"I had never planned to become a savanna baboon when I grew up; instead, I had always assumed I would become a mountain gorilla," writes Robert Sapolsky in this witty and riveting chronicle of a scientist's coming-of-age in remote Africa. Raised in an intellectual, immigrant family in Brooklyn, Sapolsky wished he could live in the primate diorama in the Museum of Natural History. He wrote fan letters to primatologists, started reading their textbooks at age fourteen, and even learned Swahili in high school, all with the hopes of one day joining his primate brethren in Africa. Finally, upon graduating from college, Sapolsky's dream comes true when, at age twenty-one, he leaves the comforts of the United States for the very first time to join a baboon troop in Kenya as a "young transfer male."
Book smart and naive, Sapolsky sets out to study the relationship between stress and disease. But he soon learns that life in the African bush bears little resemblance to the tranquillity of a museum diorama. He is alone in the middle of the Serengeti with no radio, no television, no electricity, no running water, and no telephone. His nearest neighbors are the Masai, a warlike tribespeople whose marriages are polygamous, with wedding parties featuring tureens of cow's blood. The victim of countless scams and his own idealistic illusions, Sapolsky nevertheless survives culinary atrocities, gunpoint encounters, and a surreal kidnapping, while witnessing the encroachment of the tourist mentality on the farthest vestiges of unspoiled Africa. As he conducts unprecedented physiological research on wild primates, he becomes evermore enamored with his subjects -- unique and compelling characters in their own right -- and he returns to them summer after summer, until tragedy finally prevents him.
Here is Robert Sapolsky's exhilarating account of his life in the bush with neighbors both human and primate, by turns hilarious and poignant. The culmination of more than two decades of experience and research, A Primate's Memoir is a magnum opus from one of our foremost scientist-writers.
New York Times Book Review
One closes his book a lot more knowledgeable about plenty of baboon-related matters. But mostly one has already begun to miss the company of this sometimes cranky but always impassioned, learned and winningly irreverent man.... A Primate's Memoir is the closest the baboon is likely to come -- and it's plenty close enough -- to having its own Iliad.
He alternates tales of the baboons and their interesting social lives with his off-site adventures, which include a surreal kidnapping and an emotional pilgrimage to see mountain gorillas and muse on Dian Fossey's legacy.
A wild and wondrous account, filled with passages so funny or so brilliant that the reader wants to grab someone by the arm and demand, Hey, you just gotta listen to this.
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.
Allegra Goodman; author of Kaaterskill Falls A Primate's Memoir is witty, erudite, and full of baboons. What could be bad?
Pete Dexter; author of Paris Trout and The Paperboy
Mr. Sapolsky has been to the end of the road and come back with some of the best stories you will ever hear and, in the process, has put his finger on some vast, comic common denominator. What you have in your hands is the reason to read books.
Norman Rush; author of Mating
This engrossing account of Robert Sapolsky's life in science, set down with style and force, is brilliantly informative (baboons have long memories, and seek vengeance!) and heartbreakingly acute in its renderings of African lives, terrains, fates.
At the end of A Primate's Memoir, I felt as though I'd been on a guided tour of Africa with a wise, soulful, funny, generous, and deeply intelligent guide. Loved him, loved his insights about these strange and distant cultures, loved his baboons.
George Packer; author of The Village of Waiting and Blood of the Liberals
The odds would seem long against finding a book by a writer who has the various skills to tranquilize wild East African baboons with a blowgun, explain the scientific implications of his work, negotiate treacherous primate power struggles (especially those of H. sapiens), and write about it all with great wit and humanity. But A Primate's Memoir is such a book, and Robert M. Sapolsky is such a writer.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
I would have given this book a better review if I hadn't felt misled. I thought I was about to read a book about baboons, instead I read a book about Africa. Although it is very well written, I couldn't help but feel disappointed. So, if you're... Read More
Rated of 5
Fantastic, one of the best books i have ever read.
Rated of 5
It is such an excellent example of a humanized scientific perspective; in fact there's no other comparison in the way the lives of baboons, peoples and science, and of a individual life are intertwined. It is a optimal mixture of entertainment... Read More
Rated of 5
Tremendously great. It kept me thorouhgly entertained throughout the entire novel. A definite add-on to anyone's booklist.
Rated of 5
by gloria fossi
For all the people who loves animals and nature... I read this book during my last long yourney in South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique. It is the most amazing book I have read during this year. Thank you, Robert Sapolsky.
Rated of 5
I lost interest in the baboons, though Dr. Sapolsky kept me amazed and amused with his tales and observations about his travels, the people he met, and the messes he got himself into.
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