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Kanzi: The Ape at the Brink of the Human Mind [Paperback]

by Sue Savage-Rumbaugh
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 1, 1996 047115959X 978-0471159599 1
The remarkable story of a ""talking"" chimp, a leading scientist, and the profound insights they have uncovered about our species

He has been featured in cover stories in Time, Newsweek, and National Geographic, and has been the subject of a ""NOVA"" documentary. He is directly responsible for discoveries that have forced the scientific community to recast its thinking about the nature of the mind and the origins of language. He is Kanzi, an extraordinary bonobo chimpanzee who has overturned the idea that symbolic language is unique to our species. This is the moving story of how Kanzi learned to converse with humans and the profound lessons he has taught us about our animal cousins, and ourselves.

"". . . The underlying thesis is informative and well argued . . . Savage-Rumbaugh's results are impressive."" — The Washington Post

""This popular, absorbing, and controversial account is recommended."" — Library Journal

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When ape-language research fell into disfavor in the 1970s, Savage-Rumbaugh, associate professor of biology at Georgia State Univ. and a leading researcher in the field, set a new course, focusing on apes' ability to comprehend symbols. At the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center in Atlanta, she worked with common chimpanzees and bonobos (pygmy chimps), using a computer-based keyboard system. With Roger Lewin (coauthor with Richard Leakey of Origins), she tells the remarkable story of Kanzi, a bonobo who at 14 understands spoken English well enough that his teachers spell out words they don't want him to hear. He asks and answers questions and invents games by manipulating an electronic keyboard. His accomplishments prove chimps can spontaneously acquire language skills through social interaction in a language-rich environment. For readers interested in the origin of language and those who have followed Washoe, Koko and Lucy. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Much initial ape-language research has fallen into disfavor in the last two decades. Linguists, in particular, claim that the apes' failure to demonstrate syntactical competence precludes real language ability. Savage-Rumbaugh, a leading researcher in the field, disputes their rationale, arguing that the cognitive foundations of human speech can be found with these animals. Working with chimpanzees and later Kanzi, a bonobo, the author focused on the ape's ability truly to comprehend symbols-something that earlier researchers had neglected. As an infant, Kanzi demonstrated a surprising ability to learn symbols spontaneously and to understand human speech. Savage-Rumbaugh, who has been shunned by some of the major scientific journals, has been encouraged and assisted by scientific writer Lewin. Their popular, absorbing, and controversial account is recommended for wide purchase.
Laurie Bartolini, Legislative Research, Springfield, Ill.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (September 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 047115959X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471159599
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #221,510 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important but Defensive January 9, 2000
This is an important, if somewhat defensive book. I would have been much more interested to read more about Kanzi's day to day behavior and to see some actual scientific data instead of the story of the investigator's scientific publishing woes. Nevertheless, this book should be read widely and it's message that we humans are not as unique as we like to think needs careful consideration by all scientists and the general population.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This wonderful book by Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Roger Lewin forces the reader to reevaluate what it means to be human. Kanzi is a remarkable ape that has revolutionized our understanding of how our closest relatives think, how our common ancestors may have evolved, and why we may not be as different as once supposed. Roger and Sue's collaboration is very readable and conveys the excitement of Sue's scientific research and Kanzi's remarkable talents
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Sue Savage-Rumbaugh (born 1946) is a primatologist most famous for her work with two bonobos, Kanzi and Mulika, investigating their apparent use of "Great Ape language" using lexigrams and computer-based keyboards. She is also the co-author of Apes, Language, and the Human Mind. In this 1994 book, she and science writer Roger Lewin have summarized her research at teaching chimpanzees to use a specially-designed keyboard to communicate with trainers.

She writes of her early concerns, "This absence of full comprehension in language-trained apes was, I felt strongly, a more fundamental criticism of ape-language research than the absence of syntax, as demonstrated by Terrace. Cooperative comprehension is fundamental to language, and two-way communication that does not reflect comprehension is not language, no matter what other attributes it may possess."

She details her reaction to an attack on such ape language work by behaviorists such as B.F. Skinner, who "explained that, although the sequence of events might look like 'sustained and natural conversation,' it was in fact the result of strict conditioning procedures." She writes, "One issue that undoubtedly had provoked the behaviorists' attack was my conclusion that Sherman and Austin were exhibiting conscious intentionality during their communication--a clear red flag to those who believe behavior should simply be viewed as responses to external stimuli. As a result I became labeled a cognitive psychologist."

She writes that "Kanzi was clearly doing this (i.e., comprehending language).
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This book should create earthquakes January 2, 2005
As heartbreaking as it is eye-opening, this is an account of trying to conceptually reinsert humans into nature as much as it is the story of remarkable apes. Savage-Rumbaugh convincingly presents not only the bonobo Kanzi, but also his sister Panbanisha and the common chimpanzees Sherman and Austin, as persons in every sense but the arbitrary one of species. Tragically, the author provides a sense of the rich life our cousins lead beneath our noses at the precise moment any opportunity to know these people called apes in their own milieus is being exterminated. Read the book and pass it on.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking and charming July 21, 2006
By kolenka
Animal intelligence is a huge interest of mine. I have read many books about the intelligence of primates, ocean mammals, and birds. This was one of my favorites. Although the author talks about her background and inspiration for a bit longer than I wanted to read at the beginning of the book, she really does a good job in describing her experiences with common and bonobo chimpanzees. The book is a pleasent read and describes both anectodal and scientific based experiences. The anecdotal bits really give you an insight into interactions with chimps and make you feel as if you know the individuals.
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