg incorporates his own experience into the story and I appreciated the humor and charm of the book. Overall, this is a great read. Thank you to Netgalley and Little, Brown and Company for the digital review copy.
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I have to say, this book really wasn't what I expected. But I enjoyed it immensely. Mr. Gregg did his research impeccably and the book read more like a conversation with a friend than a piece of science based literature. I found myself pondering things that I really hadn't given much though to in the past and I was curious to read further. I laughed through most of it. I also really appreciated how succinct and thorough the author was with explaining concepts that a lay-person might not have heard of before without making them overly complicated. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in psychology or behavioral science or zoology. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown, and Company for providing me with a digital copy for review. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect those of the author or publisher.
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It would seem that author Justin Gregg chose the narwhal more or less randomly for the fetching cover art and title of If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal (as an Adjunct Professor at St. Francis Xavier University and a Senior Research Associate with the Dolphin Communication Project, I accept that narwhals are simply one of Gregg’s “favorite marine mammals”, even if I was slightly disappointed not to actually read about the enchanting sea unicorns in the book itself), but counterpointing narwhals with Nietzsche does make for an intriguing title and serves to underline the fact that this book is equal parts biology and philosophy. By exploring the latest research into animal intelligence, and comparing the results to what we know about the human experience, it’s hard not to share Gregg’s conclusion that human intelligence — and the undeniable harm we cause to each other and the planet through its unique powers — can be more curse than gift. If only, as Nietzche lamented, we were all as stupid as cattle — living in the moment, neither melancholy nor bored — we would have no existential angst. More cynically, as Gregg writes, “Narwhals do not build gas chambers.” This is a fascinating work of comparative biology that eventually pulls itself out of the misanthropic muck (human intelligence is capable of some good if we choose to use it that way), but when Gregg repeats a few times that there’s a 9.5% chance that humanity will be responsible for our own extinction by the end of this century, it’s hard not to default to Nietzchean nihilism. Interesting and thought-provoking (if a little bleak), rounding up to four stars.
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This book is fascinating new take on the human experience. It is the overlap of philosophy and nature writing to try to answer the question: are the qualities that make us human (language, intelligence, morality, etc), that we assume are all inherently good, actually advantages? Each chapter lays out a quality and a story example that then expounds to why this trait could be a good or bad thing using Nietzsche's philosophic thoughts as foundations. 
I found the book so entertaining. The writing tone is casual, funny, and relatable making the content accessible, but still thought provoking. While I already went in agreeing with the author's premise, I think that the arguments are sound, but also explore multiple sides without getting bogged down in minutiae. The author's examples and references are modern and the whole book is well researched. 
A great read for anyone looking to read more philosophy and for those that like to learn more about animals.
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