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Kanzi: The Ape at the Brink of the Human Mind Paperback – September 1, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-0471159599 ISBN-10: 047115959X Edition: 1st
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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 the Hardcover edition.

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 the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (September 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 047115959X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471159599
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.7 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #639,106 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Chris McKinstry on January 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
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 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 14, 1996
Format: Hardcover
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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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Steven H Propp TOP 100 REVIEWER on July 14, 2010
Format: Paperback
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).
Read more ›
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Peter McCluskey on July 25, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book makes plausible claims that some bonobos have learned to handle language in a way that is approximately as sophisticated as that of a two year old human. But their anecdotal evidence is somewhat hard to evaluate, and they didn't quite convince me that they were careful enough to rule out the possibility that their biases caused them to overestimate the sophistication of Kanzi's understanding.

The book is a bit long-winded about research that Savage-Rumbaugh did before working with Kanzi, and I was a bit disappointed that the book didn't provide more of the anecdote about Kanzi that made the book worth reading. But those anecdotes convinced me that much more is going on than some authors such as Pinker had led me to believe. I still hope for better evidence that will help clarify how much bonobos can understand. But that will be hard, and I don't know how it should be done.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By R. Stikmanz on January 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Surprisingly more global than I had presumed. Although the bonobo Kanzi gives his name to the title of the book, the book itself allows itself intelligent extrapolation of the data he provided. All in all it was an interesting mix of data, anecdote, evolutionary history, as awareness plea, and philosophy. This was an easy read which flowed well. I was simply surprised about how much information there was with regard to things learned through the research with, and directly from, Kanzi. My only complaint is that my copy of the book for some reason repeated pg 181 on 183 for no apparent reason and the contents of 183 were missing.
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