Book Review: Does It Fart?

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Does It Fart? The Definitive Field Guide to Animal Flatulence

Dani Rabaiotti and Nick Caruso
Illustrated by Ethan Kocak
Hachette Books
2018

“Unlike other primates, though, our species appears to experience emotions associated with our farts: namely shame, embarrassment, disgust, but also joy, schadenfreude (joy in other’s misfortune) or perhaps even delight.” (127)

 

Humans have a fascination with farts traversing space, time, and culture. Whether from an ancient Sumerian, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, or American cable television, fart jokes have been a staple in society. There have been book trilogies devoted to understanding farts (see Jim Dawson’s Who Cut the Cheese?, Blame it on the Dog, and Did Somebody Step on a Duck?). To this list, we can now add Does It Fart? The Definitive Field Guide to Animal Flatulence by ecologists Dani Rabaiotti and Nick Caruso. It started when Dani, on behalf of a family member, took to Twitter to ask snake biologist David Steen if snakes farted. He merely replied “<sigh> yes”. This question kicked off the hashtag #DoesItFart where science Twitter got together to see which animals did and did not fart, eventually leading to this book.

I followed the activity of this book on Twitter since last fall and was eagerly anticipating it release in the US this spring. It is unfortunate then to have been disappointed upon reading this book. The book is simply a list of whether certain animals fart or not, and if so, how they fart, which gets boring quite quickly if one is not too interested in the details of animal flatulence. Sure, some animals expel anal gas in interesting ways. The beaded lacewing uses farts to paralyze and kill its prey. Herring communicate through Fast Repetitive Ticks (aptly abbreviated to FRTs) created from gas expelled through anal ducts. But each fact is written as a fact: dryly without context. It seems as if the authors were trying, but unable, to break out of their academic shell.

Instead, the most surprising elements for me were the illustrations by Ethan Kocak. His distinctive style was quite fresh and funny, especially the expressions of each animal. One cannot help but love the dumb grin of the sand tiger shark as bubbles emerge from behind it or the pair of dolphins, one who eagerly farts while the other looks on in disgust as if to say “Really?”. The pure joy expressed in the illustrations were indeed the highlight. Ultimately, this was not a bad book. This book is exactly as its title says and subsequently reads as such. I was just hoping for a bit more humor or depth. While not particularly looking for a blast of wind, something more than a squeaker would have been nice.