The Well-Dressed Ape: A Natural History of Myself Kindle Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

ISBN-13: 978-1400065417
ISBN-10: 1400065410
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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)
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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

Product Details

  • File Size: 1016 KB
  • Print Length: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (December 29, 2008)
  • Publication Date: January 20, 2009
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001OLRMTQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,296,183 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This was the first book on anthropology that I ever read. It is a wonderful book, easy to read and very insightful. It is probably best as an introduction to the field of anthropology, something for the layperson. Hannah Holmes skillfully uses her anthropologist's eye to look at modern humans in a new light.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This has become one of my favorite books in the whole world. It is chock full on fascinating information, told in a witty, tongue-in-cheek style that is often hilarious. It has brought a new perspective to me and is on my mind on a daily basis as the material is relevant to today's world.
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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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