How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery


 Sy Montgomery is a naturalist who has spent much of her life surrounded by animals, either studying them or keeping them as company at her home. Beautifully illustrated by artist Rebecca Green, this memoir is an exploration into the land of unknown animal powers and what they have taught her about otherness, love, joy and forgiveness.  An applied and methodical scientist, she explores the animal kingdom not only with her intellect but with her heart and in that way she learns that “knowing someone who belongs to another species can enlarge your soul in surprising ways”.


Among some of the creatures depicted in the book there is the Australian emus (a large flightless bird relative to the ostrich); a pig of obese proportions that the author nicknames as “Master Buddha”; a South American tarantula (a Goliath birdeater, so large that it would supposedly eat birds); a smart and sensitive octopus, and a Border Collie dog who helps her find grace and thus the ability to regenerate and strengthen.


The author does not hesitate to give animals human emotions, easy to recognize in ourselves: “It’s true that it’s easy to project one’s own feelings onto another. We do this with our fellow humans all the time…” although, “a far worse mistake than misreading an animal’s emotions is to assume the animal hasn’t any emotions at all.”

 This is the starting point where she launches herself into a personal inquiry to understand the emotions of other creatures, completely stripped of the objective view that separates man from animal. It is in the exploration of this affective bond that appears a type of inter-specific relationship governed by love, where it becomes possible to learn from other non-human, wonderful and secret intelligences, and at the same time higher in so many levels. Thus, behind each human-animal bond, the will to inhabit another world, wilder and more original, detached from everything that our conscience recognizes as real, is realized.

The solipsism so typical of our time is broken and a crack is perforated in our harmful and exclusive perception of the environment. When discovering the other and its possibilities, our thinking becomes more permeable, apt to the introduction of other sensibilities and ways of inhabiting our planet. With this new gained awareness comes the realization that: “Our world, and the worlds around and within it, is aflame with shades of brilliance we cannot fathom — and is far more vibrant, far more holy, than we could ever imagine.”


If anything, the book succeeds in wanting us to be more empathic and caring with the non-human inhabitants of this planet.

By Martin

Browse Martin’s bookshelf: A Nature Book Each Month