Wimpenny, a zoologist, first learned about animals through reading Aesop’s fables as a child. But what did she learn: facts or fictions? Wondering how the ancient tales stack up against the modern science, she assesses the fabulist’s presentations of creatures from crows, wolves, and foxes, to dogs, lions, and grasshoppers. She finds his record mixed, with his depictions of lone wolves, for instance, missing the complex social nature of the packs, while his appreciation for the wiliness of foxes accurately conveys the adaptability that has allowed these cat-like creatures to thrive. Her lively and often surprising book (male lions are good fighters but poor hunters and can lie inert for 20 hours a day) is also a fascinating look at Man the Experimenter, detailing the work that has given us insight into animal behavior. And where popular, but misguided notions still prevail—that ants plan ahead (a skill more likely with corvids), or that donkeys are dumb brutes fit only to be beasts of burden (they are much more complex and interesting than they get credit for)—she lays out centuries of cultural history, tracing our fascinating and essential relationships with our fellow creatures.
Aesop's Animals, by Jo Wimpenny