Bookworm: ‘Animal Secrets’ – Exalt the elephant inside you

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“The Book of Animal Secrets: Nature’s Lessons for a Long and Happy Life”

  • By David B. Agus, MD
  • c.2023, Simon & Schuster
  • $29.99, 371 pages

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

That’s what they say: you can’t teach an old dog new tricks because he’s... well, too old. He’s got a lotta years on him, not a lot of brain power in him, or he just plain doesn’t care anymore about learning. So maybe you can, and maybe you can’t teach an old dog anything but in “The Book of Animal Secrets” by David B. Agus, MD, that dog may have lessons for you.

“The Book of Animal Secrets: Nature’s Lessons for a Long and Happy Life” by David B. Agus, MD.

Puppers is a good boy. He gets you outside several times a day and exercise like that is a big part of being healthy. It wasn’t always the case, but you learned and evolved.

And so have the creatures that live on the planet alongside us. Like our ancestors, animals’ forebears spent eons “figuring out how to handle threatening stressors, procreate, and thrive.” Says Agus, we have a lot to learn from them when it comes to living the life we’re meant to have. We just have to “learn where to look to find the clues” they leave us.

Take, for instance, a fish.

We shouldn’t drink like one, says Agus, but we should learn to “glide through the world upright with a strong core...” and a good deal of flexibility.

We can take a note from pigeons and learn to watch patterns in our surroundings. This keeps the brain sharp, helps with mental dexterity, and increases memory. “Challenge yourself,” says Agus, but never let your “humanness be a hindrance.”

When traveling, be like a giraffe and mimic his “built-in technology” with compression socks to avoid circulatory problems. Act like an elephant and let yourself forget, which is a surprising way of remembering. Be like a chimp and learn from others, but also learn where moderation lies inside yourself. Like an ant, know what risks are associated with your job. Exercise like a rhino, maintain the cognitive abilities of an octopus, and as for Puppers, learn the benefits of play, curiosity, general goofiness, and sleep.

You’ll both be glad you did.

Let’s start here: the title of this book could be misunderstood. If you’re looking for a trivia book full of light reading, “The Book of Animal Secrets” isn’t it. Want something fluffy, it’s not here. Put the review down and back away slowly because author David B. Agus has more important, more life-changing info to share.

And yet, taking care of yourself, as Agus suggests, isn’t all black-cloth-and-soberness. Play features big in this book, as does relaxation and many of life’s biggest pleasures, proving that health needn’t be a downer or a chore and that you may already be tapped into a few natural and beneficial habits. More proof: come find this book with an expectation of animal tales to enjoy, and you’ll be happy there, too; indeed, animal lovers, especially, will go wild over it.

So, grab this book and find your inner ibex. Exalt the elephant inside you and free your fitness ferocity. For that, “The Book of Animal Secrets” does the trick.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at