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Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains

PESTS is a lovely book of science journalism about human-animal interactions and the way humans villainize other species that are just doing their animal thing. Brookshire devotes chapters to rats, snakes, mice, pigeons, elephants, cats, coyotes, sparrows, deer and beers, but weaves throughout the stories of many other animals (from wild turkeys to cane toads to wild horses). As a giant nerd, I've read quite a bit about many of these animals over the years (and have tattoos of more than one), but I still learned quite a bit of interesting natural history.

Brookshire's prose is great, friendly and straightforward. Each chapter was well-organized and easy to follow, which made it easy to read even with a seasonal-allergy headache and fatigue. (I feel like all my recent reviews have included a line like "could read even with X disaster in the background" and, yeah, that's how my life is going right now.)

Even more interesting than the non-human animals is the behavior of the humans in each of these histories. Like, humans interaction is what makes a 'pest' a pest, and that is what this book illustrates so well. Humans move species around the globe, invade animal habitats, destroy the natural predators that keep prey animals in check, domesticate animals for a little while and then abandon them--and then complain and complain about the consequences. Not that I don't have a right to complain when the deer eat the roses off my rose bushes, just because some other humans who aren't me decided to shoot all the wolves and mountain lions! But for a nerd whose special interest is human behavior, this was a fascinating book. And this analytical lens seems to be exactly the right way to brainstorm ways to solve pest problems.

My last takeaway here is that it would be kind of interesting to start keeping pigeons. Domesticated pigeons were a thing for centuries, and it sounds like it's not that hard to take care of them. I've always liked pigeons. (They aren't one of the animals I have tattoos of. Maybe they should be, though.) Could be fun.


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