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A Primate's Memoir: A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons

by Robert M. Sapolsky

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,0823619,034 (4.21)20
I had never planned to become a savanna baboon when I grew up; instead, I had always assumed I would become a mountain gorilla,' writes Robert Sapolsky in this witty and riveting chronicle of a scientist's coming-of-age in remote Africa. An exhilarating account of Sapolsky's twenty-one-year study of a troop of rambunctious baboons in Kenya, A Primate's Memoir interweaves serious scientific observations with wry commentary about the challenges and pleasures of living in the wilds of the Serengeti-for man and beast alike. Over two decades, Sapolsky survives culinary atrocities, gunpoint encounters, and a surreal kidnapping, while witnessing the encroachment of the tourist mentality on the farthest vestiges of unspoiled Africa. As he conducts unprecedented physiological research on wild primates, he becomes evermore enamored of his subjects-unique and compelling characters in their own right-and he returns to them summer after summer, until tragedy finally prevents him. By turns hilarious and poignant, A Primate's Memoir is a magnum opus from one of our foremost science writers.… (more)
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English (35)  Catalan (1)  All languages (36)
Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
Such a vast repertoire of unique experience to draw from. Initially, the layout of the story seems a bit jittery, but I was won over at the end. Sapolsky's humour is oh, so dry, but the stories don't need any help; they are naturally funny. I liked how everything came into perspective for him about "his" baboons by the book's end. I was already there waiting for him. ( )
  BBrookes | Dec 8, 2023 |
3.5 Well I picked a book with memoir in the title, so I guess I can't be upset it was so much of a memoir, or complain that there wasn't enough about the baboons. It was, however, very funny and human and full of interesting stories. ( )
  Kiramke | Jun 27, 2023 |
The title may be "A Primate's Memoir", but let's just put it out there that the primate in question is Robert Spolsky not a baboon. Had I known that, I probably wouldn't have read this particular book, but it was enjoyable. Sapolsky details his work with baboons, yes, but he spends at least as much, if not more, time describing anecdotes about his human interactions in Africa. My takeaway is there is a LOT of bribery and corruption in Africa. A lot may be an understatement.

Sapolsky is a pretty witty guy, and I did laugh aloud a few times as he relates what seem like the most preposterous tales with enough detail to reassure the reader that he is not exaggerating.

On the flip side, I really wanted even more about the baboon troop he followed. What he wrote about them was very interesting, and I could have a read an entire book strictly focused on them.

The final chapter of the book is the perfect denouement as Sapolsky discovers a diseased baboon and must try to unravel this threat to his beloved baboon troop. ( )
  Anita_Pomerantz | Mar 23, 2023 |
I don't understand why the subtitle is "A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons" when it's not about baboons. I thought it would be a book about baboons, but well over half of it is about the people he met in Africa, all of whom he either describes as children, rascals, or incompetent corrupt thugs. Whenever he is alone with an African he seems to think they will murder him? He talks fondly about "my village" (of humans) and "my troop" (of baboons) in a way I found quite unsettling. He described fretting for a friend/employee who I assume is an adult (?) "like a worried parent".


I just wanted a book about baboons. Years later, he named his children after baboons, you think he'd like baboons enough to write a book about them. The world did not need another outsider's perspective on Kenyan people and their neighbours, dear lord.
  RebeccaBooks | Sep 16, 2021 |
Sidesplitting anecdotes plus insights about postcolonial Africa, large mammal researchers and vanishing habitat. Piercingly sad moments sneak up amidst the general jolly hurlyburly. I had to skip the last chapter about multiple deaths in the troop of baboons he studied. I loved what he wrote about Dian Fossey and the mountain gorillas. ( )
  Je9 | Aug 10, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sapolsky, Robert M.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chamberlain, MikeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Benjamin and Rachel
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I joined the baboon troop during my twenty-first year.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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I had never planned to become a savanna baboon when I grew up; instead, I had always assumed I would become a mountain gorilla,' writes Robert Sapolsky in this witty and riveting chronicle of a scientist's coming-of-age in remote Africa. An exhilarating account of Sapolsky's twenty-one-year study of a troop of rambunctious baboons in Kenya, A Primate's Memoir interweaves serious scientific observations with wry commentary about the challenges and pleasures of living in the wilds of the Serengeti-for man and beast alike. Over two decades, Sapolsky survives culinary atrocities, gunpoint encounters, and a surreal kidnapping, while witnessing the encroachment of the tourist mentality on the farthest vestiges of unspoiled Africa. As he conducts unprecedented physiological research on wild primates, he becomes evermore enamored of his subjects-unique and compelling characters in their own right-and he returns to them summer after summer, until tragedy finally prevents him. By turns hilarious and poignant, A Primate's Memoir is a magnum opus from one of our foremost science writers.

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