Pleasurable Kingdom Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good - Jonathan Balcombe
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Shared by:AnimalFreedom

Written by Jonathan Balcombe
Edition: 2006
Format(s): PDF
Language: English

Pleasurable Kingdom presents new evidence that animals--like humans--enjoy themselves. From birds to baboons, insects to iguanas, animals feel good thanks to play, sex, touch, food, anticipation, comfort, aesthetics, and more. Combining rigorous evidence, elegant argument and amusing anecdotes, leading animal behavior researcher Jonathan Balcombe shows that the possibility of positive feelings in creatures other than humans has important ethical ramifications for both science and society.

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From Publishers Weekly
When birds take a dip in the water, is it to clean their feathers, or is it just plain fun? The author addresses such questions in a brisk, erudite and enormously entertaining contribution to the growing genre of books about the emotions of animals. Balcombe, an animal behavior research consultant for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, presents an excellent, approachable introduction to the basic issues in animal behavior, with the potential to gain a much wider reception than such classics as Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy's When Elephants Weep. By presenting evidence "from both scientific study and anecdote, that the animal kingdom is rich in pleasure," Balcombe balances a general philosophical look at the prevalence of pleasure among animals (he rejects the view that all behavior must be explained in terms of adaptation for survival) with detailed anecdotal evidence of how specific animals experience pleasure in play, food, sex, touching and love. But what may most attract readers to Balcombe's powerful argument "that animals have minds and feelings" is the cover photo: two smiling pigs nuzzling each other in an inescapably endearing pose. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Scientific American
If you have ever scratched a dog’s belly as the animal lies, legs splayed, you would find it hard to believe that the pooch was not experiencing pleasure. Jonathan Balcombe, who has tickled many a mammal, thinks so, too, and he rails at the reductionism of biologists who see animals as genetic automatons that seek little more than to eat, sleep and reproduce. Instead, he asserts, "We are evolutionarily continuous with the other beasts ... and we are now realizing that ours is a planet rich with other minds and experiences."

Balcombe is an animal behavior research scientist with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C. To back up his claim that all vertebrates, at least, experience pleasure, he presents hundreds of anecdotes about animals playing, eating, copulating, grooming, loving—and enjoying all of it. Most examples come from biologists observing or experimenting with an array of species from moles to whales, but Balcombe also quotes pet owners and talks about his own menagerie.

Interestingly, his best counter to the belief of some scientists that animal behavior is largely instinctual and in service of reproduction comes in his chapter on sex. In many species, only a few dominant males gain access to females, but this fact scarcely means the others abstain from sex. To the contrary, Balcombe documents the widespread practice of homosexual couplings and masturbation. The only reward for these creatures seems to be pleasure. Because animals—at least mammals—can experience both pleasure and pain, Balcombe concludes that we owe them better treatment. He ends Pleasurable Kingdom with a plea for improving the lives of animals, from battery hens and pigs kept in dark concrete barns to the millions of lab rats consigned to wire cages.

Unfortunately, some bad stylistic and logical choices lessen the book’s impact. Balcombe lists far too many anecdotes and adds too little analysis. He also makes presumptuous leaps: the fact that birds have brilliant plumage, and eyes to see other birds’ feathers, does not mean they possess an aesthetic sense. One story of a chimp supposedly watching an African sunset is turned into an epiphany in which the ape is "contented with life." Such unprovable assertions detract from an otherwise well-argued thesis.

I was born in England, raised in New Zealand and Canada, and have lived in the United States since 1987. I studied biology in Toronto and Ottawa before earning a PhD in ethology (animal behavior) from the University of Tennessee, studying communication in bats. My career has been focused mainly on animal protection. I have worked for several non-profit organizations, including The Humane Society of the United States, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, as well as a for-profit company, Immersion Medical. I have written many scientific papers and lay-articles on animal behavior, animal research, and humane education. Recently, I decided to leave traditional office life, and now work as a private consultant. My services include writing for lay- and academic-audiences, public speaking, editing, and creative input. And, of course, I write books! In addition to the three you see featured here, I have another scheduled for publication by the University of California Press around September, 2010. It is titled Exultant Ark: A Pictorial Tour of Animal Pleasure, and it features stunning photos of animals in pleasurable situations. In my new consulting capacity I am preparing to teach a course (Jan - March 2010) called Animal Behavior, Animal Minds and Animal Protection, for Humane Society University. I also teach soccer clinics to young children aged three to seven. In addition to my professional work, I enjoy biking, wilderness, kayaking, piano (especially Bach), painting, travel, vegan cooking and baking, and reading (preferably with a cat on my lap). I have two websites,, and, where (among other things) I post upcoming media and speaking engagements, and occasional musings.

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