Book Review: Donkey

Donkey:  The Mystique Of Equus Asinus, by Michael Tobias & Jane Morrison

There are some people who tend to think of donkeys as particularly stubborn and mulish sort of animals, but those of us who have been able to see the donkey in his natural territory, which would include places like the Middle East, can see a different side of the donkey.  Indeed, my own experiences around donkeys, especially while photographing and riding them in and around Petra in Jordan, have been uniformly positive.  Unlike spitting and surly camels, donkeys are friendly and pose for photographs and show a great awareness of the emotional state of the people riding them, much like horses.  Indeed, the authors of this book comment on the fact that donkeys have often been the sort of animals who carry heavy burdens and are not respected or appreciated for their own friendly and gracious nature.  Those of us who have been around donkeys, though, and are not the sort of people who are cruel or neglectful of the emotional life of others, can vouch for their good nature and have positive feelings towards them similar to the authors of this book.  Whether or not donkeys benefit from their friendliness to human beings is, alas, an open question.

This book is about 200 pages long and is divided into several richly photographed chapters.  The book begins with acknowledgements and then moves on to the authors’ story of their first impressions with the donkey.  After that the authors move on to musings about the behavior of donkeys in the authors’ awareness on a winter morning.  There is then some wise advice on how one approaches the donkey and respects its decision about whether or not it wants to be touched.  The book then moves to a discussion of the natural history of the donkey and then discusses the transcendent reality of how donkeys are treated in the Bible as well as ancient literature.  The author discusses the solace donkeys often find in solitude and quiet as well as the mystical importance of donkeys (and similar animals) in ancient shamanic art.  After that the authors find donkeys concentrated in isolated places and then examine the paradox of donkeys being only valued as beasts of burden which leads them to be either exploited or allowed to perish.  Finally the authors conclude the book with a discussion of the genius of donkeys as well as notes and a list of illustrations.

The authors of this book appear to believe that donkeys are facing a crisis of several kinds.  For one, the authors feel that donkeys are about to vanish from the earth, being seen as no longer useful to mankind except in remote areas where they are used as compliant and hardy beasts of burden.  For another, the authors seem to fret that donkeys have only been valued for their usefulness to mankind and have not been seen as animals with rich and satisfying emotional lives worthy of respect and even some sort of friendship and mutual affection.  To be sure, the donkey is an easy animal to love for those who have seen its enthusiasm and friendliness.  But not everyone has, and it should be noted as well that not everyone seems to think the feelings of animals to be worth taking into consideration.  Admittedly, those who read a book like this are precisely the sort of people who would appreciate the psychology of the donkey and be inclined to encourage its well-being, but those people who are mostly hostile to such aims are not going to be the people who are going to read a book like this one.  As a result, a book like this tends to amount to preaching to the choir.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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