Reviews for What's a Dog For? : The Surprising History, Science, Philosophy, and Politics of Man's Best Friend

Kirkus Reviews 2012 September #2
An intriguing look into the life of dogs. Through careful observation and analysis, New York executive editor Homans opens the door into the world of dogs, from the scientific to the humorous. The author explains that dogs are much more than man's best friend; they are faithful companions, sure, but also separate entities with their own personalities and personal histories to rival those of humans. Using his own dog, Stella, as a prime example, Homans explores the intertwined world of animal and person. For the author, Stella is definitely a family member, a concept that will be relatable to most dog owners (the author cites one study that found 81 percent of dog owners considered their dog a part of the family). How this love developed spurs Homans to examine how dogs evolved from wolves, how they became test animals under Pavlov and now are one of the most common pets in the world. Some researchers believe this stems from the proliferation of failed marriages and people living more isolated lives and having fewer children. To fill the void created by a lack of human companionship, dogs are taking up the slack. Homans also touches on pedigree pets and mongrels, the need for adoptions via rescue dog operations and the rights of dogs. From the Bible to Descartes to modern scientists, the author marshals evidence that shows dogs and humans have been linked for centuries, both physically and emotionally, and that this connection will continue for a long time to come. Although aimed primarily at dog owners and dog lovers, other animal enthusiasts will find illuminating nuggets of information on the ever-changing and complex world of people and their pets. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2012 June #1

Lots of books out there on the human-canine relationship. But Homans, executive director of New York magazine, references scientific studies as he homes in on a particular aspect of our love affair with dogs--our treating them as if they were human beings and just one of the family. (Um, they aren't?)

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 September #3

In his first book (inspired by his faithful canine companion, Stella), longtime New York magazine executive editor Homans examines the humble domestic dog, taking us on a trip that ranges thousands of years into the past and across the globe, examining how we shaped dogs and dogs shaped us. The competing models of how the partnership between human and dog was forged are presented, as are speculations on what exactly, if anything, is going on behind the friendly eyes of a dog. Homans ponders whether canines are as cognitively simple as Thorndike claimed or whether Darwin's naïve anthropomorphism is closer to the mark. Writing in an engaging, straightforward manner, Homans combines great personal charm with an intense interest in his subject matter. Although the book is quite brief, Homans manages nevertheless to provide an impressive overview of his chosen subject. (Nov.)

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