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Summary

What is it like to be a dog? A bat? Or a dolphin? To find out, neuroscientist Gregory Berns and his team began with a radical step: they taught dogs to go into an MRI scanner - completely awake. They discovered what makes dogs individuals with varying capacities for self-control, different value systems, and a complex understanding of human speech. And dogs were just the beginning.

In What It's Like to Be a Dog, Berns explores the fascinating inner lives of wild animals from dolphins and sea lions to the extinct Tasmanian tiger. Much as Silent Spring transformed how we thought about the environment, so What It's Like to Be a Dog will fundamentally reshape how we think about - and treat - animals. Groundbreaking and deeply humane, it is essential listening for animal lovers of all stripes.

©2017 Gregory Berns (P)2017 Tantor

Critic reviews

"An impressive overview of modern neurology and the still-unanswered issues raised by our treatment of our fellow living creatures." ( Kirkus)

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Gillian
  • 23-03-18

If You Were Disappointed In HOW DOGS LOVE US--

Chances are that you'll be far better satisfied with What It's Like To Be A Dog (even though the title here is almost as misleading as the former).
Berns's new book is warmer and with more anecdotes, but it does wander here and there, and it can be quite technical at times (ya wanna know how an fMRI works? here ya go!).
I gave it 4-stars because I did enjoy it. It starts with dogs but also touches on sea lions with seizure difficulties, sea lions with no place to go. There are experiments with now tragically extinct animals. And there are dolphins!
Dogs are treated to the (in my opinion, because I flunked it horribly, profane:) Marshmallow Test, and the results are discussed in a technical manner but with some humor. And the book ends with our odd concepts/misconceptions of animal ethics. It'll make you think, make you appreciate your bond with your animals.
Sure, it has a lot of science, but there's a tad more heart and soul here.
Now if you'll excuse me: I know more about what my dogs felt (it's less subjective with fMRI proof) when they were still blessing my life, but now I have to figure out what the heck my cats are up to! :)

101 of 105 people found this review helpful

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  • Patricia S
  • 06-01-18

Quite sciencey!

I'll admit it freely; I picked this book up wanting a happy, informative, feel-good piece of nonfiction about how dogs perceive humans. I got that ... kind of. Gregory Berns clearly knows his field, and his research appears very thorough to a non-scientist. I am a non-scientist. I was able to understand the majority of Berns' experimentation with dogs and MRI scanners, and to visualize most of what was said, given having only as-seen-on-t.v. ideas of the equipment specified. However, as a non-scientist, the science didn't really *interest* me very much and I found it a bit too detailed and ... well, sciencey for me. This being said, any student of medicine or biology would eat this up with a spoon! Berns is understandable and thorough, and he not only explores dog brains, but the brains of extinct animals, dolphins, and Australian marsupials. The book was VERY informative, and although I wouldn't re-read it, I'm glad I spent the time listening to it.

The narrator was excellent. It felt as if he read the entire thing to me in one sitting, without even a bathroom break. His voice is smooth, pleasant and well-modulated, and I (a former English teacher and proofreader) did not notice any mispronunciations of words that could have in ANY way detracted from the information presented.

86 of 90 people found this review helpful

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  • Connor
  • 06-04-18

Misleading title

Overall the content of the book is well done, the title is just a bit misleading. The book is more about the brain anatomy and neuroscience of sea lions, dolphins, Tasmanian tigers, and Tasmanian devils than it is about dogs. If that sort of thing interests you then you will enjoy this book as it is well written and well narrated. But, if you’re looking for a book strictly about dog behavior you may be disappointed.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Roz
  • 14-04-18

All beings that are sentient can suffer

And vice versa. Excellent book and really expands your thinking to consider how and why other animals developed sentience. And also, well, explains how brains work!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Discount12v
  • 09-04-18

Informative, but left me wanting more

Where does What It's Like to Be a Dog rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

This book ranks about average. I was hoping for there to be a big finale about what my dog was actually thinking, but there was no climax. The book left me wanting more.

What about Joe Hempel’s performance did you like?

He did a great job explaing his thought process behind his research. I felt I thoroughly understood what he was thinking.

Any additional comments?

I learned a lot of knowledge about animal brains and their thinking process. It was worth the purchase simply because of the knowledge i acquired.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Elise Johnson
  • 08-04-18

NOT ABOUT DOG

This book is not about dogs. It is about how the brains of different animals work and how their circumstances and their environments shaped them. Different animals many different animals, air, land, and sea.

I did not feel that he actually answered the question, 'What it's like to be a dog?' or any other animal for that matter. He did find out how a given animal uses the structure of its brain to perceive its world. But not what its emotions, social structure, and value systems are, only if it has the bandwidth to have any.

This is a decent enough book if you are into esoteric science written for the laymen.

Please be advised this is
NOT A BOOK ABOUT DOGS.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Liliana Piegari
  • 01-04-18

A magnificent book. Again.

I loved the author's first book when he started scanning dogs ' brains. This one gets even deeper into dogs and other species. I am looking forward to get the next one.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Michael
  • 28-03-18

very informative

I only half liked the book. It is very detailed and offers lots of science, but because it's full of technical information I thought it was a little dry. I was bored with it.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • trevhug
  • 28-03-18

Deceptive advertising

Managed to complete the book but have no clearer idea of how our dog thinks. This might be interesting reading for neuroguys but not for dog lovers. Read it to our dog and she agrees.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Phil Selman
  • 26-04-18

Fascinating and Accessible

There are several reasons why I deeply enjoyed this book. For starters, as scientific as the author's methodology is, the content is perfectly accessible to a wide audience. That isn't to say it's dumbed down in any way. You don't have to have a scientific background or experience as an animal trainer to follow along comfortably, but if you do, then you'll get even more out of the book.

On a related note, as deep as Berns gets into his pet subject (pun intended), the pacing of What it's Like to Be a Dog is excellent. The author provides enough information to be satisfying before moving on, without lingering on any one subject or suffering from the endless repetition common to similar works of nonfiction.

Finally, I feel this book appeals equally to those interested in cognitive neuroscience as a subject in its own right and those concerned about animal ethics, without pushing the latter point heavily. As someone who follows a vegan diet for several reasons, ethics among them, I was pleased by Berns's expansion on utilitarian concepts advanced by Russel and Singer, providing science-based evidence that extends the argument past suffering alone.

At the same time, the author makes it clear that he was not a vegan himself, and sympathizes with the cognitive dissonance most people who eat animals suffer with. This alone makes What it's Like to Be a Dog appeal to a broad audience in a similar way books written by Michael Pollan do. There's nothing "preachy" about it.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful