Books : reviews

Temple Grandin, Catherine Johnson.
Animals in Translation: the woman who thinks like a cow.
Bloomsbury. 2005

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 3 April 2007

This is a mixture of an autobiography and an animal behaviour/training manual. A fascinating mixture, because Dr Temple Grandin, high functioning autistic and distinguished animal behaviourist, claims that these two aspects of her life are linked: she understands animals because, being autistic, she thinks the same way they do.

There is some truly fascinating stuff in here, not only about autism and animals, but also about the significance of human-animal relationships: how we coevolved with domestic animals (dogs, horses, cows), and how they are an important part of our society that we are in danger of losing. Grandin weaves her own experiences, and those of animals she has worked with, into a thought-provoking thesis. It is so refreshing to read a down-to-earth unsentimental account of animals that doesn't anthropomorphise them, an account that recognises that they are animals, not people, yet that they are deserving of respect and humane treatment. And that fully humane treatment must recognise how they are different. The difference boils down to two aspects: that they are governed more by fear, and that they notice and react to details, not just the abstractions that (non-autistic) people see. Hence they are often reacting fearfully to details we don't even see, but that Grandin, by virtue of her autism, does.