THINKING GORILLAS: Testing and Teaching the Greatest Ape by Bettyann Kevles

THINKING GORILLAS: Testing and Teaching the Greatest Ape

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The author of Watching the Great Apes (1976) here focuses on gorilla watchers--or, more accurately, on gorilla watchers, catchers, testers, and teachers--and if the profiles don't support her remarkable conclusion that ""although gorillas clearly are not people, they are not actually animals either,"" they make interesting reading. Kevles makes a few other ridiculous statements, and in fact whenever she feels called upon to comment on the work or findings she ends up sounding vacuous--as in her pronouncements on whether we should ""blame"" 19th-century scientist-adventurer Paul du Chaillu for sharing the callousness and misconceptions of his time. But her choice of studies can't be faulted and she describes them well enough. Switching back and forth in time, she reports on Harcourt and Stewart, a British-American couple studying gorilla social bonds in the wild; Riopelle, who studied the dominance relationship between albino Snowflake and a normal companion at the Barcelona zoo; Yerkes' intelligence testing of Miss Congo, whom he always suspected of more craft than she revealed; Margaret Redshaw's comparisons, based on Piaget's stages, of cognitive development in two gorilla and two human babies (again, Kevles' commentary is lame); various zoo mothers who illustrate captive gorillas' distressing tendency to reject and destroy their babies; and Penny Patterson's work in California with Koko, who has learned American Sign Language and inspired the intriguing opinion of ""some people"" that ""language has turned her into a thinking being who deserves civil rights and protection from arbitrary imprisonment, by which they mean a zoo."" Researchers and subjects are well worth knowing--and if Kevles doesn't convince you that gorillas think, the cover photo might.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Dutton