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14 april 2015

Hugh Warwick's Hedgehog is among the very best of the excellent Reaktion Animal series. Reaktion Animal authors begin from varying degrees of expertise on their animals; some of the books are explorations of new territory, and prior knowledge is neither necessary nor sufficient for a good book about a given animal. But Hugh Warwick really knows his hedgehogs, and the resulting book is marvelous.

Hedgehogs aren't American animals. No wait, that sounds as if I consider them anti-patriotic. What I meant was simply that they're not native to this continent, so they fall outside my daily or even occasional experience. I've seen them as pets (those tend to be African hedgehogs) and I've seen evidence of them scurrying around in European hedges, but haven't seen one in the wild in Texas. Though I wonder if feral populations exist in the U.S. They do in New Zealand, so it stands to reason that they might somewhere in this country. Fear of feral hedgehogs is one reason some American localities prohibit keeping them as pets. Though I must say if you're scared of a damn hedgehog you need to develop some fortitude.

Behind that link I just offered, inevitably, is something by Hugh Warwick. When Warwick claimed in his book that hedeghogs, particularly European hedgehogs, make bad pets, I of course checked this claim by Googling it, only to find that most of the dissuasive commentary about pet hedgehogs on the Internet is by Hugh Warwick. This is a shame because they are cute and eat cockroaches. But they are also impossible to housebreak, which may be worse than having cockroaches. I'll do without one for now.

Hedgehogs aren't affectionate, says Warwick, but they're not afraid of people, either. Hedgehogs aren't afraid of much, for obvious reasons. Warwick emphasizes that they are one of the few wild animals that will neither fight nor flee. Their natural enemy is the badger, and efforts to conserve badger populations often result in doom for hedgehogs.

Hedgehogs in art are often marginal, and share attributes with other small innocuous creatures that sometimes show up tangentially in medieval manuscripts and old master paintings. Their leading role in philosophy comes from the oft-repeated maxim that the fox knows many things and the hedgehog one big thing. This binary seems to have swept the pop-thought world while I was barely aware of it. I had never heard at all of their other moment in the sun of intellectual history, the metaphor that Schopenhauer used for human distance and intimacy. When hedgehogs are cold, said the ol' pessimist, they roll together, but they get spiked so they roll apart again till they get cold again, and so on. This indeed explains some relationships I've observed.

Warwick, Hugh. Hedgehog. London: Reaktion, 2014.