Becoming Wild: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace

by Carl Safina

Hardcover, 2020

Call number

591.7 SAF



Henry Holt and Co. (2020), 384 pages


"Some people insist that culture is strictly a human feat. What are they afraid of? This book looks into three cultures of other-than-human beings in some of Earth's remaining wild places. It shows how if you're a sperm whale, a scarlet macaw, or a chimpanzee, you too experience your life with the understanding that you are an individual in a particular community. You too are who you are not by genes alone; your culture is a second form of inheritance. You receive it from thousands of individuals, from pools of knowledge passing through generations like an eternal torch. You too may raise young, know beauty, or struggle to negotiate a peace. And your culture, too, changes and evolves. The light of knowledge needs adjusting as situations change, so a capacity for learning, especially social learning, allows behaviors to adjust, to change much faster than genes alone could adapt. Becoming Wild offers a glimpse into cultures among non-human animals through looks at the lives of individuals in different present-day animal societies. By showing how others teach and learn, Safina offers a fresh understanding of what is constantly going on beyond humanity. With reporting from deep in nature, alongside individual creatures in their free-living communities, this book offers a very privileged glimpse behind the curtain of Life on Earth, and helps inform the answer to that most urgent of questions: Who are we here with?"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Stbalbach
Carl Safina is such a gift, I picked this up immediately on release. His premise that animals have culture will be met by some with disbelief even disdain but it's so obvious the evidence is all around for anyone to see. True it's not human culture so we don't readily recognize it as "culture", but
Show More
every species, including animals, have their own culture so long as a definition of culture is well defined. The book examines three marque intelligent species: whales, parrots and chimps. It is a travelogue as he goes on various expeditions and outings. Really one can read this as an outdoor adventure book as well. There is hardly a page that some surprising bit of information is revealed.

I was particularly impressed by whales who organize into families, tribes and nations - and then signal their name to passing whales eg. I am George of the Wilson family of the California tribe of the Pacific-ocean whale nation. These are human terms and concepts (Safina never gives human analogies), but the idea is the same, there are layers of belonging and identity within whale populations. One significant insight is how to do new species evolve? Normally this is thought to require physical separation like Darwin's finches on separate islands. But Safina makes a good case that as individuals within a species separate into different cultural groups or tribes, over time they evolve into separate species. For example one "tribe" of whales may prefer eating sea lions while another prefers fish. There is no reason for this other than that is how one group of whales always did things, and how they train their young. Over time they evolve into different species that favor one food source over another.

The chapters on chimps was fairly uncomfortable because they are one of the few species to regularly kill members of their immediate group (homicide), chimp on chimp violence is legendary. It is a testosterone culture where competition for status among males drives everything. Compared to Bonobos where male status is not so important. Such insights into our own species is a powerful reason to look more closely at the cultures of other species.
Show Less
LibraryThing member miamismartgirl09
Please note: I am currently about 30% finished with the audiobook.

I am not sure if this is the right style of a book for audio or if I just don't enjoy the author's style.

I had believed the book to focus on the culture of whales, parrots and monkeys, but so far (I have just reached the bird
Show More
portion), there has been little information on the culture of the whales.

It is difficult to listen to, I am wondering if it would have been a better choice for a print or e-book, so that I could reference back and forth between different stories of the whales.

I am continuing on for now and will updated further.
Show Less
LibraryThing member etxgardener
This is a fascinating study of socialization among animal species. The author studies sperm whales, macaws, and chimpanzees to illustrate that animals also have cultures that they pas down through the generations.
LibraryThing member streamsong
This long (14 hour) audiobook is my favorite wildlife book of the year to date.

How can a a herd of wild animals find water in a drought year or know another source of food or shelter in the hard times? It’s often an elder of the herd that has been through the situation before than can recall
Show More
where they went in a previous time of struggle. The older animal, often a matriarch, takes the lead, and by showing younger members the solution hand their hard won knowledge down through the generations. Such learning is not hard wired into DNA. This makes it more flexible, more easily changed and communicated and contributes to the survival of the group and is the definition of culture.

Although this book focuses on such diverse species as whales, Macaw Parrots, and chimpanzees, many other species are briefly examined, too.

It addresses emotions not always attributed to animals – love, grief, altruism and even a search for beauty and harmony.

It’s a fascinating book. Although my life in Montana makes me very familiar with domestic animals and wildlife, I won’t look at animals and birds the same way again.
Show Less
LibraryThing member jlbattis
I am going to restrain from reviewing this until I've had a chance to read it, as the audiobook sent me, read by the author, is deplorable. I have great respect for Safina, and hope to better understand his argument via print.
LibraryThing member andrea58
I received this audiobook from LTER. I listen to lots of audiobooks since I’m in the car frequently. Unfortunately this one didn’t consistently hold my interest. The section on whales was way too long and too detailed. My favorite section was the last one with monkeys. Generally the book seemed
Show More
like editing might have helped. I definitely learned a lot about the various species and The research done was phenomenal. Lastly, as several other reviewers indicated, the narration was a distraction.
Show Less
LibraryThing member WildMaggie
This fascinating natural history gives listeners a dive deep into the cultures of non-human animals. For generations, scientists rejected the idea that non-human animals lived in societies with their own cultures that they transmitted through their generations. Becoming Wild presents authoritative
Show More
science disproving that notion through stories of non-human animals living and raising their young. The stories focusing on the family groups that transmit their cultures making this a lively, personal experience. The author, who also narrates this audio version of his book, focuses on members of three vastly different non-human animals living in three vastly different habitats—whales, macaws, and chimpanzees. He uses each to demonstrate not just that these animals have and transmit culture within their groups but further to show how these animals use their cultures to, in his words, “raise families, create beauty, and achieve peace”.
Show Less



1250173337 / 9781250173331

Similar in this library

Page: 0.7134 seconds