Posts Tagged ‘The well dressed ape’

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “The Well Dressed Ape” by Hannah Holmes

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

From the publisher’s website: “Hannah Holmes is the author of The Well-Dressed Ape, Suburban Safari and The Secret Life of Dust. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Los Angeles Times Magazine, Discover, Outside, and many other publications. She was a frequent contributor on science and nature subjects for the Discovery Channel Online. She lives with her husband and dog in Portland, Maine”.

Hannah Holmes has done an interesting thing here: she has taken the seemingly simple concept of using the language of an anthropologist to describe herself as an animal and done it to great effect.  It’s the kind of thing you read and think “Surely someone else has done this before?”.  And maybe they have.  But Holmes has achieved something unique, I believe.

By using herself as a very specific reference point for each excursion into our animal and evolutionary aspects, the information (which ends up being a comprehensive survey of everything we currently know about animal behavior, DNA, anthropology, sociology and evolution) which she imparts is instantly relatable and readily absorbed.  She manages to use herself in fairly personal, intimate ways without making the book about her.  Nice trick that.

I would have to say this is a great book for giving people an entertaining and relatively painless (unless the idea that you’re an animal is completely new to you) immersion in the reality of just what kind of animals we humans really are.

I have two criticisms that fizzled.

One:  I noticed a lack of footnotes in the text.  This bothered me a little bit, and I thought “Well, it’s a popular text, not a science book per se, so I’ll have to take the facts she references at face value”.  But the book proved to have a “Selected References” section at the end, so all is well in the world.

Two: Though I felt ever wary of the book foundering in personal narrative, it never went off the rails, and I found myself marking a LOT of passages in this book.  (Which for me means new ideas or new facts that I found worthy of remembering).  That impressed me.  What also impressed me is that this is a book by a journalist who — though her tone may be that of an arm-chair traveler — has clearly been a lot of interesting places and done a lot of interesting things first hand.

A very enjoyable and informative book.  Can’t ask for better than that!

t.n.s.r. bob