288 pages, 34 b/w photos, 2 b/w illustrations
Monkey see, monkey do – or does he? Can the behavior of non-human primates – their sociality, their intelligence, their communication – really be chalked up to simple mimicry? Emphatically, absolutely: no. And as famed primatologist Julia Fischer reveals, the human bias inherent in this oft-uttered adage is our loss, for it is only through the study of our primate brethren that we may begin to understand ourselves.
An eye-opening blend of storytelling, memoir, and science, Monkeytalk takes us into the field and the world's primate labs to investigate the intricacies of primate social mores through the lens of communication. After first detailing the social interactions of key species from her fieldwork – from baby-wielding male Barbary macaques, who use infants as social accessories in a variety of interactions, to aggression among the chacma baboons of southern Africa and male-male tolerance among the Guinea baboons of Senegal – Fischer explores the role of social living in the rise of primate intelligence and communication, ultimately asking what the ways in which other primates communicate can teach us about the evolution of human language.
Funny and fascinating, Fischer's tale roams from a dinner in the field shared with lionesses to insights gleaned from Rico, a border collie with an astonishing vocabulary, but its message is clear: it is humans who are the evolutionary mimics. The primate heritage visible in our species is far more striking than the reverse, and it is the monkeys who deserve to be seen. "The social life of macaques and baboons is a magnificent opera", Fischer writes. "Allow me now to raise the curtain on it."
"This eminently readable book explains from a position of erudite affinity with the animal world just why an anthropomorphic view of it is equally misleading as a purely naturalist depiction of human culture. Refreshing, both for us humans and for the monkeys."
– Süddeutsche Zeitung, on the German edition
"An excellent and entertaining book about how we may begin to uncover the capacities of our closest relatives."
– Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, on the German edition
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Julia Fischer is professor in the German Primate Center and head of the Department of Cognitive Ethology at Georg-August-Universit t Göttingen, Germany, as well as president of the European Federation of Primatology.
Frederick B. Henry, Jr. holds an MA in anthropology from the University of Chicago and is an independent scholar and translator of German who has worked with several university presses.