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Significant Others Paperback – June 20, 2002

3.8 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Engaging, enlightening, and eloquent, Significant Others tells of our closest cousins and the scientists who study them. Author Craig B. Stanford is co-director of the Jane Goodall Research Center and knows as much as anyone about field research on the great ape. His prose combines a vivid, almost poetic descriptive sensibility with a refreshingly deadpan rationality too often missing from writings on endangered or threatened species. Covering a wide range of topics from tool use to evolutionary psychology to the controversy over language in nonhumans ("an intellectual turf game, poorly played"), Stanford still sticks unerringly to his thesis that field research of wild apes yields deep insights into human nature. His enthusiasm for the work shines in passages like this one:

In a mountain meadow dripping with dew, we're following a group of gorillas on their daily rounds. It's a raw day and the clouds are hanging above and beneath us. The gorillas climb a steep, fern-coated hill to a saddle, and we all tumble over the crest into a huge salad bowl of a valley that is greener than green.

As if to ensure that such words won't provoke a glut of fieldworker wannabes, he is careful to mention the long hours, boredom, and physical suffering he and his colleagues must endure to earn such rewards. The inevitable collision of science with politics is especially pronounced in war-ravaged central Africa, where most great-ape work is conducted, and Stanford speaks plainly about life during wartime and his subjects' too-real threat of extinction. Significant Others gives the reader a fresh respect for apes as apes--not stunted people, not lab-dwelling curiosities, but uniquely wonderful beings in their own right. Just like us. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Scientific American

"Apes and humans are cut from the same evolutionary cloth; all that fundamentally distinguishes us is posture, we being upright walkers and the apes quadrupeds. Everything else, from the size and function of our brains to the other aspects of our shared anatomies, is a difference of degree and not of kind." In eloquently laying out his argument, Stanford touches on many elements of modern anthropology, including its disagreements. Serving simultaneously as associate professor of anthropology at the University of Southern California, co-director of the Jane Goodall Research Center there and director of the Great Ape Project in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, he brings a rich background to his presentation.

Editors of Scientific American --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (June 20, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 046508172X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465081721
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,898,402 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book is a great introduction to the relationships among the higher primates including humans. The discussion of tool use, cognitive abilities, cultural practices, and language skills is both very easy to read and highly informative. Readers with background in the subject may find a new perspective on some issues, but the book is most appropriate for someone who wants a short overview of how we are related to the other primates and why we should care. For those who wish to explore further, enough references to other works and to the current scientific literature are provided to open many doors.
A good, quick read that demonstrates our kinship to those "significant others".
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By A Customer on May 11, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Craig Stanford has written a book that continues to inform the public of just how similar we are to the primates by attempting to show the reader that the differences between us are actually very minute. Through data and analysis Stanford points out how the behaviors of primates can be applied to our own human nature, which supports his thesis that "to understand human nature, you must understand the apes." (p.xviii). Stanford self describes Significant Others as a "field guide to the current state of our understanding of both human and ape culture..." (p. xviii). Through the descriptions of social interactions, tool usage, language, and culture Stanford provides a strong case in support of his thesis.
Starting right from the beginning in his introduction, Stanford uses data and research theory to support his thesis and to refute the alternatives. He is not afraid to discuss behaviors that are of questionable regard. He delves into the subject of infanticide with similar gusto as he does in the chapter on language. Stanford's bottom line is the same throughout that we can use the studies of the great apes to explain our human nature and why problem behaviors like human infanticide persist today.
Overall Significant Others is a good read. Stanford does an exceptional job of providing research that supports the notion that many of our human behaviors and traits can be explained by similar behaviors studied in the great apes. Although this was not pointed out until the end of the book by supporting his thesis Stanford also was providing strong evidence for the importance of conserving and protecting the great apes.
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Format: Hardcover
Craig Stanford is a good authority on the subject. He holds the position of the Director of the Jane Goodall research institute (And if you dont know who she is, perhaps you should begin with The chimpanzees of Gombe, written by her).
The book is wonderfully written and easy to read. The reason I am not giving it five is that the writer seems to digress from the central theme often. However, there is some wonderful elaboration of chimpanzee societies and their rituals, that brings a sense of eerieness to our own humanity and makes one sit up and think.
The book is wonderfully balanced and brings out many hitherto covered truths - such as the male dominated bastion of anthropology and hence masculine myths propagated, the views of the 'science' of evolutionary psychology etc. This is a book which allows you to develop your own theories after stating the facts of chimp interactions in a highly narrative and gripping story-format.
All in all a good book. If you are the kind who has a book collection of origins books which include Leakey and Jared Diamond, then Craig Stanford deserves his place there. If you are not a collector and are not planning on buying this, then check with your library and do read this, but read this you should - if indeed you have an interest in anthropolgy and the origins question.
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Format: Hardcover
University of Southern California anthropologist (and primatologist) Craig Stanford's thesis in this attractive but somewhat breezy (and politically considered) book is that the difference between humans and apes is one of degree and not of kind. That is why the word "continuum" is used in the title.

I agree with his thesis, and I think he does a great job of making the case. His prose is readable and his enthusiasm is genuine. However there are some problems. In attempting to walk the tightrope of political correctness while conveying to the reader what he has learned as a scientist, Stanford sometimes slips into a fuzzy and inexplicit expression.

To begin with (p. 16) he contends that if women "crave" men with resources (he is attempting to answer David Buss, et al.) it is "mainly in patriarchal societies in which they must depend on men to obtain resources and power for them." This is gratuitous because, as Stanford himself notes on page 147, "Human societies are, political correctness notwithstanding, universally patriarchal." Whether women would behave differently if the societies were matriarchal (or otherwise) is unknown. Citing an isolated society in special circumstances that is matriarchal really does not prove the general case, although it does point to a range of possibilities, and that is good. However it is ingenuous to pretend that women are not looking for resources in a mate if they can find them. Why would a reasonable woman, given a choice, choose a poor, ineffective, unsuccessful man, to one who has the ability to help her provide for her children?
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