I’ve spent decades reading books on the roles animals play in human cultures, but none have ever made me think, and feel, as much as this one. It’s a devastating meditation on our relationship to the natural world. It might be the best book on animals I’ve ever read. It’s also the only one that’s made me laugh out loud ... The formal exuberance of this modern bestiary is exhilarating. In one extraordinary piece, Passarello pleats together the timeline of the history of electricity in America with that of the history of elephants in America, weaving light and darkness, electrocution and executions into a scorching meditation on the violence at the heart of modernity ... Despite her intellectual brilliance, Passarello rejects the dry style of the anthropologist or cultural critic ... Animals Strike Curious Poses speaks of and for the voiceless hordes with whom we share the earth, shows us how we make sense of them and, crucially, how they make sense for us ... the clear analytic coherence running through its wildly disparate essay forms being perhaps this book’s fiercest grace. No matter how long-dead its animal subjects, this is a book with burning current relevance, and not just because we are living through the sixth great extinction ... Animals Strike Curious Poses is as much about our human frailties as it is about animals...It gives one hope that we humans might not be so lonely after all.
Packed with an assortment of facts, myths, and unexpected connections, each of the book’s essays is a deeply researched ride that presents an almost staggering amount of information. But the essays are also highly playful, never taking themselves too seriously ... Throughout, Passarello works as a sort of critical ringmaster, announcing both the sideshow act and our short-sighted desire for it. She entertains as she exhibits our missteps, and points to the ways we project onto—and define ourselves in relation to—animals.
...[a] phenomenal collection of essays ... Passarello treats her subjects with dexterous care, weaving narratives together in a way that investigates, honors, and complicates her subjects ... assarello has created a consistently original, thoroughly researched, altogether fascinating compendium.
Each of the 17 short pieces in this book catches a famous historical animal just at the moment it dangles precariously between nature and culture. We meet a bear made to fight dogs in the stews of Elizabethan Southwark, and Clever Hans, a horse doing complicated fractions at a time when many working people still struggled with basic numeracy … Although these animal case histories lodge under the label of ‘essay’, Passarello tests and stretches the form in thrilling ways. Particularly brilliant – but, honestly, they are all brilliant – is an extended fantasy written from the point of view of Harriet, the Galápagos tortoise who Darwin reportedly brought back on the Beagle … The way that Passarello moves seamlessly between musicology, biography and the golden throat of a bird brain suggests that she is something of a virtuoso herself.
Doubtless these installments are matters of taste, though some readers may wonder at the point of it all. Thankfully, the majority of the book is more concrete, definitely more engaging, and decidedly more edifying. Despite Passarello’s tendency to ramble, there is an agile intelligence at work in the best pieces, as she makes connections among disparate elements and wields keen perceptions on the creatures she encounters. There are some real dazzlers ... Passarello manages to chronicle humanity's cavalier exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals without getting preachy in the process—no mean feat. If only the entirety of the book reflected the gifts the author demonstrates at her best.
...playful, shrewd and illuminating … Passarello is at her best when subtly dissecting modern cultural mores and attitudes to animals rather than working to recreate the thought-worlds of the past. In consequence, the second half is where the real treasure lies … These essays dance along the margins of what is humanly possible when it comes to understanding other forms of life. Our relationship with animals takes in whimsy and monstering; selfless love and vile cruelty; anthropomorphism, projection and pragmatic, profitable utility. It describes far better our own nature than it illuminates theirs.
...[a] stunning collection ... Passarello’s keen wit is on display throughout as she raises questions about the uniqueness of humans. Perhaps the most stunning work is her bricolage timeline of murderous elephants in America, which aligns their crimes and executions with the rise of electricity and capital punishment. The entire collection satisfies through a feast of surprising juxtapositions and gorgeous prose.