Synopses & Reviews
"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.
"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 werite 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."
George Packer, author of
The Village of Waiting and Blood of the Liberals
"Mr. Saplsky 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."
Pete Dexter, author of Paris Trout and The Paperboy
"A Primate's Memoir
is witty, erudite,a nd full of baboons. What could be bad?"
Allegra Goodman, author of
"At the end of A Primate's Memoir
, I felt as though I'd been on a guided tour of Africa witha wise, soulful, funny, generous, and deeply intelligent guide. Loved him, loved his insights about these strange and distant cultures, loved
Caroline Knapp, author of Pack of Two
About the Author
Robert M. Sapolsky is professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University and a research associate with the Institute of Primate Research, National Museums of Kenya. He is the author of The Trouble with Testosterone and Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, both Los Angeles Times Book Award finalists. A regular contributor to Discover and The Sciences and a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation genius grant, Sapolsky lives in San Francisco, California.
Table of Contents
Part 1. The Adolescent Years: When I First Joined the Troop
- The Baboons: The Generations of Israel
- Zebra Kabobs and a Life of Crime
- The Revenge of the Liberals
- The Masai Fundamentalist and My Debut as a Social Worker
- The Coca-Cola Devil
- Teaching Old Men About Maps
- Memories of Blood: The East African Wars
Part 2: The Subadult Years
- The Baboons: Saul in the Wilderness
- Samwelly Versus the Elephants
- The First Masai
- Zoology and National Security: A Shaggy Hyena Story
- The Coup
- Hearing Voices at the Wrong Time
Part 3: Tenuous Adulthood
- The Baboons: The Unstable Years
- Ol' Curly Toes and the King of Nubian-Judea
- The Penguins of Guyana
- When Baboons Were Falling Out of the Trees
- The Old White Man
- The Elevator
- The Mound Behind the 7-Eleven
Part 4: Adulthood
- The Baboons: Nick
- The Raid
- The Wonders of Machines in a Land Where They Are Still Novel: The Blind Leading the Blind
- Who's on First, What's on Second
- The Last Warriors
- The Plague