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The Well-Dressed Ape: A Natural History of Myself Paperback – February 22, 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (February 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812976290
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812976298
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,198,735 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Holmes (Suburban Safari) has been uncomfortable with the notion that I was an animal apart, a sort of extraterrestrial on my own planet. Hence, she examines her animal self, hoping to clarify my identity in the natural world. As in her previous works, she uses the mundane to make larger points about life and the human condition. Beginning each chapter in a scientific mode, she then glides into more personal reflections (I'm most aware of my brain when I encounter its limitations) and then compares humans with other animals: My wad of wiring is so hot and bothered that it puts all the world's other brains to shame. Or does it? Holmes thus continually underscores that humans are not nearly as different as many would have us believe. For example, a surprising number of species communicate fairly well, and prairie dogs actually have a sizable vocabulary. Holmes's optimistic conclusion is that we are the only species capable of thinking about the effect of our actions and acting against narrow self-interest, even if we don't always do so. Holmes makes the scientific personal in prose that is juicy and humorous, if occasionally a bit too cute. (Jan. 20)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

“Who are we, animally speaking?” asks Holmes in this engaging look at Homo sapiens that uses the same cool objectivity scientists employ in viewing other species. In fact, she begins each chapter with the kind of fact sheet used by biologists to classify species, then adds delightful details based on scientific research and observations of her own body and her husband’s. Comparing the human body with other animals, she notes the pros and cons: the scarcity of body fur, the length and straightness of limbs, teeth and claws unsuitable for hunting or defense, merely adequate eyesight, but an amazing brain and social abilities that greatly compensate for physical shortcomings. Deeply informed but whimsical, Holmes examines how—and maybe why—we have evolved the way we have and the myriad differences between the sexes of our species and others. She also examines the impact of culture on our species, from painting ourselves and altering our fur (or hair) to how our diet contributes to greater height from one generation to the next. Holmes brings fresh eyes to her look at our old species. --Vanessa Bush --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author
Hannah Holmes is a cheeky science writer whose expertise lies in the conversion of molehills to mountains. Bending her curiosity on the overlooked and the unassuming, she discovers the enormous miracles that nature and science have wrought in every living thing - and in unliving things, as well. She has written extensively for the Discovery Channel Online and dozens of national magazines; and has authored four books: The Secret Life of Dust; Suburban Safari; The Well Dressed Ape; and most recently Quirk, a gleeful examination of the evolution of personality in mouse and humankind.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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See all 18 customer reviews
Hannah Holmes writing style is interesting and fun.
Hannah compares the human species with other animals, as well as our past ancestors and the closely-related chimpanzees.
Diet Coke Fiend
Anyone interested in behavioral science can learn something new.
Peter Crabb

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By MW on January 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Hannah Holmes is a writer with so much wit and zip that you forget you're reading about biology. TWDA is basically a field guide to the human animal. We are amazing, highly domesticated animals, of course, with huge brains and the unique ability to both regret the past and project the future--but so much ELSE of what we are results from a ferocious life wish, i.e., biological survival. This book is packed with astonishing revelations about why and how we mate, how we perceive the world around us(many male/female differences there), the meaning of our long life spans, the implications of physical quirks such as extra-long index fingers, and countless other facts the author has gleaned from observation, study, and voluminous reading. There's a jewel on every page, and the author herself is a jewel, too, like the brainiest, funniest, friendliest teacher you had back in high school.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on February 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Surrounded by our electrified homes and cities, our space programs and wars, music and art, it's pretty easy to forget we are animals, no more unique than any other on the planet.

Science writer Holmes ("Suburban Safari," "The Secret Life of Dust") sets out to remedy this, structuring her entertaining and edifying book around a field-guide fact sheet for the human animal: physical description, perception, range, diet, reproduction, predators, etc.

She opens each chapter with a close examination of the species sample -- herself. Measuring herself and her genetic legacy against the range for her species, she segues into gender and cultural differences and then embarks on comparisons with other creatures.

She looks at the advantages our various physical peculiarities confer, and the price we pay. Running, for instance. We may not be the fastest animal, but few creatures can match our stamina. Researchers have come up with 26 anatomical features that make us "the running ape," including a neck untethered from the shoulders and muscles that prevent the head from bouncing, as well as our "zillions" of sweat glands and springy tendons. We pay for this exceptional ability with back pain and wonky knees.

While the biological examination gives us much to admire, the social aspects of the human animal are particularly entertaining, from altruism (usually for selfish motives) to aggression to the benefits of cheating on a mate.

Studies of birds, prairie dogs and fruit flies have shown the fruit of promiscuity to be more robust.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Science Goddess on March 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Length: 5:52 Mins
Hi, this is Joanne, a bioengineering instructor at the University of Illinois. I read science books and review them. See more at my youtube site [...]

Hannah Holmes, the great science writer, tells us all about the human as a species. Fun, fact-filled and fascinating! Don't forget to count how many times I say "um". It was this video or the one with bad lighting, what a choice....
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Binnie Klein on February 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover
"The Well-Dressed Ape" is a delight. I was privileged to interview Hannah Holmes on my feature, "Apes Update," this morning on my music and interview radio show on WPKN, 89.5FM. She is witty, literate, and a font of minutiae about humans and animals. The book will make you stop and ponder all the fine points of your being, and look a little deeper into your oddities and preferences. I was also pleased to see a story on Hannah on the front page of today's "Homes" section in the NY Times.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By T. D. Welsh on March 31, 2010
Format: Hardcover
If you would like to know more about the human animal, its structure and function, capabilities, limitations, and peculiarities - this is the book for you! (Unless you are a professional zoologist, anthropologist, or other similar expert). It was only after I had read this book and looked up Hannah Holmes' blog that I realised she was also the author of "The Secret Life of Dust" - another superb non-fiction book that I had read, thoroughly enjoyed, and still remembered after many years.

"The Well-Dressed Ape" doesn't pretend to be a scientific textbook, although it is extremely well researched and documented (the "Selected References" section at the end runs to 15 pages, and could have been a lot longer if it weren't so select). Hannah Holmes is a freelance writer, who doesn't have a science degree but (much better) has actually "been there and done that". She has spent periods in the Gobi Desert, the jungles of Madagascar, the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, and has piloted the Alvin submarine around "black smokers" a mile and a half under the ocean. Most important of all, she has a lively curiosity and a properly rigorous scientific attitude to research. Consequently, she can present scientific facts in a way that makes them appealingly understandable and fascinating to everyone. Rather like David Attenborough's wildlife videos, in fact.

In "The Well-Dressed Ape" (an obvious joking reference to Desmond Morris' famous book "The Naked Ape") Ms Holmes sets out to provide an introduction to the natural history of Homo Sapiens, just as we were any other kind of animal.
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