Kingdom of Play: What Ball-bouncing Octopuses, Belly-flopping Monkeys, and Mud-sliding Elephants Reveal about Life Itself (Hardcover)

Kingdom of Play: What Ball-bouncing Octopuses, Belly-flopping Monkeys, and Mud-sliding Elephants Reveal about Life Itself By David Toomey Cover Image
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For readers of Inside of a Dog and The Soul of an Octopus, a fascinating, charming, and revelatory look at the science behind why animals play that shows how life—at its most fundamental level—is playful.

In Kingdom of Play, critically acclaimed science writer David Toomey takes us on a fast-paced and entertaining tour of playful animals and the scientists who study them. From octopuses on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to meerkats in the Kalahari Desert to brown bears on Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, we follow adventurous researchers as they design and conduct experiments seeking answers to new, intriguing questions: When did play first appear in animals? How does play develop the brain, and how did it evolve? Are the songs and aerial acrobatics of birds the beginning of avian culture? Is fairness in dog play the foundation of canine ethics? And does play direct and possibly accelerate evolution?

Monkeys belly-flop, dolphins tail-walk, elephants mud-slide, crows dive-bomb, and octopuses bounce balls. These activities are various, but all are play, and as Toomey explains, animal play can be seen as a distinct behavior—one that is ongoing and open-ended, purposeless and provisional—rather like natural selection. Through a close examination of both natural selection and play, Toomey argues that life itself is fundamentally playful.

A globe-spanning journey and a scientific detective story filled with lively animal anecdotes, Kingdom of Play is an illuminating—and yes, playful—look at a little-known aspect of the animal kingdom.

About the Author

David Toomey is a Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he teaches courses in writing and in the history of science. He is the author of several books of nonfiction, including Weird Life and The New Time Travelers. In his lifetime he has known and played with a great many animals, both human and non-human.

Praise For…

"Delightful . . . Toomey makes a compelling case that not only does play offer advantages in natural selection and serve as a potential generator of animal evolution, but the innovation it sparks may even help primates like us influence our own evolution." —Scientific American

"Toomey ranges across the breadth of scientific research into both the 'what' and the 'why' of play. . . . Ultimately, it is in its perspicacious survey of how play subtly interacts with—and advances—natural selection and evolution that this book achieves its charm.
Its extensive bestiary and the smorgasbord of behaviors documented here suggest that intelligence, emotion, imagination, humor, creativity, and culture are much more prevalent in the animal kingdom than humans might presume." —Wall Street Journal

"Wry . . . In the end, the belief that animals are no less complex and mysterious than humans prevails in Kingdom of Play. Toomey understands that if we always reduce play to some form of utility, we are returning animals to the status of automatons. As the book winds down, his own enjoyment of the subject comes to the fore." —The Atlantic

“[An] engaging journey into animal play . . . a carefully curated and clearly presented overview of years of research . . . making for a fun and absorbing read.” —Booklist (starred review)

"A lively, informative, and scientifically entertaining animal behavior study." Kirkus

“It's about time that play got some serious study! And this surprising and uplifting book gives this essential activity the attention it deserves. David Toomey's delightful examples, eye-opening studies, and revelatory insights will fill you with joy and wonder.” —Sy Montgomery, author of The Soul of an Octopus and Of Time and Turtles

“Animal play may escape simple definitions, yet we know it when we see it. David Toomey explains the richness of this behavior and why we find it uplifting to watch other species having fun.” —Frans de Waal, author of Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves

“This engaging survey of animal play—from bees to humans—not only reveals the astonishing array of play behaviors but the motivations behind such escapades as octopuses tossing balls and crows devising their own snow sleds. Toomey also searches for an overarching explanation for animals’ playful inclinations and finds it in natural selection, Darwin’s key driver of evolution. Overall, a fun and thought-provoking examination of why we and all animals play.” —Virginia Morell, author of Animal Wise: How We Know Animals Think and Feel  

“Play is serious stuff. But what exactly is that stuff? In Kingdom of Play, David Toomey breaches the barriers that have belittled play behavior as either unworthy of serious (if delightful) consideration or simply too hard to define to be investigated. Toomey indeed investigates, and you will recognize your dog or cat—and certainly yourself—among the many playful inhabitants of these pages.”  —Carl Safina, author of Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel and Alfie and Me: What Owls Know and What Humans Believe

“In nearly forty years of studying the play of animals, I have witnessed an extraordinary growth in knowledge—quite simply, we know so much more now than when I began. This marvelous book makes what we now know accessible to a wide audience, showing how play has grown from a frivolous backwater to a central focus of research. But insiders can be fooled into thinking they know more than they do, and Toomey’s book is not shy in pointing out that there are fundamental mysteries that remain to be explained. Indeed, the book takes us on an historical journey that places our successes and our continuing shortfalls in context. Play remains an enigma, but an enigma that deserves our attention.” —Sergio M. Pellis, Professor of Animal Behaviour and Behavioural Neuroscience, University of Lethbridge and co-author (with Vivien Pellis) of The Playful Brain: Venturing to the Limits of Neuroscience 

"David Toomey has a knack for zeroing-in on scientific conundrums, digesting the studies and research about them, and then explaining them in accessible and often humorous prose. Surveying theories about animal play from the nineteenth century to the present, he forwards bold and surprising hypotheses about the nature and evolution of play. And as we learn about animals who play with humans, and people who play with and as nonhuman animals, the implications of this study encompass the entire living kingdom. A brilliant, instructive book!"  Randall Knoper, professor emeritus of English and author of Literary Neurophysiology: Memory, Race, Sex, and Representation in U.S. Writing, 1860-1914

"Kingdom of Play is an engaging romp through virtually all aspects of play in animals from bees to bears. David Toomey not only shows how animals play, but overviews the various theories about play, our current knowledge of why animals play, the neuroscience of play, and the critical role of evolution in understanding play and why it is both fun and critically important in the lives of so many animals, including us." —Gordon M. Burghardt, Alumni Distinguished Service Professor (Emeritus) of Psychology and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee and author of The Genesis of Animal Play: Testing the Limits    

Product Details
ISBN: 9781982154462
ISBN-10: 1982154462
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: March 19th, 2024
Pages: 304
Language: English