Starred Review. Noted primatologist de Waal (Chimpanzee Politics) thinks human behavior cannot be fully explained by selfish genes and Darwinian competition. Drawing on his own primate research on chimpanzees and bonobos—our closest animal relatives—he shows how much we can learn from them about ourselves: our qualities of "fellow feeling and empathy" as well as our power-obsessed, violent side. We are "bipolar apes," de Waal says, as much like bonobos as like chimps. The latter are known for their viciousness and "red in tooth and claw" social politics, but bonobos offer a radically different social model, one of peace and hedonistic orgies; de Waal offers vivid, often delightful stories of politics, sex, violence and kindness in the ape communities he has studied to illustrate such questions as why we are irreverent toward the powerful and whether men or women are better at conflict resolution. Readers might be surprised at how much these apes and their stories resonate with their own lives, and may well be left with an urge to spend a few hours watching primates themselves at the local zoo.
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*Starred Review* In Chimpanzee Politics (1982) and five succeeding books, de Waal has called attention to how close to human Homo sapiens ' closest relatives really are; indeed, the domestic entity referenced by the title of de Waal's photo collection My Family Album (2003) isn't his particular menage; it's that of the chimps and bonobos he has studied and grown to love. As his books have become more complete and general about human-ape resemblances, his prose has become ever clearer and more artful. This book is arguably an even better read than The Ape and the Sushi Master (2001). After a bringing-up-to-speed chapter on such matters as chimp-bonobo distinctions and human-ape shared ancestry, de Waal devotes long chapters to power, sex, violence, and kindness among the apes, and among humans, too. Comparing the three upper primate species, and occasionally certain monkey species, as well, yields illuminating and provocative results because they are all highly social, and the apes share cultural capability with humans. Overall, chimps are more concerned with power and more violent but much less sexy than bonobos, and both apes demonstrate kindness socially to a greater extent than humans do, at least verbally. In conclusion, de Waal turns directly to "The Bipolar Ape"--that is, the human being--and urges learning from the apes how to improve humanity's longtime balancing act between savagery and good fellowship. Ray Olson
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