The Unexpected Truth About Animals by Lucy Cooke
(Transworld (UK) Basic Books (US), 2017)

The Unexpected Truth About Animals

by Lucy Cooke

Humans may have split the atom, travelled to the moon and tracked down the Higgs Boson, but when it comes to understanding animals we have a long way to go. Lucy Cooke has spent her entire professional life travelling the world in search of exotic creatures, and has become fascinated by the mistakes we’ve made, and the stories we’ve created about animals to fill the gaps in our understanding. Beavers possess a system of parliamentary law. Hippos breathe fire and sweat blood. Swallows have no feet (because they never land) and elephants lack knees and must sleep propped against trees. Historians of science celebrate our successes, but it’s important to remember our failures too. Mistakes are an essential part of scientific progress, because they reveal much about the mechanics of discovery, and the people doing the discovering.

And they often conceal truths that are even more bizarre and wonderful. Aristotle never saw eels breeding, so decided they were spontaneously generated by wet sand. The truth is that every eel must leave its native river and swim in search of a mate to the distant Sargasso Sea. We hold up penguins as a model of monogamy, when in fact they cheerfully practise every sexual aberration imaginable, from unfaithfulness to necrophilia (a fact considered so shocking by the first European naturalists to observe it that it was only ever written down in Greek).

Funny, revealing, occasionally disgusting, and always deeply learned, The Truth About Animals is a travelogue and a history of the relationships and misunderstandings between human beings and the animal world.


Lucy Cooke’s modern bestiary is as well-informed as you’d expect from an Oxford zoologist. It’s also downright funny ... ”
- Richard Dawkins
Endlessly fascinating.”
- Bill Bryson
An eye opening , informative and hysterical history of our ideas about animals - very funny !”
- Chris Packham
As surprising as it is diverse. Consummate natural history writing: illuminating, remarkable - and very, very funny.”
- Alice Roberts
Fascinating facts combined with hilarious ridiculousness.”
- Tony Robinson
A compendium of intriguing and revelatory animal information - you may find dolphins go down in your estimation, while hyenas go up ...”
- Robin Ince
Clever, thoughtful, accessible and, above all, so SO funny.”
- Henry Nicholls
The rising star of natural history ... is she the new David Attenborough?”
- The Times
Fantastic. The new Origin of Species. A proper page turner.”
- Vic Reeves
Beautifully written, meticulously researched, with the science often couched in outrageous asides, this is a splendid read. In fact I cannot remember when I last enjoyed a non-fiction work so much”
- William Hartston, Daily Express