From Publishers Weekly
How are we different from chimps? That's the question that Cohen (Shots in the Dark) sets out to answer in his absorbing account of current chimpanzee research. Too often, Cohen argues, scientists have focused on the similarities between the two species, when in fact it is an understanding of their differences that can reveal "what, exactly, it means to be human." Cohen's survey spans investigations into the chimp genome, brain, and physiognomy, with a fascinating chapter on chimp sex (one captive female chimp was observed "flipping through Playgirl, sometimes using a vacuum cleaner hose for stimulation") and a colorful portrait of Richard Lynch Garner, a 19th-century adventurer who lived in a cage in the jungle for 112 days, studying and recording chimp and gorilla language. The technical jargon of some sections can be difficult, but the book is otherwise readable and replete with surprising theories for the origins of human traits from "concealed ovulation" to endurance running. One scientist, for instance, believes that humanness derives from the simple fact that our babies, unlike their ape counterparts, can lie flat on their backs, which allows them to gaze into their mothers' eyes.
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What are the dividing lines between human and chimpanzee? What makes the first “us” and the second “them”? Science writer Cohen (Shots in the Dark, 2001) points out that with the mass of genetic data now available to researchers, it is no longer imperative to stress the similarities between humans and our closest cousins to bolster the argument for evolution—it is the differences between us that answer the question of what makes us human and not chimpanzee. By examining the blood (and DNA extracted from it), the brain (with language as the Rubicon that apes do not cross), and the body (why we are bipedal and the other apes are not), Cohen describes not only how we differ from chimpanzees but some of the theories of why. Talking with scientists from all walks of primate research, comparing and contrasting findings ranging from laboratory work, behavioral studies, attempts to teach language to apes and chimpanzees in zoos and other captive settings to what has been learned from the study of chimpanzees in the wild, the author has created a vital look at not only what makes us human but also what makes us almost chimpanzees. Cohen’s humorous writing style, combined with his ability to make complex scientific theories comprehensible, makes for a book that is hard to put down. --Nancy Bent
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