Reviews of and Quotes From Dr. Schweitzer's Books

Here are my reviews of some of Albert Schweitzer's books. All are English translations from French or German. Some of them are out of print, but generally can be found by a book search from a good used-book dealer or in softcopy from the Internet Archive. Also included here are reviews of compilations of his writings. See The Albert Schweitzer Page for reviews of books about Dr. Schweitzer and related information.

The Animal World of Albert Schweitzer

Written By:  Albert Schweitzer

Translated and Edited By: Charles R. Joy

Reviewed Edition:  The Ecco Press, 1950

Paperback, 209 Pages

ISBN 0-88001-470-9

This book is available via the Internet Archive at [IA].


Table of Contents

I expected The Animal World of Albert Schweitzer to be a collection of Schweitzer's writings about the application of ethics to the animal kingdom, of the sort available in several other compendiums, notably Animals, Nature and Albert Schweitzer.  It is that, but also much more.  Schweitzer's inclusive ethics are indeed described, as is his delight in keeping semi-wild pets such as his beloved pelican and numerous orphaned young antelope.  However, much of the book is devoted to Schweitzer's writings of his struggles with the wild animals which abound in the jungle and rivers around his hospital.  Constant battles with snakes (sometimes poisonous and always a threat to the hospital's chickens and goats), dangerous encounters with gorillas and hippopotamuses, and nighttime combat with armies of traveler ants were necessary if the hospital were to exist, and Schweitzer did not shirk these duties.

Joy's inclusion of these struggles with the local animal population serves an important purpose.  It points out the practicality and sincerity of Schweitzer's ethics.  Schweitzer never advised a pseudo-Eastern philosophy of "do no harm", which is appropriate only to monks and others removed from the world.  Rather, his ethics demand that one never thoughtlessly harm another, whether human or animal.  There are always and constantly circumstances in which it is necessary to kill other living things, but no one should do so more than absolutely necessary or without feeling the guilt involved.

Quotes from The Animal World of Albert Schweitzer

[From the introduction by Charles Joy]  "The courtyard border by the houses of the white members of the staff is a miniature zoo.  Since no animal is wantonly killed near the hospital (the natives finding it more profitable to bring them to Doctor Schweitzer, who always makes a 'gift' in return), one never knows what animals will be found there.  The domestic animals wander freely about: hens and chickens, geese, goats and African sheep, dogs and cats.  But the wild animals are there, too.  Always, under the doctor's house or in pens behind it, there are the antelopes.  Monkeys scamper among the trees or on the corrugated tin roofs.  The air is filled with the unmusical clatter of the weaver birds... A white owl may be sitting under the piazza roof, or a pelican above the doctor's door, or a stork on the ridge pole.  A porcupine may be lumbering around the yard, or a wild pig rooting about, its hungry eyes on the chickens...

This is the animal world of Albert Schweitzer.

There are no formal gardens at Lambarene: Doctor Schweitzer does not like gardens where flowers are grown for the adornment of the house.  To cut a flower needlessly is a violation of his fundamental ethical principle of reverence for life."

[From the introduction by Charles Joy]  "In the summer of 1949, when Schweitzer was traveling across the American prairies, he was told the story of the airlift that had carried food to the snowbound animals the preceding winter.  'Ah,' said he, 'what a magnificent feat! Vive l'Amerique!'

Later, in Europe, Albert Schweitzer told me he believed there was more reverence for life in America than anywhere else in the world."

[Quoting an article by Schweitzer in Evangelischer Familien Kalender fur Elsass-Lothringen] "We are richly blessed with snakes of all kinds on the Ogowe.  If we have to use a narrow forest path it is a good plan to let two blacks go ahead with bushknives: from long practice they have a much better eye for snakes than we.  This precaution is absolutely necessary when venturing into thick undergrowth. ... Most of all we fear the horned viper, a short, monstrous snake not more than a meter and a half long, its body ending in a short stump of tail. ... We are afraid of it not only because its bite is dangerous, but also because it is so inconspicuous.  One may discover other snakes when they take to flight or rear up to defend themselves, but the horned viper remains so still at the approach of a person that one may sometimes step over it without its moving. ... A boa constrictor once killed one of my finest goats.  The goatherd, with other blacks, followed its trail and managed to surprise and kill it.  It was only five meters long, but it had swallowed the goat.  The blacks then proceeded to eat both the snake and the goat."

[Quoting from On the Edge of the Primeval Forest]  "Although the elephants roaming the vicinity cause me much anxiety so far as the feeding of the patients is concerned, I have not yet seen one, and probably never shall.  During the day they stay in unapproachable swamps waiting to plunder, at night, the plantations which they have previously reconnoitered."

[Quoting from Indian Thought and Its Development]  "The principle of not killing or harming should not be considered as something in itself but as the servant of compassion and subordinate to it.  Therefore, it must come to terms with reality in practical fashion.  A true reverence for ethics is shown in the fact that man recognizes the difficulties inherent in it."

[Quoting from Philosophy of Civilization]  "Descartes' philosophizing begins with the sentence, 'I think, therefore I am.'  With this miserable, arbitrarily chosen beginning, it finds itself irrevocably committed on the road to the abstract.  It never finds the door to ethics and it is caught like a prisoner in a dead world- and life-view.

True philosophy must proceed from the most immediate and comprehensive fact of consciousness--'I am life that wills to live in the midst of life that wills to live.'  This is not a subtly reasoned dogma.  Day by day, hour by hour, I move in it.  In every moment of reflection it stands before me anew.  A vital world- and life-view that sees into all facts of being bursts continuously forth from it as from never-withering roots.  The mysticism of ethical communion with being grows out of it."


Table of Contents of The Animal World of Albert Schweitzer

Introduction: Schweitzer's Animal Friends  [by Charles Joy]
Key to the Sources
Part I: Impressions of an Alsatian Child
Part II: Africa and Its Animals
  1. The African Scene
  2. Country of the Snakes
  3. Tales of African Hunting
  4. The Elephant
  5. The Hippopotamus
  6. Gorilllas, Chimpanzees and Monkeys
  7. Leopards--and Leopard Men
  8. Josephine, The Tame Wild Boar
  9. Termites, Traveler Ants and Other Insects
  10. Domestic Animals
  11. Creatures of the Deep
Part III: Animals and Ethics
  1. The Ethical Teaching of India
  2. The Ethical Teaching of China and Tibet
  3. The Necessity for a Complete Ethic in the West
Part IV: Reverence for Life
  1. Philosophy and the Movement for the Protection of Animals
  2. An Absolute Ethic
Biographical Data

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