Humans like to think they know it all, but headlines of war, poverty, violence and corruption seem to prove otherwise, which is why Raising the Peaceable Kingdom is such a fascinating book. Author Jeffrey Moussiaeff Masson knows the animal kingdom well, having written the bestsellers Dogs Never Lie About Love, Why Elephants Weep, and The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats. With this new book, Masson explores the origins of peace, tolerance and the ability to just “all get along” via his experiences with his menagerie of animal companions.
Masson filled his New Zealand home with a collection of baby animals from local shelters and farms and then lived with them as they learned, basically, to live with each other. This delightful book chronicles the events in his household, which already included Masson’s own five cats, wife and two little boys. Now here he was introducing a new brood, including two hooded domestic cats, Kia and Ora; two Polish Frizzle chickens, Moa and Moana; a kitten named Tamaiti; a giant bunny named Hohepa; a blue heeler/pointer-mix puppy named Mika, and whatever other critters happened to come their way (including the loner cat Megala and a little rat named Kia who all but did the near impossible - no spoilers here!).
As the family gets used to the newcomers, the newcomers get used to each other, with some animal members becoming friends and others becoming, well, not so friendly. This social experiment is documented with wit, insight and wisdom, as well as some photographs that show the animals involved (and the people, don’t forget them), as the varying species learned to adjust, even live together peacefully. What is most remarkable is how the animals changed not just their human observers, but each other.
Masson doesn’t sentimentalize, although his admiration and respect for animals is evident, and his final chapter about the atrocities of the human species will break your heart, but he does offer hope - hope in the form of the realization that, if the animal kingdom can live in peace, maybe we, the supposedly “most intelligent” species, can someday learn to do the same.
This is a book that animal lovers will find much to revel in, but its real focus is on the process of tolerance in regards to humans, and the results of this strange, but enlightening experiment Masson undertook will really make you think. I won’t give away the details of what happened, how the animals did or did not get along, yadda, yadda…But I will tell you this much: we have a lot to learn from the peaceable kingdom.