A PRIMATE’S MEMOIR by Robert M. Sapolsky
Kirkus Star



From the author of The Trouble with Testosterone (1997) and Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers (1993), a witty concoction blending field biology, history, hilarious cross-cultural mishaps, and hair-raising adventure.

Sapolsky (Neurology and Biological Sciences/Stanford Univ.), the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant in 1987, has spent years studying the social behavior, emotional life, and stress-related diseases of baboons in Kenya. The title of his memoir’s first section, “The Adolescent Years: When I First Joined the Troop,” indicates just how closely attached to his subjects he became. What Jane Goodall did for chimpanzees, Birute Galdikas for orangutans, and Diane Fossey for gorillas, Sapolsky does in spades for baboons. Never mawkish, he reports their antics and their relationships with a remarkably perceptive eye. That same keen eye is turned from time to time on himself; his blood-and-milk-drinking Masai neighbors; a field biologist referred to only as Laurence of the Hyenas; Samwelly, the extravagantly inventive Kenyan whom Sapolsky hires to manage his camp; and assorted individuals he meets on his hitchhiking sorties around Africa. Among the most alarming of these is the malevolent Pius, a rough bush Kenyan truck driver who for days holds the author captive while forcing endless Coca Colas on him. Sapolsky writes of all this and more in an entertaining style that scintillates and charms, making it nigh impossible not to become an ally of both him and his sometimes all-too-human-seeming baboons. While not an autobiography per se, it spans the years from his first enthusiastic trip to Kenya when he was 21 to his most recent one, a much sadder affair—and for the baboons a tragic one.

A wild and wondrous account, filled with passages so funny or so brilliant that the reader wants to grab someone by the arm and demand, “Hey, you just gotta listen to this.”

Pub Date: March 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-7432-0247-3
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2001


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