An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us

by Ed Yong

Paperback, 2023


Random House Trade Paperbacks (2023), Edition: Reprint, 480 pages


"The Earth teems with sights and textures, sounds and vibrations, smells and tastes, electric and magnetic fields. But every animal is enclosed within its own unique sensory bubble, perceiving but a tiny sliver of an immense world.This book welcomes us into a previously unfathomable dimension-the world as it is truly perceived by other animals. We encounter beetles that are drawn to fires (and fireworks), songbirds that can see the Earth's magnetic fields, and brainless jellyfish that nonetheless have complex eyes. We discover that a crocodile's scaly face is as sensitive as a lover's fingertips, that the eyes of a giant squid evolved to see sparkling whales, and that even fingernail-sized spiders can make out the craters of the moon. We meet people with unusual senses, from women who can make out extra colors to blind individuals who can navigate using reflected echoes like bats. Yong tells the stories of pivotal discoveries in the field, and also looks ahead at the many mysteries which lie unsolved"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Hccpsk
Ed Jong’s An Immense World reveals everything you could ever want to know about animal senses and way more with a personal and entertaining style that makes the science stuff feel relevant and understandable. Each chapter explores a different sense — from common ones like smell and sight to
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more obscure ones like electrical fields and echolocation. I listened to the audiobook and found Jong’s narration clear and easy to listen to. Overall, I found this book incredibly interesting and I highly recommend it.
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LibraryThing member steve02476
Absolutely terrific science/nature book about animal perception. Yong is a great writer, I also loved his previous work “I Contain Multitudes.” Light but effective use of humor and also the author’s personal experience.

We get to meet so many interesting creatures in this book, and Yong helps
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us to try to imagine sensing the world as these other animals might, and to remember that the way humans sense the world is unique to us, as other animals’ methods are unique to them.

Yong’s work on the Atlantic (and Twitter) is very good BUT he has a tendency toward finger-wagging. But in this book he keeps it firmly in check until the last short chapter, and even then he keeps it pretty reasonable. Bravo!
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LibraryThing member brianinbuffalo
Make no mistake, this encyclopedia-like tome contains a wealth of fascinating information about dozens of diverse critters in the animal kingdom. If I had been given the luxury of digesting this material in “bite-sized pieces – perhaps in daily doses of several pages – I think I would have
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enjoyed exploring many of the insights. But library patrons don’t have this luxury with an enormously popular book. As a result, I concur with one reviewer who aptly recounted how eyes can easily glaze over due to the sheer scope, volume and detail of this meticulously researched work. Confession: I’ve never been a science guy. Hence, some of the incredibly detailed explorations of how specific animals sense various aspects of life felt “in the weeds” to me. Truth be told, they felt more tiny blades of grass that sprouted up beneath the weeds. Still, the author deserves “immense” credit for pulling together so much information and comparing his findings to how humans experience life. Even though I admittedly skimmed many of the sections (sorry, I’m just not that fascinated by lengthy passages on ultraviolet vision), I learned a lot and found some revelations intriguing.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Humankind has a nasty habit of assuming that our world view is the only world view, and an animal’s experience is somehow “less than” our own. In An Immense World, science writer Ed Yong shows who wrong we all are by exploring all of the senses that exist in the animal kingdom. He begins with
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those most familiar to humans like sight, hearing, and touch. But even these familiar abilities manifest themselves in ways that differ from humans. For example, some animals see more colors than humans; we can only imagine their experience. Birdsong has more variations than we can detect. And then there are senses humans do not have, like using echolocation, electrical field, or the earth’s vibrations to hunt and navigate.

Each chapter introduces the reader to scientists who have made it their life’s work to research a specific sense. Yong’s science writing is accessible and easy to understand, although it does take considerable attention and reading stamina to get through the entire book. In the final chapters, Yong makes a sobering call to action by explaining how humans, through their domination and ignorance, have caused harm to certain species (and sometimes their extinction) by limiting their ability to use the senses that are so important to their survival. This issue is only beginning to gain traction, through efforts like “lights out” campaigns during migratory bird season. But in many cases the damage is already done. Books such as this do a valuable service by increasing our knowledge, but will we change our ways?
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LibraryThing member murderbydeath
I'd been looking forward to this book since I heard it was coming out, and I started it soon after I received it, but Halloween Bingo came up and the book got set aside for the duration of the game. I had to go back and re-read a few bits to refresh my memory before picking it back up. I mention
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this because the fact that it took me over 100 days to read this book isn't a reflection on the book itself.

An Immense World is a very readable exploration of how non-human animals perceive the world, with Yong trying very hard to connect the reader to perceptions that he's the first to admit are almost impossible for us to imagine. Starting with the 5 senses we ourselves use, and how they differ wildly, and sometime dramatically, from animal to animal (peacock shrimp have 16 different visual receptors - we have 4) and why that's not always the good or bad we imagine it to be, Yong than expands into the senses we can only imagine, like the use of electric and magnetic fields.

He's right, of course, that it's impossible to experience the world as another animal does, but occasionally Yong comes close to bringing the reader at least a hint of what that other perception might be like. He does this with a modicum of charts and as little rock-hard science as he can get away with, allowing any reader to expand their thinking without intimidating them. On the other hand, as someone who enjoys rock-hard science, I wasn't disappointed or left wanting either. I think he found a decent balance between both audiences, and I really appreciated the color photo inserts in my hardcover edition, especially for those animals discussed that I'd never heard of before (knifefish, for example, which generate their own electricity).

There's a lot to take in here, but I found it all interesting. Enough so that I might re-read this via audiobook in the new year, in hopes that a bit more of what I read will sink in.
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LibraryThing member janerawoof
A presentation of animals' sensory perception, giving many examples. There are many more senses than the original Aristotelian five. Not every creature has them all, including us humans and they might be in different places on the different animals. For example, in some, touch is on their feet or
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in the case of the star-nosed mole, on its face. Animals see different colors than we do, some more, some less. Hummingbirds zero in on ultraviolet patches on flowers to gather nectar. In the early 20th century, a famous zoologist coined the term "Umwelt" -- from the German meaning "the world around". He gave us the concept of the collection of senses each animal has--its sensory world. We are given a fascinating look at the author's examples--from bugs, spiders, birds, bats, mammals, snakes, sea creatures, etc. There are several sections of color plates. Some of the same material was covered in [Sentient: How Animals Illuminate the Wonder of Our Human Senses], but this book does have some major differences. It does discuss how noise and light pollution are adversely affecting these animals.
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LibraryThing member loraineo
A beautifully written book. We know so little about each animal species on this earth, but this book describes in so much detail what we have learned. Each species has its own unique senses to experience this world we all share.
LibraryThing member nmele
Just about one of the most interesting books have ever read, An Immense World explores the world of sensation through what humans have learned about the sensory abilities of animals from invertebrates to our closest companions. I was fascinated and as I read started evaluating my own "perceptual
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bubble" in light of what Yong learned researching this book.
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LibraryThing member rmarcin
This is a wonderful book which discusses the senses in the animal world, and how the animals use these senses to discover what is in the world around them. It is fascinating, how they use touch, smell, vision, etc. to determine where prey is, where predators are, and other things vital to their
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If you like nature, animals, the outdoors, etc., this is a must read!
Very interesting.
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LibraryThing member markm2315
Ed Yong writes for the Atlantic, and his articles were among the clearest and most rational on Covid-19 during the pandemic lockdown. He has written a fascinating and outstanding discussion and review of the sensory world of animals including ourselves. Each chapter is about a different sense;
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smell, vision, touch, etc.

Which animal has the highest visual acuity?
Why are Zebras striped?
What colors can your pet dog see?
Why do raptors fly into wind turbines?
Can an octopus see its own skin color changes?
Why do hummingbirds make ultrasonic sounds?
Why can’t you tickle yourself?

And there are also some excellent words to learn, Umwelt, Zugunruhe (my favorite), exafference, and reafference. I highly recommend An Immense World and I’ve added his previous book I Contain Multitudes to my to read list.
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LibraryThing member thcson
A good book about animal which perceive various physical stimuli that humans cannot. In each chapter, the author discusses a particular kind of sensory stimulus, such as light, sound, fluid flow or magnetism. He also presents the organs or receptors that some example animals have evolved to sense
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that stimulus, and the benefits that they draw from their sensory ability. It is, in some cases, still unclear to scientists how some of these senses work, and the subjective sensory experiences of most animals will probably forever remain a mystery. The author discusses what we know, what we don't know, and what we will probably never know, with admirable clarity.

It's amusing to consider how alien lifeforms are depicted in popular fiction. They are usually visual creatures exactly like ourselves. After reading this book, future authors will hopefully be able to expand their imagination a little bit further.
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LibraryThing member Gwendydd
This is a fascinating book! Yong examines the senses, and how senses differ across the animal world. He starts with the basics, like sight and touch, but there are so many other senses that humans don't have: fish have organs for sensing currents, eels can sense electrical fields, some animals
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navigate using the Earth's magnetic field, and some animals can apparently sense changes on the quantum level. Even the senses that seem familiar to us, like sound and sight, are so radically different in some animals that they might as well be different senses.

Yong is an excellent writer: he sometimes oversimplifies complicated ideas to make them accessible to a general audience, but when he does, he lets you know that's what he's doing, and provides enough references that an interested reader could track down the more complex information. His writing is clear and engaging.

The title of this book is apt: my biggest takeaway was that human senses are only a tiny fraction of the myriad ways that nature has produced to sense the world, and that there is a ton of sensory information around us all the time that we are not capable of perceiving, but the animals around us are. Our sensory world is very small compared to what is available out there. A lot of the research in this book is very new: humans are only starting to realize how differently other creatures sense the world. We need to continue to expand our imaginations to understand the animals around us, and by extension, how we impact their world. They have a lot to teach us about the wonders of nature.
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LibraryThing member fionaanne
I'm finding this way less interesting than I expected so it's going back to the library half-read.
LibraryThing member nmarun
The book talks about how various animals sense and make sense of the world around them - introduces the term 'Umwelt' to explain this. Vibrations, smells, sounds, electric / magnetic fields, infrared, UV, echoes, and more - man, such a vast gamut for living beings to capture and process
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information. As mentioned many times in the book - what would it be like to have these abilities in us!

Adaptations of various animals - zebra stripes to protect from flies, the fork in snakes' tongue to route itself, echolocation of bats to fly in the dark, electrolocation of some eels and fish to detect hazards and food, the geometry of the face of an owl to direct the faintest of sounds to its ears - only adds to my amazement of what else is there to learn about our environment.

Quite a few examples in the book show that we need to understand Physics, Chemistry and Biology to deepen our understanding of ourselves and others.
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LibraryThing member KallieGrace
Such a fun look at the natural world through all our senses, and how creatures use senses in ways we could never imagine. This is well organized and so entertaining, it brings many species into focus and highlights how perfect our senses are for what we need.
LibraryThing member tangledthread
A fascinating look at the sensory/perceptual systems of nonhuman living things. As humans we tend to anthropomorphize our observations of other animals, yet they have their own Umwelten based on the range of their sensory systems and their ability to integrate information.
As a pop science book, the
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author explores various areas of research, shares observations and speculations about what we don't know.
However, this was not a fast read. I found the type face and the tiny footnotes scattered throughout to be very hard on the eyes.
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LibraryThing member KJC__
I liked the images near the end.
LibraryThing member gypsysmom
I listened to this book but I'm a little sorry I took that medium. There was so much information about animal senses and I think I would have retained more if I had read a print version. Regardless, it is a very comprehensive look at how animals differ from humans and from other animals when it
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comes to how they perceive the world. The reasearch that went into this book must have been extensive. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member dinahmine
An Immense World provides an absolutely fascinating look at the world around us. As a biologist, I had no difficultly following the ‘science’ within the book but found it difficult to concentrate on reading without putting the book down to learn more information online! My fellow book club
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members (without science backgrounds) had more difficulty with the technical details, but still loved reading this.
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LibraryThing member hardlyhardy
Virtually every species experiences the world in a unique way, in most cases a very different from the way humans experience it. Ed Yong gives us countless examples of this in his eye-opening 2022 book “An Immense World.”

Each species has the sensory perception it needs to survive and reproduce.
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If it doesn't need to see, because it lives where there is no light, then it is blind. Orher animals need strong vision. Some may need a powerful sense of smell or a powerful sense of hearing. Others have senses human beings can only imagine, such dolphins, which can use sonar to detect buried objects, and bumblebees, which can sense the electric fields of flowers.

Yong offers up one jaw-dropping natural science fact after another. Mice sing, though our ears cannot hear it. Catfish are, in effect, "swimming tongues" because of their ability to taste with their entire bodies. Some insects can hear with virtually every part of their bodies.

Yong points out that earlier scientists have been dead wrong time and again about what animals can sense. Fish don't feel pain, for example. Well, yes they do. But if earlier scientists can be wrong, so can the scientists represented here. If any of them are wrong, however, chances are the real truth is even more amazing than the amazing information gathered here.
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LibraryThing member dele2451
A book that will change your perspective on every living thing and possibly life itself.
LibraryThing member ladycato
What a fascinating book of both empathy and scientific exploration. Yong discusses the different ways that animals and insects experience the world. The details are heady, but even if you skim, there is a lot to learn--and to appreciate. I'm glad that my book club selected this read for March 2024.

Original publication date





0593133250 / 9780593133255
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