Review – Built By Animals

Cover of Built by Animals by HansellBuilt By Animals, Mike Hansell

This is not a book full of gorgeous full colour photographs of bowers made by birds, chimpanzee tools, termite nests, etc. I was a bit baffled to see someone giving it less stars because it isn’t that kind of book. Instead, it’s a book that goes into how making structures and using tools could be evolved, and whether it’s automatically a sign of intelligence. To me, the point begins to get a bit laboured, because I can well believe that small changes, small steps, can build up to huge effects. I mean, that’s evolution for you. That’s how it works.

The interesting thing, perhaps, is that Hansell would like to be more optimistic about the link between intelligence and tool use, and yet has to acknowledge that the data really doesn’t support it. In consequence, if Hansell told me something is a sign of intelligence, I’d be inclined to believe him. He doesn’t blind himself to the actual data through wanting a certain outcome.

My main issue with this was really the way it sort of… tailed off. There’s a final chapter talking about birds and whether they create art, and perhaps how art developed in humans, and — then there’s nothing. No conclusion. Even the chapter seems to end a bit weakly. I’d like to see something that synthesises the whole argument and presents it in a nutshell, along with any points about data yet to be collected that could shed more light on the issues. I’m sure Hansell could’ve done that; all the info is there. But this critique is maybe more the English Lit graduate part of me.

Rating: 3/5

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