A Primate's Memoir: A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons
Robert M. Sapolsky
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In the tradition of Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, Robert Sapolsky, a foremost science writer and recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant, tells the mesmerizing story of his twenty-one years in remote Kenya with a troop of Savannah baboons.
“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.
An exhilarating account of Sapolsky’s twenty-one-year study of a troop of rambunctious baboons in Kenya, A Primate’s Memoir interweaves serious scientific observations with wry commentary about the challenges and pleasures of living in the wilds of the Serengeti—for man and beast alike. Over two decades, Sapolsky 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 of his subjects—unique and compelling characters in their own right—and he returns to them summer after summer, until tragedy finally prevents him.
By turns hilarious and poignant, A Primate’s Memoir is a magnum opus from one of our foremost science writers.
went on her busman’s holiday, as we visited every mental hospital in Kenya. And we asked the same sort of question to every staffer that we could find. How do people here decide when someone is mentally ill? You can have a Masai schizophrenic, from a culture where people are very nonverbal, where they spend most of each day alone with the cows, or a schizophrenic from one of the coastal tribes, from a highly sophisticated, verbal, urban setting. What symptom finally pushes the Masai family over
with solicitous brotherly care that seems to barely mask the suggestion of wild violence. More moving around, more Cokes. I begin to look for ways out, but Jeremiahs lorry is still out of it, hood up, mechanics at work, Jonah peering from the trailer. I sink into carbonated oblivion, begin to feel disconnected from myself as if my body has somehow become that of this Peter, and I am stuck inside him. Exhaustion. More sodas. Pius borrows more money, returns some of the previous, begins an
and I was moved by this particular history—dancing in the streets, a freed people. I spent my years at college flirting with the Quakers and, intellectually, thought that it would be important for me to test the ideals of pacifism that I was toying with by observing an undeniably just war. Ah, this is nonsense. I was twenty-one and wanted an adventure. I wanted to scare the shit out of myself and see amazing things and talk about it afterward. And for the previous month, I had been missing
unworldly woman from Guyana, sent here from the plantations to visit her grievously injured brother in the hospital. I never had a clue what was up and made small talk with the fake Guyanese woman, enthusiastically trying to discuss the flora and fauna of her beautiful homeland. As it turned out, she knew nothing about the subject, but, fortunately for her, I turned out to know even less. When I reported it to the police, I discovered that this was such a timehonored rip-off that they had an
and impressed with ourselves and our preparations. I hoped the powers that be would also be impressed, maybe decide I was useful to have around, stop hassling me about permits. We felt like some sort of veterinary SWAT team, planned strategy, vowed that if things got complicated enough, we would mobilize the whole primate center in Nairobi, have teams of veterinary pathologists parachuting out of the sky dressed in dashing orange jumpsuits. We got giddy until we decided the logical place to start