Book Review

Patrick Kelly, Media and Book Review Editor

Wilderness Digest

April 2020 | Volume 26, Number 1

OUR WILD CALLING: HOW CONNECTING WITH ANIMALS CAN TRANSFORM OUR LIVES-AND SAVE THEIRS

by Richard Louv. 2019. Algonquin Books. 320 pp. $13.99 CAD/USD (hc)

Our Wild Calling, the newest offering from journalist and author Richard Louv, builds on many of the themes explored in his international bestseller, Last Child in the Woods. In that influential work, Louv coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” to capture the negative consequences that increasing separation from the natural world is having on children’s health and well-being. In Our Wild Calling, Louv turns his attention to the human-animal relationship, investigating the potential for this connection to transform our mental, physical, and spiritual lives. Combining the latest research, along with powerful personal stories, Louv offers us a way to challenge and displace human exceptionalism by reestablishing and recognizing our “membership in the family of animals”.

Written in an accessible and clear journalistic style, Our Wild Calling begins by showing that humans in the Anthropocene are increasingly caught up in what Louv calls an “epidemic of loneliness”. He then highlights a particular subset of this psychologically destructive phenomenon, something he calls “species loneliness”. Defined as the “gnawing fear that we are alone in the universe with a desperate hunger for connection with other life”, species loneliness points to the need for a deep connection to other animals that will “deliver us from our isolation, both as individuals and as a species”(pg. 17). Though Louv cites current research as supporting evidence, those of us working to protect and preserve wilderness and wildness for the public good in many ways already understand this need.

Demonstrating and reinforcing connection and shared experience with other animals is a primary theme throughout Our Wild Calling. To that end, the book progresses through a series of chapters on the fascinating and rapidly expanding body of scientific research into the human-animal relationship. Scientifically observed similarities between humans and animals in linguistic structure, social organization, and even moral behavior, are all tantalizingly floated. Along the way, Louv sprinkles moving anecdotes and personal stories from researchers, educators, and a wide variety of others who have had life-changing encounters with all manner of creatures, both wild and domesticated.

Driving all of this is Louv’s goal of instilling empathy through a realization of our shared membership in the community of life on Earth. Akin to the realization of Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic, Louv hopes to cultivate an “age of connection” wherein humans assume the responsibility of becoming plain members and citizens of our shared biotic community. This cannot be achieved through policy and improved technology alone, but through the cultivation of what Louv calls the “habitat of the heart”. By pushing past outdated cultural biases about anthropomorphism, we create the possibility for true emotional connection and care for our living planet. The urgency to do so has never been greater, and Our Wild Calling offers a well-researched, passionately written guide to a wilder, more vibrant future.

Reviewed by PATRICK KELLY, IJW media and book review editor; email: patrick1kelly@umconnect.umt.edu.

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