ANIMAL DAYS by Desmond Morris


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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.
Pub Date: July 29th, 1980
ISBN: 0553148966
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1980


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