As an undergraduate, years ago, I was assigned the third edition of John Alcock's “Animal Behavior,” and found it to be an interesting read, with examples I wanted to remember. I still have the book on my shelf. Recently, released in its ninth edition, Alcock's “Animal Behavior” continues to be one of the most popular textbooks used in animal behavior courses, and for good reason. The writing is easy to read and understand, it is packed with detailed examples, figures, and illustrations (all complete with full bibliographic information), and it presents a well-balanced view of proximate and ultimate causes of behavior, both of vertebrates and invertebrates. In addition, for the professor of the course, the ancillaries are useful and diverse—and new with the latest edition there is a DVD of video clips of behaviors, correlated with each chapter. There are discussion questions throughout the text, which I find to be a more meaningful approach than placing them all at the end of each chapter.
Alcock continues to lean more heavily toward the evolutionary perspective, but does present the mechanistic view well in most cases. The first five chapters, in fact, focus largely on the proximate causes of behavior, looking at the genetic and physiological underpinnings of behaviors. The remaining chapters each address a different type of behavior, but the common theme of evolutionary theory is used to tie them together. Many tentative and/or controversial topics are addressed throughout, good for encouraging thought-provoking discussions and for encouraging students to think carefully about scientific design. The final chapter is devoted to the evolution of human behaviors, which is always fascinating for the beginning animal behavior student. I prefer to intersperse human behavior throughout the course, and would have preferred the book do the same, but since many animal behavior texts omit human behavior entirely, I am hesitant to complain.
Some other possible “negatives” to the text include its rather heavy emphasis on the scientific testing of hypotheses, which while certainly important to stress, is a bit overdone. Much of the conceptually based discussion and theory is difficult for my beginning students. I personally find the text somewhat “wordy” at points, and while I applaud the tremendous number of examples given to support ideas and illustrate concepts, I find some examples to be less meaningful than others, and even unnecessary. I encourage my students to read the summary at the end of each chapter first, so as not to lose sight of the big picture and get lost in the details and examples.
Overall, this is a terrific text for the introductory animal behavior course, providing a wealth of background information and covering the breadth of the field. It is in general a highly enjoyable book to read, both for those who know the field well and for those just being introduced to the wonders of animal behavior.