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Explores the issue of sustainable development in a microcosm called Berenty, a private nature preserve in southern Madagascar surrounded by plantations and many desperately poor people. Primatologist Jolly has spent much of her life studying the lemur population of Berenty, but she is also a keen observer of the life and culture of the Tandroy people who live nearby. The respectful coexistence of monkeys and men is due, she feels, to the leadership of the de Heaulme family, a French colonial dynasty who preserved a patch of pristine forest when they carved out their plantations. Through their story, Jolly surveys the history of Madagascar from the 17th-century arrival of the French through the harsh colonial regime, the 1947 War of Independence and the famines and political upheavals of recent decades.