Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human Paperback – Dec 30 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In what is surely one of the most memorable and intelligent recent books about animal-human interaction, Hess (Lost and Found: Dogs, Cats and Everyday Heroes at a Country Animal Shelter) tells the story of Nim Chimpsky, who in the 1970s was the subject of an experiment begun at the University of Oklahoma to find out whether a chimp could learn American Sign Language—and thus refute Noam Chomsky's influential thesis that language is inherent only in humans. Nim was sent to live with a family in New York City and taught human language like any other child. Hess sympathetically yet unerringly details both the project's successes and failures, its heroes and villains, as she recounts Nim's odyssey from the Manhattan town house to a mansion in the Bronx and finally back to Oklahoma, where he was bounced among various facilities as financial, personal and scientific troubles plagued the study. The book expertly shows why the Nim experiment was a crucial event in animal studies, but more importantly, Hess captures Nim's legendary charm, mischievous sense of humor, and keen understanding of human beings. This may well be the only book on linguistics and primatology that will leave its readers in tears over the life and times of its amazing subject. (Mar. 4)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“Nim Chimpsky is a very important story that should go a long way toward reducing the likelihood of our betraying the trust of animals who depend on us for their well-being. Laugh, cry, and share widely.”—Marc Bekoff, University of Colorado; author of The Emotional Lives of Animals and Animals Matter; editor of the Encyclopedia of Human-Animal Relationships
"If you read only one book about the strange, fruitful, and fraught relationship between humans and animals, let this be it."—Dale Peterson, author of Jane Goodall, The Woman Who Redefined Man
“Nim Chimpsky is an indictment of our attitudes to our closest relatives."—Peter Singer, Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics, Princeton University and author of In Defense of Animals: The Second Wave. and The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter
"An absolutely absorbing page-turner by a writer of such boundless empathy that she could tell an animal’s story and make it, yes—deeply human."—Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickled and Dimed
"I stayed up all night reading this book and could not put it down. I became totally convinced that Nim understood sign language when he banged on a closed door and signed 'hurry open now.”—Temple Grandin, author of Animals in Translation
"A smart, tough-minded, big-hearted meditation on the fate of our nearest relatives, and a marvelous biography as well. The story of Nim Chimpsky tells us more about our own species than we probably want to hear, but we need to hear it, now."—Russell Banks, author of Darling
"An unforgettable biography of an extraordinary animal. Nim’s voice is on every page of this book. You will remember him long after the book has ended, and what he has taught you will change, forever, the way you look at animals."—Ruth Reichl, author of Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic
“Hess’s clear, lively, and gently sorrowful biography swings from Nim’s 26-year life story … to a larger portrait of the human researchers, philosphers, and caretakers who upended Nim’s life.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Elizabeth Hess' splendid account … amounts to a biography of Nim, a story every bit as stirring and elaborate as that of a famous person.”—Seattle Times
“As poignant an animal story as you can get…. Nim was an unforgettable character—affectionate, mischievous, empathetic, and utterly charming.”—Christian Science Monitor
From the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
This book is an excellent report of Nim Chimpsky's life from birth to his death. It touches on issues related to the use of sentient animals in research, and it is a reminder that our top dog homo sapiens species is often shamefully oblivious to the feelings of other species and of their need for specific contexts for living their lives.
This book and the 'Project Nim' documentary have made me want to contribute in more meaningful ways to animal welfare. For instance, I'm realizing that the use of companion animals like dogs and cats for fur production in Asian regions (many apparently stolen from households) is as wrong as the abuse Nim suffered after he had outgrown his utility to the language project. Creatures we befriend need our protection perhaps even moreso than those in the wild. Dogs and cats have been our companions for generations, and to subject them to inhumane death for their pelts is just wrong.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Walter is described as "had hard work to keep ahead of the chimp." That is not so. Hess says that "Benesch would dutifully replace it (locks) with a new and more complex system." He never replaced a single lock. Likewise he never experienced the throwing of feces and other extreme behavior described while Nim was a Delafield with the one exception of the tantrum described below.
On page 124, she has Bob Johnson living in Delafield at the same time as Benesch. Again this is false information. Bob did not move in until Walter had left for more graduate work at Boston University. It appears the author did not read Dr. Terrace's book about the Sunday mornings where Walter (not Bob as he was not in Delafield at this time) would create pancake receipts together. When Walter left the project, Nim would not eat the plain pancakes others fixed since they lacked the spices and combination of flours and fruit Nim and I would put into the batter. We actually wrote (but never published) a pancake cookbook for children with the receipts Nim made, with his rating of each.
The story about Nim being dragged "into a small upstairs kitchen on the human side of the house. Benesch stayed with Nim as Tynan, outside locked the door (page 156-7)" is pure fictionalization of what actually happen. Tynan was not in the house at the time. Nim escaped into the upstairs common room that Laura and Amy would use. Yes, Walter was locked in while Nim had his tantrum. Likewise, he could not have "Called Tynan for help" since Tynan was not in the house at the time. It was Laura that called Walter for help. The rest of what is described on the following pages is again filled with half truths and a lot of misinformation.
Based upon reading the episode in which I was involved with Nim and how inaccurate it is, I have to raise serious doubts about the remainder of the book. Although I was very happy to find out about what happen to Nim after Delafield, the inaccuracies are so great it puts the remainder of the book in serious question.
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