For Frans de Waal, man is not the only moral entity, as he made clear in his last book--Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals.
The author has long been intrigued by chimpanzee politics and mores, and now he has turned his human heart and scientific mind to a species science has tended to celebrate solely for its sex drive. Bonobos may look like chimps, but they are actually even closer to us--far more upright, physically, for a start. Furthermore, where chimpanzees hunt, fight, and politic like mad, bonobos are peaceful, often ambisexual, and matriarchal. (Of course, hyenas are matriarchal too, but that's another story ...) De Waal's collaborator, Frans Lanting, has been photographing these gentle creatures for some years and augments the primatologist's explorations and interviews with hundreds of superb color shots. The penultimate picture is of bonobos crossing a road while schoolchildren stand watching, a short distance away. If, as the truism goes, all books about animal behavior are ultimately about us, this exploration of the bonobo may be a step in the right direction.
Bonobos, formerly called "pygmy chimpanzees," are the least known of the great apes. This wonderful book by a preeminent primatologist does much to introduce the general reader to one of our closest relatives. Covering studies undertaken both in captivity and in the species' natural habitat in Zaire, de Waal's riveting account compares bonobo behavior with that of the better-known chimpanzee and with humans. Complemented by Frans Lanting's coffee-table-quality photographs of wild and captive bonobos, the chapters cover the discovery of the bonobo (in 1929), its habitat and how it shaped the species' behavior, and the fears for the future of wild bonobos in an unstable region. Interviews with researchers provide a full picture of scientific studies, and extensive notes pertaining to each chapter explain many concepts in greater detail. This highly recommended book should be in all libraries. One minor warning: bonobos engage in all forms of sexual contact, and this behavior is fully explored in both the text and the photos. Nancy Bent