Carl Safina, "Becoming Wild: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace" (Henry Holt, 2020)


Some people insist that culture is strictly a human accomplishment. What are those people afraid of? Becoming Wild: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace (Henry Holt and Co.) 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 within a particular community.

You too are not who you are by genes alone; your culture is a second form of inheritance, received from thousands of individuals as 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. As situations shift, so does your community’s capacity for learning, especially social learning, which allows behaviors to adjust much faster than genes alone could adapt.

Becoming Wild brings readers close to the lives of non-human animals to show how other creatures teach and learn. With reporting from deep in nature, alongside portraits of various animals in their free-living communities, Safina offers a fresh understanding of what is constantly going on beyond humanity. Readers are taken behind the curtain of life on Earth and asked to reckon with the most urgent of questions: Who are we here with?

Carl Safina’s lyrical non-fiction writing explores how humans are changing the living world, and what the changes mean for non-human beings and for us all. His work fuses scientific understanding, emotional connection, and a moral call to action. His writing has won a MacArthur “genius” prize; Pew, Guggenheim, and National Science Foundation Fellowships; book awards from Lannan, Orion, and the National Academies; and the John Burroughs, James Beard, and George Rabb medals.

Mark Molloy is the reviews editor at MAKE: A Literary Magazine.

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