the Worlds and Minds of Primates
by Julia Fischer
University of Chicago Press,
in Out There
Explore and discuss
this title with the Outrider
see, monkey do—or does she? 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.
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.
fascinating, Fischer’s tale roams from a dinner in the field
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
opera,” Fischer writes. “Permit me now to raise the
curtain on it.