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Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot…

Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Uncovered a Hidden World of Animal… (2008)

by Irene M. Pepperberg

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African Grey learning language. Quick read, very interesting, quite funny at times. ( )
  njcur | Feb 13, 2014 |
I would have enjoyed a bit more about the science behind Dr. Pepperberg's experiments with Alex the parrot. Not that this aspect was left out of this book, but there is more of the memoir than the scientific exploration in the book, as was intended, I'm sure. In any event, the fact that I had hoped for more on that score did not keep me from enjoying the story of Irene Pepperberg's investigations into animal intelligence and her work and relationship with the inimitable Alex. There are numerous excellent anecdotes about Alex's feats learning to say and understand many words and concepts, plus many heartwarming stories about the unintended but very real bond Dr. Pepperberg forged with him in the decades they worked together. ( )
  phredfrancis | Feb 8, 2014 |
4.5 stars

Irene Pepperberg was educated as a chemist, but she decided to study parrots and how they are able to communicate with people. She fought for a lab and a place to do her research (with a lot of obstacles put in her way). She found Alex, an African Gray Parrot, to train and study. She tried to keep a scientific distance from Alex, but she fell in love with him, anyway. He died early (at age 31), and he had so much potential to learn so much more and to prove to the scientists who’d come before, who didn’t believe that an animal could think, that they might be wrong.

This was really, really good. I laughed and cried, right from the start of the book. The only thing I was disappointed in was at the end – I don’t think she ever said how he died, and I was wondering about the other parrots that she had brought in to train. Whatever happened to them? I assume she continued her work with them, as well, but she never did say. Overall, though, well worth the read, certainly for anyone who likes animals of any kind. ( )
  LibraryCin | Jan 3, 2014 |
Alex is a fascinating bird. However, the book was not as interesting as it could have been. I really wanted to know more about the bird and the experiments and less about the author. Also the book didn't feel authentic. It felt as though she was trying not to offend anyone she wrote about in the book. Also she was trying to show that she was not too close to Alex to do good scientific research. But all of that made for a boring book. ( )
  KamGeb | Sep 2, 2013 |
I never would have thought that a book about a bird could make me cry, but Alex & Me succeeded. I'm not much of a bird person. I've never had a bird for a pet, and when I've visited bird owners in the past the incessant chirping of their pets was less than endearing. After reading this heartwarming (and informative) book however, I found myself dreaming about life with an African Grey parrot.

A big part of this book centered on the linguistic and cognitive abilities of Alex, and as someone who studied linguistics in college that really appealed to me. The text is written for the layperson though and is easy to understand, telling Irene Pepperberg's story as well as Alex's.

In college I remember spending a very short amount of time learning about animal communication (probably a week or two out of my entire college education). We learned about chimpanzees using sign language, the intelligence of dolphins, and how birds communicate using birdsong. I have just a vague recollection of reading about Alex the parrot.

Part of what I thought was so fascinating about Alex was not just his cognitive and speech abilities (which were amazing), but how prejudiced the scientific community was against the idea of birds being intelligent enough to communicate with meaning. By that I mean that Alex was speaking words and knew what he was saying, not just mimicking speech.

I did cry when I read the passage where Alex died. I actually paused in my reading in order to soak in that section, went to check my email and found out that Michael Jackson died. I think I was more emotional about the news that Michael Jackson died than I would have been otherwise, because I was already misty-eyed from reading about Alex's passing.

Alex and Me is an enchanting and informative read. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has any interest in learning more about the capacity of animals to communicate with humans.

Oh, and I looked up how long African Grey parrots live - about 60 years. I guess that's not a pet you want to adopt without putting a lot of thought into it. ( )
  akreese | May 16, 2013 |
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Book description
On September 6, 2007, an African Grey parrot named Alex died prematurely at age thirty-one. What would normally be a quiet, very private event was, in Alex's case, headline news. Over the thirty years they had worked together, Alex and Irene had become famous--two pioneers who opened an unprecedented windo into the hidden yet vast world of animal minds. Alex's brain was the size of a shelled walnut, and when Irene and Alex first met, bird were not believed to possess any potential for language, consciousness, or anything remotely comparable to human intelligence. Yet over the years, Alex proved many things. He could add. He could sound out words. He understood concepts like bigger, smaller, more, fewer, and none. He was capable of thought and intention. Together, Alex and Irene uncovered a startling reality. We live in a world populated by thinking, conscious creatures. Yet there was a side to their relationship that never made the papers. They were emotionally connected to one another. Alex and Irene stayed together through thick and thin--despite sneers from experts, extraordinary financial sacrifices, and a nomadic existence from one university to another. The sotry of their thirty-year adventure is equally a landmark of scientific achievement and of an unforgettable human-animal bond. [adapted from book jacket]
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This story of Alex, a famous African Grey parrot, documents his thirty-year relationship with his trainer and the ways in which his life has changed scientific understanding about language and thought.

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