Significant Others: The Ape-Human Continuum and the Quest for Human Nature
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
What the family connection between apes and humans really means.
Evolutionary scientists know that the line that divides humans from other animals has grown increasingly blurry, yet many other fields, especially in the social sciences, have not really absorbed this knowledge. At the same time, the knowledge that all humans are genetically and cognitively modern has left the apes as our only true "savages." Thus if we want to learn about human nature and how we came to be as we are, we must look to the apes. In this sweeping, fresh, controversial book, primatologist Craig Stanford does just that, giving us fascinating insights--and debunks many myths--about infanticide, mating practices, and the origins of human cognition.
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