Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? is not just an absorbing scientific read, but also a manifesto in defense of the study of animal cognition. As one of the most prominent leaders in this field of biology, Frans de Waal gives a passionate and impenetrable body of evidence to support the concept that animals are so much more than mindless stimulus-response machines. De Waal argues that it’s high time for science to accept that human beings are in good company when it comes to thinking skills like planning ahead, creating culture, communicating, and even playing politics. With results from studies on chimpanzees, orangutans, macaques, crows, octopuses, wolves, and many more fauna, this book takes us on a tour through different types of cognition and explores the history behind what we know about animals’ amazing thinking abilities. As far as readability, the prose is a bit dry and tough to stick with for readers who don’t normally read in this genre–it is very heavy on scientific terminology, so approach it as such. One can’t help but respect de Waal’s copiously researched and referenced work in this volume: it speaks to how seriously he takes his discipline, and how seriously we should consider the minds of our crawling, flying, and swimming neighbors.
Andy Weir’s sophomore literary appearance brings in many stylistic elements that fans will recall from The Martian: a first-person narrator with snark to spare, high stakes space peril, and lots of meticulously researched, accurate science. However, the punchy heart that made The Martian soar is just not present here. Artemis is a fun-enough adventure tale that doesn’t bring quite enough believability to its characters to be truly great. The narrator and her entourage of various frenemies drop witty lines at every turn, like they’re waiting for a laugh track. The constant witty back-and-forth, pervasive even in moments where more gravity (pun intended) really is required, makes me feel like these characters are simply a cast full of little fictional Andy Weirs. Especially in the middle of the novel where Weir is busy connecting all his plot elements, we really lose all sense of soul in exchange for the big “can you believe that?!” conundrum that pushes the ending along. The ending, by the way, is redeeming in many ways. All in all, if you want to have fun thinking about perennially sassy smugglers doing improbably complicated science heroics in a moon city, you will enjoy this. If you’re looking for Weir’s best, go re-read The Martian. There really is no comparison.