77 North Washington Street

STEPHEN Budiansky, the author of this month's cover story, "The Truth About Dogs," has put the natural world at the center of both his personal and his professional life. He lives on a farm in northern Virginia, and the four books he has published all deal with the dynamics of the animal kingdom. His widely acclaimed (1997) offers a stylish and entertaining introduction to everything from equine evolution and equine intelligence to the breeding of thoroughbreds. His most recent book, (1998), investigates the difficult-to-apprehend precincts of animal consciousness. Budiansky's cover story in this issue surveys the often counterintuitive findings of the new science of dogs.

"Everyone asks if I grew up on a farm," Budiansky says when asked about his background. "The truth is exactly the opposite. I wasn't even allowed to have a pet frog. So I suppose if I had a 'formative experience' that made me so interested in animals, it's that I didn't have anything to do with them when I was young."

Budiansky's interest in science has been broad. His undergraduate degree (Yale, 1978) was in chemistry. He holds a master's degree (Harvard, 1979) in applied mathematics -- training that is itself being applied toward the writing of his next book, a history of cryptography in the Second World War. Budiansky has been the Washington editor of the journal Nature, and for more than a decade held various writing and editing positions at U.S. News & World Report, ultimately rising to deputy editor. He joined the staff of The Atlantic Monthly as a correspondent last year, and in recent issues has written about politically correct gardening (June, 1999) and computer programs that can translate (December, 1998).

Budiansky points out that domesticated animals have long been thought of as "degenerates" from a biological and behavioral point of view -- and until recently elicited far less scientific scrutiny than more exotic species. "What makes domestic animals, and especially dogs, so interesting to me," he says, "is the way that their behaviors, which evolved over millions of years for a particular environment and social structure, are now overlaid upon human society and our largely man-made environment. We're always slightly misunderstanding each other. But at the same time we have enough in common that our interactions are highly revealing about both dog society and human society."


Photograph by Martha Polkey.

The Atlantic Monthly; July 1999; 77 North Washington Street - 99.07; Volume 284, No. 1; page 4.