9780465081714 / 0465081711

Significant Others: The Ape-human Continuum And The Quest For Human Nature


Publisher:Basic Books



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About the book:

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

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