No matter your philosophy on the feelings and intellect of animals, this book will change it. I believe that animals have emotions and cognitive skills, but this book really enhanced and helped direct my own personal creed.
The book tells story of a young grad student who falls into a cross-fostering experiment with a young chimpanzee named Washoe. Two professors are raising her as a human child and teaching her sign language. Fouts ends up as Washoe's lifelong caretaker and friend, traveling with her as she is moved from university to university, trying to protect her against a system that views her as an unfeeling piece of property. Along the way other chimpanzees join him and Washoe, until he has a small family of chimps, all capable of sign language, to care for.
The book is remarkable for many reasons. The narrative is interesting, clearly explained, and easy to read, even when Fouts discusses the physiology of language and evolution. The story is fascinating, the antics of the chimps are hilarious and eye-opening, and Fouts' journey to find Washoe and her family a good home (from Reno to Oklahoma to Washington) is determined and inspiring. The subject matter is phenomenal. Reading about Washoe's son, Loulis, learning sign language from her (the first animal to be taught a human language by another animal), the interactions between the chimps and humans (Lucy, who brews tea and serves it to Fouts every morning) and the brief legal history of the chimpanzees as research subjects, is incredible.
Read this book with an open mind. It will change you.