Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?

Frans de Waal

Published: 6 July 2017
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 352 pages
ISBN: 9781783783069

Other Editions


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Published: 1 September 2016
Hardback, Demy HB
138x216mm, 352 pages
ISBN: 9781783783045

Ebook Available


What separates your mind from the mind of an animal?

Maybe you think it's your ability to design tools, your sense of self, or your grasp of past and future - all traits that have helped us define ourselves as the pre-eminent species on Earth. But in recent decades, claims of human superiority have been eroded by a revolution in the study of animal cognition. Take the way octopuses use coconut shells as tools, or how elephants can classify humans by age, gender, and language. Take Ayumu, the young male chimpanzee at Kyoto University who demonstrates his species' exceptional photographic memory.

Based on research on a range of animals, including crows, dolphins, parrots, sheep, wasps, bats, whales, and, of course, chimpanzees and bonobos, Frans de Waal explores the scope and depth of animal intelligence, revealing how we have grossly underestimated non-human brains. He overturns the view of animals as stimulus-response beings and opens our eyes to their complex and intricate minds. With astonishing stories of animal cognition, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? challenges everything you thought you knew about animal - and human - intelligence.

About the author

Image of Frans de Waal

Frans de Waal has been named one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People. The author of Our Inner Ape(Granta, 2005) among many other works, he is the C. H. Candler Professor in Emory University's Psychology Department and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia. More about the author


‘[This] guide to animal intelligence will help us adjust our human-centricity a little bit... De Waal sets out not only to explore the topic of animal intelligence [...] but also to investigate why we are so very resistant to accepting the fact that other species share some of our mental traits. In the process, he explores the history of such biases, as well as the research that has challenged them... Are We Smart Enough? is like the lunchtime lecture you might go to... story-driven and personable, so you feel the narrator is there with you, affably offering insights that expand your understanding’ Adrian Barnett



Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? will completely change your perceptions of the abilities of animals. It is... a fascinating journey of discovery’ Temple Grandin, author

‘A lively, punchy and rigorous review of 20 years of academic studies of animals' mental lives, written by one of the most prominent thinkers in the field... It is the half-century-long failure of science and empathy that motivates de Waal's fascinating book... De Waal demolishes the pedestal on which we have placed humanity... [it is] an important corrective to human exceptionalism’ James McConachie

‘A thoroughly engaging, remarkably informative and deeply insightful book’

‘A thoughtful, balanced argument... written simply enough for nonspecialists but with enough detail to engage academics who want a concise review of the field outside their own areas of expertise. The take-home message may be not only whether humans are smart enough to evaluate nonhuman intelligence, but also whether we are humble and open-minded enough to accept that humans may sometimes not be superior to the nonhumans with whom we share the world’ Irene Pepperberg, author

‘Admirable... [de Waal] offers intimate knowledge of the history of the field together with a vision of its prospects. He skilfully weaves together intellectual history, anecdote[s] about leading figures, accounts of empirical discoveries, philosophical critique and the occasional well-aimed and perfectly weighted slap. Combining wisdom, lightly-worn expertise and an undiminished capacity for wonder, de Waal is not afraid to let a shard of temper show now and again... His reflections over a long an distinguished career will both enlighten the general reader and discomfort those who deserve, in their presuppositions, to be much less comfortable... a remarkable book’ Ian Ground

‘Compellingly recounted by De Waal, who has a long and distinguished career in animal psychology... This book makes plan [that] we can see plenty of ourselves in our animal cousins too’ Raphael Hogarth

‘De Waal draws on his own experience and a vast array of scientific papers to support his ideas. His book is rich and digressive... It is certainly a significant contribution to the debate.’ Philip Hoare

‘de Waal is persuasive in arguing that the difference between the cognition of the human and those of other animals is one of degree, not of kind, and the clarity of his writing makes for a highly readable book ... After this edifying book, a trip to the zoo may never be the same’

‘Engaging and provocative... de Waal illuminates the latest ideas and thinking about animal minds and emotions... He challenges us to accept the ultimate findings of this research: Our mental skills are the product of evolution, and all animals from spiders to octopuses to ravens and apes are thinkers in their own ways. And he asks us perhaps the most daunting question of all: Are we really smart enough to understand the minds of other animals?’ Virginia Morell, author

‘Engrossing and remarkable’ Brett Westwood

‘Frans de Waal brilliantly demonstrates through scientific evidence, inspiring stories, and common sense that we must fully appreciate the continuous evolutionary process that led to intelligence - understanding situations, reasoning, learning, emotional and empathic knowledge, communication, planning, creativity, and problem solving - and to other amazing cognitive skills that allow various species to best survive, each in their own way. A must for those who aspire to transcend the biases of both anthropocentrism and anthropodenial’ Matthieu Ricard, author

‘Frans de Waal's groundbreaking research has long challenged scientists, philosophers, and theologians to rethink the place of humans in the natural world, showing that we aren't the only species with strategic 'political' behavior, elements of empathy, a sense of justice, and high intelligence. Here he covers not only primates, but a much wider range of species, showing his unique ability to translate the latest findings into sparkling, accessible, provocative books for the thinking public’ Robert Sapolsky, author

‘If you are at all interested in what it is to be an animal, human or otherwise, you should read this book’ Matthew Cobb

‘So, are we 'smart enough to know how smart animals are'? The question will occur to you many times as you read Frans de Waal's remarkable distillations of science in this astonishingly broad-spectrum book. I guarantee one thing: readers come away a lot smarter. As this book shows, we are here on Planet Earth with plenty of intelligent company’ Carl Safina, author

‘Terrific... [de Waal] is a brilliant writer’ Doug Johnstone

‘This is a remarkable book by a remarkable scientist. Drawing on a growing body of research including his own, de Waal shows that animals, from elephants and chimpanzees to the lowly invertebrates, are not only smarter than we thought, but also engaged in forms of thought we have only begun to understand’ Edward O. Wilson, University Professor Emeritus, Harvard University

‘This is what science writing should be, and so rarely is: confident but humble; rigorous but suffused with wonder. De Waal writes with the simplicity that comes only with profound understanding. he's a true scientist - free of the reductionist fundamentalism that suffocates so much modern science. The book is an exhilarating but genial journey through evolutionary aeons, across the species barrier, and into the surprisingly companionable worlds of non-human races’ Charles Foster, author of Being the Beast

‘When a judge says that a young criminal behaved like an animal he means it as an insult. If he read Frans de Waal's splendid new book he would discover that in reality it as a compliment’ Desmond Morris

‘You can't help but get a sense that de Waal has placed another nail in the coffin of behaviorism. In animal after animal, de Waal shows the depths of their intelligence and triumphantly affirms that, yes, we are smart enough to see it, and the clues have been there all along’ Gregory Berns, author

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