Friday Review: Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I got this book through a Goodreads giveaway a while ago. I shelved it and promptly forgot about it. I was looking through my unread books recently and saw this, and pulled it out to read.

Frans de Waal is a Dutch primatologist and animal ethologist who studies animal cognition. In this book, he outlines the progression of thinking about animal intelligence, from theories that held animals as inferior to humans, to those that said some animals may be on our level of intelligence or even higher, to a more modern view that intelligence and cognition are not linear values that can be evaluated by comparison with humans.

The book is interesting, and the different theories that have, and are, held about how “smart” animals might be are discussed and explained with examples of the types of tests and evaluation methods used by the proponents of each. It’s a science-y science book. By that I mean while it is not a straight on textbook, it also isn’t a chatty, easy-to-grasp read, either. It can be a bit dry, and the examples of the different species tests are recorded in a straightforward manner. Some of the terms and ideas offered are perhaps not difficult to understand, but do take a bit of digestion to fully comprehend.

de Waal does feel that in that past, particularly, scientists have tried primarily to prove that we humans are the most intelligent species that lives on the planet, and many of the tests designed to evaluate other species were too human-centric. The tool use tests on monkeys, for example, didn’t take into account that some monkeys hands are not designed to use a particular tool and when they didn’t solve a puzzle involving that tool, it was assumed they were not smart enough. de Waal and his colleagues, on the other hand, believe that evaluating species other than humans must be done from that species point of view, no matter how different it may be from what we would consider correct.

The book relates numerous examples of the abilities of other species, not only the apes and monkeys normally associated with animal intelligence. We see birds, other mammal, sea creatures, and more show their ability to solve problems, use and even in some cases, make tools, and relate to their own and other species on emotional and physical levels.

If you are looking for a book of stories of animals doing cute and clever things, this may not be for you. If you are interested in learning more about current thinking on animal cognition and don’t mind putting in a little effort in your study, this is a good place to start.

View all my reviews


Available now :

tn_Circle Unbroken Cover (eBook)

After five years away, Kaili is coming home for the ceremony to install her sister as head of the family business. When an old rivalry threatens the family, Kaili and her partner need to use all their skills to save the sisters’ lives. Learn more here

tn_Six of One

A collection of six short fantasy stories set in varied worlds of magic and mayhem. Learn more here.

tn_Survival of the Fittest (Front Cover)

A short novelette set in a dystopian Earth after the final environmental collapse. Sam is a genetically engineered chameleon who may hold the key to mankind’s survival. Learn more here.


In a world reeling under the effects of severe climate change, food shortages are common, and arable farmland is scarce. Unscupulous distributors like Beni Oligowma take advantage of the shortages for their own gain. When a promising new technology for growing food even under the harsh conditions is unveiled, grocery store owner Frank is determined to see that everyone is able to benefit from the results, not just the Benis of the world.
Feed My People is a short story, set in a dystopian science fiction world, and is free. Learn more here


Demon hunters Johnny and Cerise travel to the small town of Carroll Fork where they find a demon-possessed thrift store, a sweet old lady who is more than she seems, and an army of underworld inhabitants. Can Johnny and his trusty yo-yo save the town from a devil of a problem?

Five and Daemon, the Yo-Yo Files #1, is a short novelette in an urban fantasy setting, with elements of the supernatural and humor.  Learn more here


Things have been quiet. No demonic possessions, no otherworldly intrusions, nothing. And then Lucifer shows up in Johnny’s living room, claiming that two archangels are missing, and something is definitely not right in the heavenly- and other- realms. Saying he has nothing to do with it- this time- he asks Johnny and Cerise to help him find out what’s happening, and who is behind the disappearances. While they are trying to do just that, Lucifer is devilnapped by a larger-than-life serpent. He manages to get a clue to Johnny before he disappears. Johnny and Cerise are left to puzzle out the disappearances and try to find the missing angels. Oh, and stop what could mean the ultimate destruction of pretty much everything.

Snake’s Alive, the Yo-Yo Files #2 is an urban fantasy novelette with elements of the supernatural and humor. Learn more here.