Books by Desmond Morris

Released: May 15, 2018

"Like a modern-day Giorgio Vasari, Morris creates an intimate and unique you-are-there assessment of what made the surrealists tick."
An ideal introduction to the rebellious art movement. Read full book review >
THE NAKED MAN by Desmond Morris
Released: Aug. 18, 2009

"Proceed with caution—enjoy the folklore but beware the folly."
"No life form has had greater impact upon this planet than the human male," claims Morris in this follow-up to The Naked Woman (2005, etc.) Read full book review >
THE WORLD OF ANIMALS by Desmond Morris
Released: Oct. 1, 1993

From the famed author of The Naked Ape (1967), who's also been a zoo curator and a TV host, a description of 20 familiar animals that's like a zoo tour with a wonderfully informed and articulate teacher who presents the animals' habitats, social patterns, peculiarities, and ability to resist man's incursions. From giant whales to little armadillos and bush babies, he includes favorites like the gorilla, chimp, giraffe, tiger, kangaroo, and zebra, adding a wealth of recently discovered or unfamiliar facts and and insights. Morris's theme is that animals should be approached with an eye unclouded by myth, sentimentality, or other preconceptions, all of which he is at pains to dispel (he comments that Disney's animal heros have flat, human-like faces, while his villains are invariably sharp- nosed). Pandas, for example, are actually fiercely solitary, while rhinos can be quite cuddly. Barrett's delicately detailed paintings mirror the factual approach in handsome portraits and in details like an elephant nursing or a platypus's "spurs." Sizes are carefully noted in the text, in metric units ("metres," "kilos," "tonnes"). A thoroughly engrossing and entertaining survey in attractive oversize format. (Nonfiction. 4+)Read full book review >
Released: April 13, 1989

How much do horses sleep? How fast can horses run? How many horse breeds are there? Now Morris answers these and 40 other equine questions with the same sort of good-natured mini-essays that made Dogwatching and Catwatching (both 1987) so enjoyable. He is again thankfully short on sentimentality ("if the dog is man's best friend, then the horse could well be described as man's best slave") and comes up with some startling tidbits: with its huge eyes—bigger than an elephant's or a whale's—and expert night vision, "the horse is a nocturnal animal!"; horsedom's Methuselah was Old Billy, who died in 1722 at age 62 and was still "working" at age 59. (Incidentally, horses sleep only three hours per every 24; the speed record for quarterhorses is 43 mph; and there are 207 breeds of horses.) A must-read for horse fans. Read full book review >
TRIBES by Desmond Morris
Released: Nov. 1, 1988

Second-rate (but nicely illustrated) anthropological musings on humanity's tribal ways; by Morris, best-selling author of The Naked Ape and Bodywatching, and Marsh, editor of Eye to Eye (p. 1144). The authors' primary thesis—that "man is a tribal animal"—isn't new, and many of the examples promoting that thesis here will be familiar to most readers. Moreover, the authors disagree on the roots of tribalism—Morris contends that the hunting of small game by monkeys marked the origins of the "active cooperation" that forms the glue of tribalism; contrarily, Marsh states that primates did not eat flesh and that such cooperation began with hominids. Greater consistency, if not greater insight, graces the main body of the text, presumably written by both authors, a cross-cultural survey of tribalism as it manifests in bonding patterns (territories, religions, etc.), rites of passage (circumcision, lodge rites, etc.), emblems of allegiance (clothing, tattooing, etc.), sex and courtship (weddings, polygamy, etc.), and sport and spectacle (soccer, Trobriand cricket, etc.). Most of this material, while lightly intriguing, suffers from anthropological reductionism (e.g., the definition of myths as merely "stories which have no basis in troth or reality but which provide a rationale for religious beliefs and practices"), and also a British coloration—many examples of modern-day tribalism (financiers in "the City"; swells at Derby Day; Rowdies) are drawn from aspects of British life perhaps unfamiliar to American readers. Only in the final section, on "Aggression and War," do the authors make a truly provocative point: that much contemporary violence stems from our civilization's discouragement of tribal urges. The 100 photographs, 80 in color and many startling (full-body tattoos, scarred Africans, etc.), illustrate the text with punch; overall, though, this is just a well-packaged exercise in the obvious. Read full book review >
CATLORE by Desmond Morris
Released: May 1, 1988

In following up his insightful Q&A-style treatise on feline behavior, Catwatching (1987), Morris here answers 60 equally engrossing questions, this time supplied by readers of the earlier work. The questions run the gamut on feline life—everything from will one female feed another's kittens (yes) and what are the best pets for allergy-sufferers (Cornish Rexes and hairless Sphynxes) to why do some cats suck on wool (the equivalent to thumb-sucking in humans—a substitute for suckling) and how and when was the cat first domesticated and bred. Morris also deftly researches the origins of such unusual terms and expressions as "catgut" and "grinning like a Cheshire cat." Cat aficionados may take exception to one of Morris' assertions—that neutering a cat is "butchery" done only for the owner's convenience, and should be replaced by tube-tying. (Though this solution might be applicable, and in some situations even desirable, one wonders whether Morris has fully considered the dangers of unneutered cats that run away from home during mating season, and the virtual impossibility of keeping odiferous cats—toms that spray—in multifamily dwellings.) With the exception noted, perceptive and enlightening—and for cat lovers, not to be missed. Read full book review >
Released: April 10, 1987

English zoologist and renowned author of The Naked Ape and The Human Zoo, among others, Morris here applies his astute powers of observation and broad knowledge of animal behavior to the subject of those beloved family pets—cats and dogs. In Catwatching and Dogwatching, Morris provides brief and intelligent answers to questions he's been asked over the years regarding the history and domestication of felines and canines, the behavorial idiosyncracies of the two species, and the derivation of such quirky expressions as "It's raining cats and dogs." We learn in Catwatching about this animal's unique rites of courtship, mating, fighting, and territory-marking, and are given insightful answers to such questions as why cats' eyes glow in the dark, why they groom their coats so fastidiously, and why they purr (to express a need for affection, according to Morris, not just to express contentment). In Dogwatching, Morris looks to the wolf pack for explanations of various aspects of dog behavior. Dogs bark, we find out, to warn their packs of danger, put their tails between their legs when frightened to express submission (covering scent glands located beneath the tail in the process), and cheerfully chew slippers, which they view as offerings from big dogs (their human owners). Two books of choice and fascinating tidbits that, together, add considerably to our understanding of household pets. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1985

Morris is a blatant body-watcher, entranced by the human form in all its naked-apeness. He profits from his studies by producing pop works that combine some fact, some crack-fact, and a lot of what used to be called "pious pornography." Because he is a clever writer, because he writes about human behavior, and because he is not at all unhappy being found out on a limb, he commands and gets attention. Thus, Bodywatching, a brow-to-toe study of human parts and appendages, their uses and abuses in cultures now and then. A lot of this is tim, a lot borrowed from his previous, less opinionated study of human gestures (Manwatching). We learn about the head roils, the brow knits, the earlobe touches which come with universal or particular meanings. Touch an earlobe as you face a man in Italy, we are told, and it will be interpreted as an accusation of effeminacy—the guy should be wearing an earring. In Portugal, the same gesture means something delicious, from girls to food. Then there are the historical bits. Morris describes exactly how the feet of well-born Chinese girls were bound and how the resulting size and shape, called the Golden Venus, took on erotic meaning. His discussion of spittle is interesting, too. The association of saliva with the soul meant that spittle could be a reverential offering to the gods. Later, spitting was used to ward off the Evil Eye and generalized as an opprobrious gesture toward anyone undesirable. But beware. Some origins and explanations smack of Morris Just-So stories: that breasts are substitute buttocks, for example, or that man may have gone through an aquatic phase (one explanation for our protuberant noses). Even the anatomical/medical facts aren't always right. Not all head or chin hair would grow to record lengths if never cut. And the principal cause of tooth decay is not the bacteria named, but a certain streptococcal species. If the examples chosen suggest interesting topics but caveat emptor, fine. In addition, most of the body parts described here have sexual connotations (e.g., breasts, buttocks, legs, mouths), and here Morris the Macho reigns supreme: he is much more focused on female anatomy and interpretations, playing hard on the theme of women as submissive, helpless, virginal and nurturing than on his heap-big male hunter and protector. So expect many women to react with arms akimbo, if not chin stuck out. For the rest, keep your eyes wide open and be prepared to smile, frown, and hardly ever yawn. Read full book review >
THE BOOK OF AGES by Desmond Morris
Released: March 1, 1983

Take the focus of People magazine, add a bit of old-fashioned Gesell or Speck, sprinkle with some trendy phrases on mid-life crises, etc., and you have the essence of Morris' latest. The indefatigable popularizer has decided to celebrate each and every year of human life, from 0 to 100-plus—devoting a full spread to each, and describing growth and development, life expectancy, rites-of-passage and other appropriate psycho/physiological events. There follows a catalogue of who, famous or infamous, suffered misfortune or achieved fame during that particular year: little Mozart playing the harpsichord at three, not to mention Thomas Macaulay voraciously reading, and John Stuart Mill learning Greek. Lots of film stars, TV folk, royalty, robbers, and romancers adorn the pages both in text and pictures. The approach clearly reveals Morris to be a moralizer—intoning on the fate of early misfortune (if not overcome, of course) and recording all those sins. We learn that Baudelaire ("the French poet") died from VD in his mother's arms, having lived a life of notoriety, of hashish and opium, and "offenses against public morality." Calamity Jane is quickly identified as a prostitute. Sirhan Sirhan may not really have killed Robert Kennedy. (The Morris interpretation of history is singular, to say the least.) Natalie Wood, barely cold in her grave, comes up for mention unaccountably often. Queen Anne is the "dull, dowdy and devout monarch" who died at 49. The last entry is Shigechiyo Izumi of Japan: "recognized"—by whom?—"as the oldest man who ever lived" (and who is still living). There follow two pages of concluding remarks that Morris declares to be contradictory: there are similarities at all ages, but the human population is vastly varied. Morris' recipe for ripe old age? An amalgam of good parents, good genes, good sense, good exercise. (Not dull, conscientious jogging or other boring pursuits.) Campy enough to be a smashing addition to the non-book shelf. Read full book review >
ANIMAL DAYS by Desmond Morris
Released: July 29, 1980

There are enough chuckles and guffaws in Morris' autobiography to make it one of the unexpectedly funny books of the year. To be sure, some of the humor—as well as the melodrama—derives from the chimps, bats, pythons, and other fauna who were guests on the television "Zootime" series Morris masterminded midway in his career, or from the animals who were his charges while he was Curator of Mammals at the London Zoo. There are academic foibles and hijinks, too, such as the time Prince Akihito of Japan and entourage squeezed into Morris' lab to catch him beside the one foul-smelling, slime-bottomed aquarium he hadn't had time to clean. After an interminable silence came the inevitable question—to which Morris found himself replying, "In this tank we are maturing the substratum." Clearly Morris enjoys telling a story on himself, and on Lorenz, Tinbergen, and other ethology greats. Between laughs, however, we do get a distinct picture of young Morris, an only child whose father died the year he was sent off to boarding school; a boy early turned on to nature and to art. He painted, dabbling in surrealism, but finally gained a first in zoology and the chance to work under Tinbergen at Oxford (where his future wife was an undergraduate). It is clear that Morris also realized early on that he was torn between academic scholarship and the itch to make broad generalizations before a large popular audience—characteristics which eventually led to the notoriety of The Naked Ape, The Human Zoo, and Intimate Behavior. If nothing else, the autobiography presents Morris in richer perspective. We see the student with the well-trained eye of the naturalist able to conduct field experiments of migrating toads or courting sticklebacks. We see the dedicated animal lover, eager to educate the public about the true ways of animals, and to improve the lot of pets and zoo-dwellers. Overall, Morris emerges as a more likable and sensitive soul than one would imagine in the light of the simplistic hypotheses of his popular works. Read full book review >
Released: June 28, 1979

This is a purely descriptive and in many ways a delightful, disarming book. One blissfully without heavy theories or weighty explanations. Morris et al. decided to track the distribution and meaning of a score of human gestures—from commonplaces like thumbing your nose to more esoteric hand flicks and eye pulls—that exist in Europe and presumably have crossed the Atlantic in waves of immigration. The researchers showed standard drawings of the gestures to male adults (usually samples of over a thousand) and asked if the gesture was used locally and what it meant. (They felt that women would be hard to approach because of taboos, or because of the obscene nature of some of the gestures.) The results are a melange of curiosities and speculations. Nobody understands why nose thumbing is universally insulting, but you may believe, if you want to, that it has to do with making exaggerated waxen effigies in ridicule, or that it was initiated by medieval jesters. On the other hand, the forearm jerk is so clearly a phallic gesture of insult (or occasionally arousal) that in Malta a person can be arrested for making the display in public. And so on, to the vertical horn sign, the cheek stroke, the fig, the nose tap. . . and some concluding observations on cultural barriers and diffusion, gesture replacement, class differences. To be read for its compelling universal interest—and maybe for information should you be traveling to Naples. Equally hard to resist is the impulse to mimic every sign as it comes along. Thumbs up! Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 1972

Intimate behavior is behavior dominated by touch, a subject gaining increasing attention these days by psychologists interested in non-verbal communication, linguists interested in the roots of language, and anthropologists like Ashley Montagu who explored the range of Touching (1971). Morris shares some of Montagu's point of view, saying that much to our folly we have lost touch with each other; he also has serious things to say about child-rearing practices and the effects of urban crowding. Unfortunately the serious content is often engulfed by speculations peculiar to the Morris mind. We refuse to accept the idea that tears are substitute urine requiring the comforter to wipe (hence touch) the one in need of comfort; likewise the idea that breasts are substitute buttocks (there is a long chapter outlining Morris' 12 stages of sexual touching); nor that an adult falling in love is seeking a return to infancy and the mother-child relationship. On the other hand it is probably true that sexual intercourse is good for the stomach muscles of middle-aged men (who in previous incarnations might never have attained middle age), and certainly the variety of social touchings from curtseying and hem-kissing to pats on the cheek is related to rank or dominance structures in society. Thus the usual caveats apply: the book is a melange of the unproven and the outspoken joined with the sensible and accepted. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 13, 1969

This is a highly readable but thoroughly irritating book. Morris is a forceful stylist but the same quick flow of discourse which can be insightful about modern society often edges over into blunt absolutes or dire predictions open to question. In a chapter discussing man's reaction to too little or too much stimulation, for example, he remarks, "In infancy there is the example of prolonged thumb-sucking, which results from too little contact and inter-action with the mother." Or in a chapter dealing with race relations ("In-Groups and Out-Groups") he blithely says, "A second American Civil War seems to be imminent." in essence Morris' point is that life on our over-humanly crowded planet mimics the unnatural existence of captive animals in zoos. Under such conditions animals may become homosexual, change their eating and sleeping habits, pace to and fro, get bored, enraged, break down. It follows then that "natural" man in "unnatural" society exhibits the same aberrations for the same reasons: isolation, restriction of territory, lack of stimulation, etc. But man today is not the sum of all mammalian or even higher primate behavior, nor are his sexual behavior patterns or his need for stimulation neatly contained in ten phases of six principles. It is this kind of constant reductio ad absurdum that weakens the value and invites the kind of controversy Morris' books have generally provoked. Read full book review >
MEN AND PANDAS by Desmond Morris
Released: Feb. 3, 1967

Men, women and children now rate pandas on their top ten list of animal favorites. T'was not always so. And the story of the discovery of this China doll and its subsequent rise to unprecedented popularity (with the help of the Teddy Bear) is truly fascinating. The first recording of the Giant Panda by a European was in the 1800's and was submitted by a French missionary who, distressed by the state of the Chinese heathen, pursued his naturalist/scientific bent. Later, museums vied for pelts to mount and display and status seeking hunters journeyed round the world for an unsure shot at the rare specimens. Among these were the sons of Teddy Roosevelt. But most interesting is the story of the first attempt to bring back a specimen. American Bill Harkness left his two week old marriage to complete with Britisher Floyd Tangier Smith only to die mysteriously in Shanghai His wife Ruth then took over for an equally mysterious expedition which did manage to net a baby, promptly named Su-Lin and brought to the U.S. It's been "panda-monium" ever since as this book points out. The authors write well with particular attention to detail and the pictures as well as the subject are charming. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 1, 1967

"The forest ape that became a ground ape that became a hunting ape that became a territorial ape has become a cultural ape" but he'd be a happier, more assured animal if he'd acknowledge his evolutionary inheritance. His intense sexual activity is not a decadent outgrowth of civilization but essential to maintaining the pair-bond of a species whose slow-growing (to a bigger brain) infants made long parental demands; he is the sexiest animal in order to raise the smartest children. Similarly, other behavior patterns—environment exploring, fighting, feeding, grooming—are examined in their relation to the reactions of monkeys and apes and for their significant, sometimes curious, adaptations. Some ramifications: a policeman is unlikely to give you a ticket if you are abjectly submissive (being put into a position of immediate dominance disarms his aggressiveness, as it doeskin all animals); most minor ailments, infrequent among the secure, are calls for friendly sympathy and care (substituting for the social grooming of the other primates). There's an implied dialogue with Ardrey and Lorenz here (and a lot of Kinsey specifics) but concerns are more inclusive, the prognosis more optimistic. It has the attraction of the outrageous made reasonable (and readable)—we can't beat our basic biological urges but we can make the best of them. There is every expectation that it will do very well. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 1, 1962

Anyone want to know the aesthetic relationship between modern man and beast? Then read Desmond Morris' The Biology of an admittedly fragmentary, but often fascinating, sometimes fanciful investigation into the daub and drip world of ape and chimp, so charmingly close to the best of abstract art. Congo, the Pollock of the London Zoo, whose infra human picture making becomes Dr. Morris' star specimen, went the gamut of calligraphic growth from scribble types to diagram stage, even completing circles, using both right and left hand, primitive and intermediate grip, showing a marked preference for fan pattern motifs, whether twisted, stippled, spotted or, on occasion, just a central blob. The history covers the first animal-and-casel studies (Moscow 1913) to the latest (London ); Alexander, the likes the horizontal spurt, Baltimore Betsy delights in the finger fling, Russia's Peter caters to corner marking. Some pets have even reached the phase, the latest event in Parisian galleries; many, fulfilling the Bohemian law, prefer feeding the palette to the palate. Sans a smile, Dr. Morris sums up the rise and fall of representational art (for 1900 read 16 years old, for 1960 read 2) and lays down the creator's six simple principles, whether he be Leonardo or Congo. Illustrations, color plates, comparative statistics, physiological and psychological factors accent the . What will Mathieu, Dubuffet, and Rothko do now? Read full book review >

How much do horses sleep? How fast can horses run? How many horse breeds are there? Now Morris answers these and 40 other equine questions with the same sort of good-natured mini-essays that made Dogwatching and Catwatching (both 1987) so enjoyable. He is again thankfully short on sentimentality ("if the dog is man's best friend, then the horse could well be described as man's best slave") and comes up with some startling tidbits: with its huge eyes—bigger than an elephant's or a whale's—and expert night vision, "the horse is a nocturnal animal!"; horsedom's Methuselah was Old Billy, who died in 1722 at age 62 and was still "working" at age 59. (Incidentally, horses sleep only three hours per every 24; the speed record for quarterhorses is 43 mph; and there are 207 breeds of horses.) A must-read for horse fans. Read full book review >