From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In what is surely one of the most memorable and intelligent recent books about animal-human interaction, Hess (Lost and Found: Dogs, Cats and Everyday Heroes at a Country Animal Shelter
) tells the story of Nim Chimpsky, who in the 1970s was the subject of an experiment begun at the University of Oklahoma to find out whether a chimp could learn American Sign Language—and thus refute Noam Chomsky's influential thesis that language is inherent only in humans. Nim was sent to live with a family in New York City and taught human language like any other child. Hess sympathetically yet unerringly details both the project's successes and failures, its heroes and villains, as she recounts Nim's odyssey from the Manhattan town house to a mansion in the Bronx and finally back to Oklahoma, where he was bounced among various facilities as financial, personal and scientific troubles plagued the study. The book expertly shows why the Nim experiment was a crucial event in animal studies, but more importantly, Hess captures Nim's legendary charm, mischievous sense of humor, and keen understanding of human beings. This may well be the only book on linguistics and primatology that will leave its readers in tears over the life and times of its amazing subject. (Mar. 4)
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Nim Chimpsky was born in a captive chimpanzee colony in 1973. Named as a play on Noam Chomsky, the famous linguist whose theory that language was a uniquely human trait the researchers hoped to disprove, Nim was to be raised in a human family and taught American Sign Language. This study on how language is acquired by humans would challenge the idea that only humans use language and blur or erase the line between human and nonhuman. But the study also created a chimpanzee with a foot in both worlds, neither fully chimp nor fully human, which further created a challenge for all of Nim’s caretakers and Nim’s own later salvation. Journalist Hess has written an affecting biography of one of the stars of primate research, from his beginnings as a two-week-old infant raised in a New York brownstone, through his various stays in research centers, his movement to a medical research facility, and his final home, at Cleveland Amory’s animal sanctuary, Black Beauty Ranch. Nim’s story is a must for all libraries. --Nancy Bent