Though he was studying theories of communication, FouLs (Psychology/Central Washington Univ.) learned a whole lot more than...


NEXT OF KIN: What Chimpanzees Have Taught Me About Who We Are

Though he was studying theories of communication, FouLs (Psychology/Central Washington Univ.) learned a whole lot more than that from the chimps in his American Sign Language program, and he tells their story here with great insight and affection. Thirty years ago, Fouts started teaching chimps American Sign Language (ASL), in hopes of being able to speak directly with them. He was under no illusion that he was teaching chimps the art of communication: They had been communicating in the wild for millennia, with gestures, the dialects of hand movement, facial expressions, and body language. Nonetheless, Fouts was astounded by the speed at which his charges took to ASL and their talents for wordplay and grammar. His research allowed him to put in perspective theories of animal intelligence and language acquisition, from Descartes and Darwin to Skinner and Chomsky, and to formulate his own notions of the remarkable similarity between chimp and human biology and intelligence, of grammar as a complex form of rule-following behavior, and how ASL helped him bridge the sundered audiovisual links experienced by autistics. But clearly the most important thing Fouts feels he learned is that these creatures don't belong in cages, and no matter how much compassion and respect are given the research subjects, morally and ethically, keeping them in captivity is wrong. To drive that point home, he details the barbaric conditions in which lab animals are kept, the excruciating tests they are put through, in powerfully soulful language. And though he can't be counted among the draconians, Fouts recognizes his own culpability in the diminished lives of his charges. A compelling book. Fouts (aided by wildlife writer Mills) has a way of making us all feel responsibility for the fate of these chimps and for the hellacious acts against them. Jane Goodall has written the book's introduction.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1997


Page Count: 432

Publisher: Morrow

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1997

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