Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death and Happiness by Mark Rowlands

Book Review: The Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death and Happiness by Mark Rowlands

Every person who loves animals will enjoy this book. Humans are drawn to the silence of animals, the way they physically express their personality through movement and body language, rather than words. The way that they intuit us so deeply and feel what we feel so keenly. The mystical and invisible velvet rope that connects us to animals is sacred to many people.

British writer Mark Rowlands has a unique take on this relationship between man and beast. He’s a writer, academic and philosopher and in this book he takes us to some unusual places. As a result, the reader gains access to insights into not only animals but also human nature, life, death, love and primordial human-animal bonds.

Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death and Happiness by Mark Rowlands
Mark Rowlands and his beloved friend, wolf and companion – Brennin

Rowlands purchased Brennin as a wolf puppy online, on a whim while living in Tuscaloosa, at the University of Alabama.  After caring for Brennin and to some extent training him to obey commands, he was able to curb some of the more destructive behaviours like ripping to shreds the interiors of houses.

The Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death and Happiness is a unique book. Part memoir, part travel novel, part philosophical treatise, part love letter to his soulmate – the majestic wolf Brennin.

The philosopher and pet-owner Rowlands poses some interesting questions in this book. Like, when we watch a pet go from being a tiny baby to being old and then die, what does this say about us, are we really all that different from them?

Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death and Happiness by Mark Rowlands

As a result, we simians are scheming and nasty and dishonest, whereas, Rowlands says, “A wolf cannot lie to us; neither can a dog. That is why we think that we are better than them.”

He makes the distinction early on between a wolf’s way of being and the simian ape-like ways of living and surviving that have made human’s so successful.

“Dogs call out to something in the deepest recesses of a long-forgotten part of our soul…a part of us that was there before we became apes. This is the wolf that we once were.”

Rowlands conclusions about humans are damning. That our ape family should be admired less than wolves. We are less dedicated to the wellbeing of the group and more inherently individualistic and calculating. We are capable of premeditation and therefore evil.

He is, by his own admission, a ‘lone wolf’ and happy to subsist with his furry family in complete isolation and under a fug of alcoholism.

The ruminations and contemplations on the meaning of life, love, death and friendship are insightful, and his moral assessments of people are harsh and his moral assessments of wolves are transcendental.   

“A wolf cannot lie to us; neither can a dog. That is why we think that we are better than them.”

“Civilization is only possible for deeply unpleasant animals. It is only an ape that can be truly civilized.”

“A wolf, in the right circumstances might quickly and efficiently kill your dog. The animal has no place in a civilized society not because he is dangerous, but because he is nowhere near dangerous, and nowhere near unpleasant enough.”

Death, of course, is the hardest lesson. As Brennin’s final days approach, Rowland’s conclusion about death are interesting:

“What is most important when the time comes – and it always will – is to live your life with the coldness of a wolf … because in the end, it is only our defiance that redeems us.”

This is an engrossing book. Although I found some of the ideas in this book slightly farfetched and off-the-wall, but still there is a lot to gain from reading it. If you like philosophy, animals, spirituality and reading about deep topics, you will like this one. 4/5*

3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death and Happiness by Mark Rowlands

  1. The coldness of a wolf quote…yeah it’s so interesting isn’t it! It’s a really interesting book and filled with insights like this you wouldn’t expect. It definitely made me appreciate the cold, wild and savage beauty of wolves more, and to see their unique qualities and what makes them into a noble beast. I have become a wolf lover since reading this.

  2. Also the insights into simians and apes being more savage than wolves…this was an intense insight, one that was hard to swallow but he does have a point in a way!

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