Summary and book reviews of A Primate's Memoir by Robert M. Sapolsky

A Primate's Memoir

A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons

by Robert M. Sapolsky

A Primate's Memoir by Robert M. Sapolsky X
A Primate's Memoir by Robert M. Sapolsky
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2001, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2002, 304 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

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.

"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.

Contents

Acknowledgments

Part 1. The Adolescent Years: When I First Joined the Troop

  1. The Baboons: The Generations of Israel
  2. Zebra Kabobs and a Life of Crime
  3. The Revenge of the Liberals
  4. The Masai Fundamentalist and My Debut as a Social Worker
  5. The Coca-Cola Devil
  6. Teaching Old Men About Maps
  7. Memories of Blood: The East African Wars

Part 2: The Sub-adult Years

  1. The Baboons: Saul in the Wilderness
  2. Samwelly Versus the Elephants
  3. The First Masai
  4. Zoology and National Security: A Shaggy Hyena Story
  5. The Coup
  6. Hearing Voices at the Wrong Time
  7. Sudan

Part 3: Tenuous Adulthood

  1. The Baboons: The Unstable Years
  2. Ol' Curly Toes and the King of Nubian-Judea
  3. The Penguins of Guyana
  4. When Baboons Were Falling Out of the Trees
  5. The Old White Man
  6. The Elevator
  7. The Mound Behind the 7-Eleven

Part 4: Adulthood

  1. The Baboons: Nick
  2. The Raid
  3. Ice
  4. Joseph
  5. The Wonders of Machines in a Land Where They Are Still Novel: The Blind Leading the Blind
  6. Who's on First, What's on Second
  7. The Last ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!
  • award image

Reviews

Media Reviews

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.

Library Journal
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.

Kirkus Reviews
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.

Publisher's Weekly
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.

Author Blurb Allegra Goodman; author of Kaaterskill Falls
A Primate's Memoir is witty, erudite, and full of baboons. What could be bad?

Author Blurb 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.

Author Blurb 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.

Author Blurb Caroline Knapp
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.

Author Blurb 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.

Reader Reviews

Treva

Fantastic, one of the best books i have ever read.

ndasny

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 and ...   Read More

Shirley

Tremendously great. It kept me thorouhgly entertained throughout the entire novel. A definite add-on to anyone's booklist.

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.

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

More books by Robert M. Sapolsky

If you liked A Primate's Memoir, try these:

  • Animal Wise jacket

    Animal Wise

    by Virginia Morell

    Published 2014

    About this book

    Noted science writer Virginia Morell explores the frontiers of research on animal cognition and emotion, offering a surprising and moving exploration into the hearts and minds of wild and domesticated animals.

  • Three Weeks in December jacket

    Three Weeks in December

    by Audrey Schulman

    Published 2012

    About this book

    More books by this author

    Evoking both Barbara Kingsolver and Andrea Barrett, this enthralling fiction, wise and generous, explores some of the crucial social and cultural challenges that, over the years, have come to shape our world.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Stories from Suffragette City
    Stories from Suffragette City
    by M.J. Rose, Fiona Davis
    Our First Impressions readers were fascinated by the historical fiction from a range of authors ...
  • Book Jacket: The Mystery of Mrs. Christie
    The Mystery of Mrs. Christie
    by Marie Benedict
    The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict, notable author of previous historical fiction such ...
  • Book Jacket: To Be a Man
    To Be a Man
    by Nicole Krauss
    While, as its title hints, To Be a Man by Nicole Krauss is concerned with masculinity, it renders a ...
  • Book Jacket: The Office of Historical Corrections
    The Office of Historical Corrections
    by Danielle Evans
    In The Office of Historical Corrections, the second story collection from Danielle Evans, readers ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    At the Edge of the Haight
    by Katherine Seligman

    Winner of the 2019 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.

    Reader Reviews
  • Book Jacket

    The Fortunate Ones
    by Ed Tarkington

    An engrossing story of class, love, and loyalty for fans of Kevin Wilson's Nothing to See Here.

    Reader Reviews
Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Moment of Lift
by Melinda Gates
How can we summon a moment of lift for women? Because when you lift up women, you lift up humanity.
Who Said...

The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

T M T C, T M T Stay T S

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.