A Primate's Memoir: A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons (Paperback)

A Primate's Memoir: A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons By Robert M. Sapolsky Cover Image
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In the tradition of Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, Robert Sapolsky, a foremost science writer and recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant, tells the mesmerizing story of his twenty-one years in remote Kenya with a troop of savanna baboons.

"I had never planned to become a savanna baboon when I grew up; instead, I had always assumed I would become a mountain gorilla,” writes Robert Sapolsky in this witty and riveting chronicle of a scientist’s coming-of-age in Africa.

An exhilarating account of Sapolsky’s twenty-one-year study of a troop of rambunctious baboons in Kenya, A Primate’s Memoir interweaves serious scientific observations with wry commentary about the challenges and pleasures of living in the wilds of the Serengeti—for man and beast alike. Over two decades, Sapolsky survives culinary atrocities, gunpoint encounters, and a surreal kidnapping, while witnessing the encroachment of the tourist mentality on Africa. As he conducts unprecedented physiological research on wild primates, he becomes enamored of his subjects—unique and compelling characters in their own right—and he returns to them summer after summer, until tragedy finally prevents him.

By turns hilarious and poignant, A Primate’s Memoir is a magnum opus from one of our foremost science writers.

About the Author

Robert M. Sapolsky is the author of several works of nonfiction, including DeterminedThe Trouble with Testosterone, and Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. His book Behave was a New York Times bestseller and named a Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. He is a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University and the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant. He and his wife live in San Francisco.

Praise For…

Praise for Robert M. Sapolsky

“Robert Sapolsky is one of the best science-writers of our time, able to deal with the weightiest topics both authoritatively and wittily, with so light a touch they become accessible to all.” —Oliver Sacks

“With uncommon expertise and insight, Robert Sapolsky explains the relation of biology to complex properties of human behaviors. His perspective...is both unsettling and liberating.” —Edward O. Wilson

“[Sapolsky's] stories are remarkable … A Primate's Memoir is the closest the baboon is likely to come and it's plenty close enough to having its own Iliad.” New York Times Book Review

“While Sapolsky's primate observations are always fascinating, his thoughts on Africa and Africans are even more compelling. As funny and irreverent as a good ol' boy regaling his friends with vacation-from-hell stories, Sapolsky can also be disarmingly emotional . . . Filled with cynicism and awe, passion and humor, this memoir is both an absorbing account of a young man's growing maturity and a tribute to the continent that, despite its troubles and extremes, held him in its thrall.” Publisher's Weekly (starred review)

“[Sapolsky] has a huge appetite for life, fed by his Brooklyn humor, a death-is-just-around-the-corner kind of irony. He writes exactly as if he's telling stories around a fire in the bush. And drinking. And gesturing…” —Los Angeles Times
“Flies along like a well-paced and finely crafted novel. [Sapolsky's] stories about the Masai are terrific--what with the kidnapping, the blood-drinking and the blow-darting… A Primate's Memoir is not set up for a sequel, but reads are most likely to want one.” —Newsday

“The odds would seem long against finding a book by a writer who has the various skills to tranquilize wild East African baboons with a blowgun, explain the scientific implications of his work, negotiate treacherous primate power struggles (especially those of H. sapiens), and write about it all with great wit and humanity. But A Primate's Memoir is such a book, and Robert M. Sapolsky is such a writer.” —George Packer, author of The Village of Waiting and Blood of the Liberals

“Mr. Sapolsky has been to the end of the road and come back with some of the best stories you will ever hear, and, in the process, has put his finger on some vast, comic common denominator. What you have in your hands is the reason to read books.” —Pete Dexter, author of Paris Trout and The Paperboy

“This engrossing account of Robert Sapolsky's life in science, set down with style and force, is brilliantly informative (baboons have long memories, and seek vengeance!) and heartbreakingly acute in its rendering of African lives, terrains, fates.” —Norman Rush, author of Mating

A Primate's Memoir is witty, erudite, and full of baboons. What could be bad?” —Allegra Goodman, author of Kaaterskill Falls

“At the end of A Primate's Memoir, I felt as though I'd been on a guided tour of Africa with a wise, soulful, funny, generous, and deeply intelligent guide. Loved him, loved his insights about these strange and distant cultures, loved his baboons.” —Caroline Knapp, author of Pack of Two

“[Sapolsky's] hilarious writing style and sense of the absurd are fairly unique in the genre...Recommended for college and public libraries. Library Journal

“A witty concoction blending field biology, history, hilarious cross-cultural mishaps, and hair-raising adventure. What Jane Goodall did for chimpanzees, Birute Galdikas for orangutans, and Diane Fossey for gorillas, Sapolsky does in spades for baboons...remarkably perceptive...Sapolsky writes...in an entertaining style that scintillates and charms, making it nigh impossible not to become an ally of both him and his sometimes all-to-human baboons...A wild and wondrous account, filled with passages so funny or so brilliant that the reader wants to grab someone by the arm and demand, 'Hey, you just gotta listen to this.'" —Kirkus (starred)

“Humorous writing worthy of Gerald Durrell at his best mixes with hard-eyed descriptions of the reality of field work in a third-world country...Sapolsky often wears his heart on his sleeve, and this emotional involvement combined with the scientific realities of the tales he tells makes for engrossing reading.”—Nancy Bent, Booklist

“For all its high spirits and black humor, A Primate's Memoir is a powerful meditation on the biological origins of baboon and human misery, as well as a naturalist's coming-of-age story comparable to Jane Goodall's and E. O. Wilson's...As a memoirist, Sapolsky is a mensch, a price among primates.”—Caroline Fraser, Outside
Product Details
ISBN: 9780743202411
ISBN-10: 0743202414
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: March 12th, 2002
Pages: 304
Language: English