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Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Uncovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence--and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process Hardcover – October 28, 2008

4.4 out of 5 stars 312 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Alex is the African gray parrot whose ability to master a vocabulary of more than 100 words and answer questions about the color, shape and number of objects—garnered wide notice during his life as well as obituaries in worldwide media after his death in September 2007. Pepperberg, who teaches animal cognition, has previously documented the results of her 30-year relationship with Alex in The Alex Studies. While this book inevitably covers some of the same ground, it is a moving tribute that beautifully evokes the struggles, the initial triumphs, the setbacks, the unexpected and often stunning achievements during a groundbreaking scientific endeavor spent uncovering cognitive abilities in Alex that no one believed were possible, and challenging science's deepest assumptions about the origin of human cognitive abilities. Pepperberg deftly interweaves her own personal narrative—including her struggles to gain recognition for her research—with more intimate scenes of life with Alex than she was able to present in her earlier work, creating a story that scientists and laypeople can equally enjoy, if they can all keep from crying over Alex's untimely death. (Nov.)
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From Booklist

Alex, an African gray parrot, died suddenly in his 30s and was mourned the world over. Pepperberg, Alex’s owner and researcher, limns the importance of Alex’s life and her work with him on the subjects of intelligence, cognition, and language. Pepperberg started her academic career pursuing a doctorate in chemistry, but she changed her focus to animal communication. Choosing to work with an African gray, due to their reputations as clear talkers, the author had the pet store choose a bird for her so that the choice would be random. The result was Alex, a parrot that would forever change the way science looked at the cognitive abilities of birds. In this highly readable, anecdotal book, Pepperberg describes the training techniques she and her assistants used with Alex, the breakthroughs he made, and his growing fame as word began to spread about the brainy parrot who could differentiate colors, count, and describe objects accurately and in human language. The flip side of Alex’s fame was the resistance Pepperberg faced from the entrenched scientific community. --Nancy Bent
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (October 28, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061672475
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061672477
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (312 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #206,998 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By BookAce VINE VOICE on October 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
....becomes "very much aware of that peoples' profound sense of oneness with nature. I resonated with that." Here Dr Pepperberg is talking about Native Americans' relationship with nature, and I find her view as a scientist all-encompassing and highly complementary with (and probably an enhancement to) her research -- TOTALLy unlike those of her colleagues at NIH who cut themselves off from the sumn-total of the reality of her work with Alex the Grey Parrot -- and who were so unflinching in their disparaging comments of her work with Alex.

The book begins with the aftermath of Alex's untimely death -- he should have lived for at least another 20 years, and his death was a great loss not only to the scientific community, but to those "ordinary" human beings who were touched and changed by his presence.

As the book continues, we read about "No Name" -- the parakeet that brought joy to a little girls's insulated world, and Bluey, Greeny and other much-loved birds who brought sunshine into her otherwise lonely childhood -- and then Charlie, whose feathers found their way into an MIT meeting.

And then, at Harvard, one question "What animal should I study?" brought Alex into Irene's life, for the next 30 wonderful, trying (including an extremely dense ticket agent, who had trouble understanding why "a bird" would need luggage), frustrating, joyful years.

This book was a labor of love -- as were the 30 wonderful years with Alex, whose "brain the size of a walnut" astounded Irene and her colleagues with its information gathering and associative abilities.

I was highly amused to read about the withdrawal of cardboard (he'd chew it) and feeding tofu to calm down Alex's raging hormones -- hey, whatever works!!!
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I first want to correct something in the product description above: the claim that Alex's last words to Irene were, "You be good. I love you." To me this seems to be trying to give the impression that the bird knew he was dying and was saying goodbye. In fact Alex was saying goodbye in the same way he did nightly, and those weren't intended as dying words.

The actual conversation in the book:
"You be good. I love you," Alex said.
"I love you too."
"You'll be in tomorrow?"
"Yes, I'll be in tomorrow."

With that cleared up, this is a very quick, entertaining, and potentially important read. Anyone who has ever bonded with an animal will feel the grief reading through the condolences the author received after Alex's death. There are also many laugh out loud moments describing his antics.

I've read works about animal thinking by Donald Griffin and Bernd Heinrich, both mentioned in the book, but Alex's story was completely new to me. I'm not sure how much repetition there will be for those who knew of his fame or have read the author's previous, apparently much more science-oriented book about Alex.

I've long believed that most humans and scientists are both ignorant and arrogant in how they regard other animals and that's the topic of the final chapter What Alex Taught Me. In one paragraph about animals and political rights, it wasn't clear to me exactly what the author had in mind, but I found myself in complete agreement with everything else she had to say in this chapter. I salute her strength in going against the grain of mainstream thinking with regard to animals in her work with Alex, and I hope his life will cause others to learn as well.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
There are so many ways that Alex and Me by Irene Pepperburg could have been better that it leaves me feeling as sad for the book that should have been as it does for Alex's death. Unlike Dr. Pepperburg, who for some reason thought the book should start with Alex's death, I will start at the beginning of the story. That is one of the main problems with the book-- Alex doesn't make an appearance until Page 58, more than a quarter of the way through the book. The first 25 pages contain excerpts from the sympathy mail she received upon Alex's death, which, since at that point we haven't met Alex yet, is somewhat meaningless. The next 28 pages take us through the tedious story of Dr. Pepperburg's childhood, college days and marriage, and I do mean tedious! It was nearly enough to make me put the book down and not pick it back up.

Once Alex finally makes an appearance, the book becomes more interesting. However, Dr. Pepperburg doesn't do a convincing job of showing the bond between herself and Alex-- there are a few places where she shows it such as when Alex becomes deathly ill with Aspergillosis, but far too much of the book is spent detailing her problems finding research funding and her moves from campus to campus trying to find a home for her project.

That being said, when she does allow the story to focus on Alex, it is touching and amusing. It is impossible not to fall in love with the parrot and become awed at the intelligence he demonstrates. I became so attached to Alex that when I finished reading the book I went back and re-read the first 25 pages because now I could finally relate to the sense of loss and grief expressed by others.

At the end, there are two questions that Dr.
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