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In this book, author Peter Laufer investigates the breeding and keeping of exotic pets, the problems with doing so, and legislation to prevent people from owning these animals.He focuses primarily on great apes (chimpanzees and monkeys), big cats (mostly lions and tigers, but also briefly discussing cheetahs and a few smaller cats), and what he terms long snakes (focusing on pythons). There are a few mentions of birds such as parrots, and tarantulas, but these (although featured on the cover) are barely mentioned. Most of the book focuses on primates and pythons.The author returns again and again to the incidents involving Travis, the chimpanzee that attacked and disfigured Charla Nash before being shot and killed by the police called to help her, and the Florida python attack that left a two-year old girl dead after the family pet escaped its cage. While these are interesting cases, I didnt feel that Laufer used them effectively -- his judgemental tone was so off-putting as to negate the message. (Of course, I have a natural affinity for the underdog -- the authors negativity pushes me to sympathise with these misguided people, as well as with the victims of their carelessness.)There are some very interesting statistics presented about injuries due to dog attacks (an animal nearly everyone would consider a suitable pet) vs. the extremely small chance of being injured by someones pet chimp or tiger. (Just a note here: there is a comment in the book that there have been NO attacks in the U.S. by privately owned big cats, that any attacks have been by animals in zoos, etc. I would think the attack on Roy Horn of Seigfreid & Roy would refute that statement, but the author doesnt follow up on it.) This is fertile ground for exploration, but there is really no substantial analysis of the conclusions one might draw from this. Likewise, a comparison is made (by an interview subject, not by the author) between feral cats and non-native pythons -- a case could be made that the difference is the cute factor for our view of one creature as something to be protected and the other as something to be exterminated. Again, the author refuses to pursue this subject.Laufer has a lot to say about the keeping of exotic animals as pets. Unfortunately, most of it is presented in a disjointed, repetitive manner that makes it difficult to use the information in any type of constructive way. He also inserts himself repeatedly into the story, which Ive seen done well many times (Jon Ronson and Bill Bryson are both masters at this style of writing), but Laufer isnt on the list of people who are capable of pulling this off.I think that the issue I have with Laufers tone -- as compared to other writers Ive mentioned -- is that, while they may comment on an interview subject or piece of information in personal terms (even expressing skepticism), they do not mock their subjects. Laufer employs derision as his default manner, which I find distasteful.There is also a tendency for the author to elevate himself above the pet owners he interveiws:From the Epilogue:[writing about his cat, Schrodinger]I like him, but I dont trust him. Hes got a wild streak that I recognize; Ive got one, too. We cant be tamed. Neither of us would make good pets.And yet, Schrodinger IS his pet. This is a perfect example of what I disliked about this book -- Laufer enjoys pointing out the hypocrisy of people who own or work with exotic animals: its okay for ME to have these creatures, but no one else should. (A particularly irritating passage involved the president of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk, commenting on a wild bird outside her office -- she has left it tortilla chips to eat, although shes quick to point out that the bird should really be eating natural food it would find in the wild.) The author spends the entire book questioning the nature of pet vs. wild animal that cant help but make the reader question the validity of owning ANY animal, yet he refuses to present his own conclusions on the debate. Apparently his ownership of this cat seems valid to him, primarily because the cat is free to come and go as he pleases -- an attitude that many of the equally smug animal rights activists he interviews would disagree with.Now, here is where I cant help but insert my own beliefs and feelings into this review -- I consider myself far left leaning, but the author and many of those he interviews and seems to admire cross the line into a fantasy land where common sense is thrown out the window, and its easy to see where right-wing folks get the notion were all a bunch of moronic lunatics. Heres an example:But kill better describes the scene [wildlife biologist Skip] Snow shows me: freezer after freezer stocked with python heads. We talked about the killing the day before in the cool comfort of the Starbucks, and the biologist said he was seeking solace in folk traditions, hoping he could find some ancient prayer for the snakes that he could recite while doing his job, perhaps something from Australian aboriginal traditions.. . .Ive never felt comfortable with it, Snow says about killing the snakes. In my alone time or having a beer with a friend, I start thinking about the bad karma points that may be racking up. Hes yet to find an appropriate personal ceremony to offset the nasty python work that consumes much of his daily routine. Wheres my Get Out of Jail Free card? he asks. Perhaps he and his colleagues need to create their own modern postmortem ceremony.Okay, okay, Im veering off into that territory I promised myself I wouldnt get into . . .I find myself frustrated with Laufers refusal to focus on either the science and statistics of the issue or his personal feelings on it. Im very interested in science, and Im also interested in memoirs -- done well, I am able to enjoy a book that combines both (lets add Mary Roach to that list). This just isnt done well.Seeing as a big focus of this book is on captive breeding of exotic animals, I have to comment on a problem I have with Laufers argument -- he (and others) throughout the book persist in discussing the subject in terms of the lifestyle of wild animals. This is comparing apples to oranges. Captive bred animals are NOT the same as those born and/or raised in the wild, then captured and kept in captivity -- a point which several owners attempt to point out, although, in my opinion, the author never explores this idea in detail. He seems unwilling to acknowledge the difference, which just seems obstinate to me. I would have preferred to have the distinction front and center in the discussion -- to me, this seems to be the central issue for BOTH sides of the argument, pro and con, with animal owners arguing that their pets do not require the space, etc, that wild animals need, and those against private ownership using the captive breeding to bolster their claims that the practice perpetuates the problems society faces when dealing with this issue. This is not to say that the author doesnt discuss it at all -- the distiction just seemed peripheral to the discussion.I also have to comment on the physical book itself, which I can sum up in one word: ugh. Who in their right mind thought neon yellow endpapers, yes! I like the covers of the hardback copy -- the alligator texture is quite nice, but, again, why choose a bright green? The dust jacket, designed by Georgiana Goodwin is unappealing and dull. Its only saving grace is an interesting metallic effect used to highlight the animals.Okay, so heres my rating -- I really, I mean reeeeeeally didnt like this book, primarily due to the authors tone and the repetitive quality of the writing. However, I did actually like many of the people interviewed, and I enjoyed the science (when it was discussed). One of the best parts in the book is an interview with philosopher Mark Rowlands, where the discussion includes the nature of what a person is. All in all this added up to two stars for me -- just okay. I really wish I could have rated it higher, as I think the subject is interesting and important. Im also disappointed because I have wanted to read another of Laufers books, The Dangerous World of Butterflies: The Startling Subculture of Criminals, Collectors, and Conservationists -- but Im hesitant to read it now, simply due to the fact of how much I disliked this book.

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