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A Primate's Memoir: A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons Paperback – March 12, 2002
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Robert Sapolsky, the author of Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers and other popular books on animal and human behavior, decided early in life to become a primatologist, volunteering at the American Museum of Natural History and badgering his high school principal to let him study Swahili to prepare for travel in Africa. When he set out to conduct fieldwork as a young graduate student, though, Sapolsky found that life among a Kenyan baboon troop was markedly different from his earlier bookish studies. Among other things, he confesses, he had to become a master of shooting anesthetic darts into his subjects with a blowgun to take blood samples, a mastery that required him to become "a leering slinky silent quicksilver baboon terror." He also had to learn how to negotiate the complexities of baboon politics, endure the difficulties of life in the bush, and subsist on cases of canned mackerel and beans.
His memoir is, in the main, quite humorous, although Sapolsky flings a few darts along the way at the late activist Dian Fossey--who, he hints, may have indirectly caused the deaths of her beloved mountain gorillas by her unstable, irrational dealings with local people--and at local bureaucrats whose interests did not often coincide with those of Sapolsky's wild charges. It is also full of good information on primates and primatology, a subject whose practitioners, it seems, are constantly fighting to save species and ecosystems. "Every primatologist I know is losing that battle," he writes. "They make me think of someone whose unlikely job would be to collect snowflakes, to rush into a warm room and observe the unique pattern under a microscope before it melts and is never seen again." --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
Few would relish a job requiring proficiency with a blowgun as well as a willingness to put up with parching heat, low pay and copious amounts of baboon shit. But for Sapolsky (The Trouble with Testosterone), a Stanford professor and MacArthur grant recipient, it was literally a dream come true. As a boy in New York City, he'd wanted to live in one of the African dioramas at the Museum of Natural History. One week after graduating from Harvard in the mid-1970s, he got his chance: he went to Kenya to study social behavior in baboons. Hilariously unprepared for the challenges of living in the bush, the na ve grad student learned to deal with supply and transportation snafus, army ants and giant cockroaches, safari tourists, dinners of canned spaghetti coated with a mixture of sugar and rancid camel's milk, and surreal government bureaucracies. He developed great fondness for "his" baboons, whose behavior seemed uncannily like that of a bunch of quarrelsome human adolescents, and discovered that their interactions didn't necessarily conform to accepted theories. While Sapolsky's primate observations are always fascinating, his thoughts on Africa and Africans are even more compelling. As funny and irreverent as a good ol' boy regaling his friends with vacation-from-hell stories, Sapolsky can also be disarmingly emotional as in his clear-headed tribute to late gorilla researcher Dian Fossey, and his final chapters, which reveal his rage and impotence as he watched his baboons succumb to a horrific plague. Filled with cynicism and awe, passion and humor, this memoir is both an absorbing account of a young man's growing maturity and a tribute to the continent that, despite its troubles and extremes, held him in its thrall. Agent, Katinka Matson. (Mar. 1) Forecast: Heralded by Oliver Sacks and Edward O. Wilson, and with a well-placed excerpt of this book in Discover magazine, Sapolsky will venture out on a seven-city author tour that should help bring him to the attention of readers interested in animals, Africa, ecology and travel.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.