Posts Tagged ‘“A Primate’s Memoir. A Neuroscientist’s Unconventional Life Among the Baboons” by Robert Sapolsky’

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “A Primate’s Memoir. A Neuroscientist’s Unconventional Life Among the Baboons” by Robert Sapolsky. Reviewed by t.n.s.r. bob.

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

“A Primate’s Memoir.  A Neuroscientist’s Unconventional Life Among the Baboons” by Robert Sapolsky.  (Scribner, March 2002)

(From the publisher’s website: “Robert M. Sapolsky is the author of several works of nonfiction, including A Primate’s Memoir, The Trouble with Testosterone, and Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. He is a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University and the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation genius grant. He lives in San Francisco”).

How great to have anthropologists as friends, especially when one of them hands me a book like Robert Sapolsky’s A Primate’s Memoir.

This is a unique book in several ways, one of which is that it is a book written by a field research scientist, yet the science that was his everyday job is almost an afterthought to the attention the primate author is paying to all the Life happening around him as he studies a troop of baboons in Kenya.  At it’s core it is a coming of age tale of a city boy whose fascination with Gorillas becomes the catalyst for the journey into his own growth into adulthood.  Drawing parallels between his arrival in Kenya and the arrival of new young male baboons to the troop, we get to know the author even as we come to know his beloved troop and see the place of both in the rich, profligate natural — and endlessly corrupt human — environment in which man and baboon coexist.

There are tales in this book that are fascinating, wildly entertaining, bone-chilling and heart-breaking, all of them told with a fearless clarity of insight and openness of heart.

This book is clearly the distillation of many, many years and seasons of study and has the perspective that reflection from a distance supplies.  But at the same time, the stories have a visceral immediacy amplified by the evident power these experiences still exert over the author, who is not afraid to show himself as the fool when the fool he felt he was.

Normally I would offer an excerpt from this book, but I’d rather not spoil even one story for a prospective reader.

I enjoyed this book immensely.  It is almost like getting three books in one: 1) A man’s adventurous coming of age story; 2) A series of reflections on human behavior as it is obliquely illuminated by baboon behavior, and; 3) A portrait of a time in the history of Africa, Africans and African wildlife that is already passed into memory.  The beauty of the book is that is gives us all three without shortchanging any storyline.  And this book fully satisfied my three criteria, which are: content, writing quality and scientific information.  I plan to read more by this author.

t.n.s.r. bob