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Alex and Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence - and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process [NOOK Book]

Overview

On September 6, 2007, an African Grey parrot named Alex died prematurely at age thirty-one. His last words to his owner, Irene Pepperberg, were "You be good. I love you."

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 window into the hidden yet vast world of animal minds. Alex's brain was the size of a shelled walnut, ...

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Alex and Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence - and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process

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Overview

On September 6, 2007, an African Grey parrot named Alex died prematurely at age thirty-one. His last words to his owner, Irene Pepperberg, were "You be good. I love you."

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 window 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, birds 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.

The fame that resulted was extraordinary. Yet there was a side to their relationship that never made the papers. They were emotionally connected to one another. They shared a deep bond far beyond science. Alex missed Irene when she was away. He was jealous when she paid attention to other parrots, or even people. He liked to show her who was boss. He loved to dance. He sometimes became bored by the repetition of his tests, and played jokes on her. Sometimes they sniped at each other. Yet nearly every day, they each said, "I love you."

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 story of their thirty-year adventure is equally a landmark of scientific achievement and of an unforgettable human-animal bond.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
When Alex (1976-2007) died, he received a New York Times obituary; somewhat surprising, perhaps, considering his short lifespan, but even more surprising because Alex was an African Gray Parrot. For 30 years, animal psychologist Irene Pepperberg and Alex participated in one of the most unconventional and rewarding experiments in recent scientific history. As she taught and interacted daily with the store-bought pet, the Harvard and Brandeis professor and researcher challenged old assumptions about the limits of animal intelligence. In Alex & Me, Dr. Pepperberg describes how she and Alex made science history and, perhaps just as important, formed a deep bond.\
Publishers Weekly

Alex is the African gray parrot whose ability to master a vocabulary of more than 100 words and answer questions about the color, shape and number of objects-garnered wide notice during his life as well as obituaries in worldwide media after his death in September 2007. Pepperberg, who teaches animal cognition, has previously documented the results of her 30-year relationship with Alex in The Alex Studies. While this book inevitably covers some of the same ground, it is a moving tribute that beautifully evokes "the struggles, the initial triumphs, the setbacks, the unexpected and often stunning achievements" during a groundbreaking scientific endeavor spent "uncovering cognitive abilities in Alex that no one believed were possible, and challenging science's deepest assumptions about the origin of human cognitive abilities." Pepperberg deftly interweaves her own personal narrative-including her struggles to gain recognition for her research-with more intimate scenes of life with Alex than she was able to present in her earlier work, creating a story that scientists and laypeople can equally enjoy, if they can all keep from crying over Alex's untimely death. (Nov.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.\
Library Journal

Pepperberg, an animal cognitive scientist and associate research professor at Brandeis University, made history with her landmark research involving Alex, an African Grey parrot. Her detailed findings based on two decades of research were published in 1999 in The Alex Studies: Cognitive and Communicative Abilities of Grey Parrots. She was able to prove that African Greys possess cognitive and communicative abilities beyond what scientists had previously believed possible in animals other than humans. After her previous book, Pepperberg had almost another decade of interactions with Alex before his sudden death in September 2007. Her latest is more memoir than research work, focusing on her personal relationship with Alex while introducing lay readers to her extensive research on these remarkable birds. This is a nice companion to Pepperberg's more scientific writings. Recommended for academic and public libraries alike.
—Diana Hartle\

New York Times Book Review
“To anyone who’s dreamed of talking with the animals, Dr. Doolittle style, Alex was a revelation…This ornery reviewer tried to resist Alex’s charms on principle. But his achievements got the better of me…Alex was a celebrity, and this book will surely please his legions of fans.”
Booklist
“Highly readable...”
People
“A fascinating look at animal intelligence, Pepperberg’s tale is also a love story between beings who sometimes ‘squabble like an old married couple’ but whose bond broke only with Alex’s death at 31 in ‘07. Irresistible.”
Michiko Kakutani
“[Pepperberg’s] book movingly combines the scientific detail of a researcher...with the affectionate understanding that children instinctively possess....”
People Magazine
"A fascinating look at animal intelligence, Pepperberg’s tale is also a love story between beings who sometimes ‘squabble like an old married couple’ but whose bond broke only with Alex’s death at 31 in ‘07. Irresistible."
People
“A fascinating look at animal intelligence, Pepperberg’s tale is also a love story between beings who sometimes ‘squabble like an old married couple’ but whose bond broke only with Alex’s death at 31 in ‘07. Irresistible.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061980459
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/6/2009
  • Sold by: HARPERCOLLINS
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 154,194
  • File size: 727 KB

Meet the Author

Irene M. Pepperberg is an associate research professor at Brandeis University in Massachusetts and teaches animal cognition at Harvard University. She is head of the Alex Foundation and author of The Alex Studies: Cognitive and Communicative Abilities of Grey Parrots.

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Read an Excerpt

Alex & Me
How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence—and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process

Chapter One

My Wonderful Life Moment

How much impact could a one-pound ball of feathers have on the world? It took death for me to find out. And so I write the story of a particular bird's life, but it must begin at the end.

"Brainy Parrot Dies, Emotive to the End," ran a New York Times science section headline on September 11, 2007, the day after our press release announcing Alex's passing. "He knew his colors and shapes, he learned more than 100 English words," wrote Benedict Carey, "and with his own brand of one-liners he established himself in television shows, scientific reports and news articles as perhaps the world's most famous talking bird." Carey quoted my friend, colleague, and expert on dolphin and elephant communication, Diana Reiss: "The work revolutionized the way we think of bird brains. That used to be a pejorative, but now we look at those brains...at least Alex's...with some awe."

I found myself saying much the same thing in the newspaper, magazine, radio, and television interviews that overwhelmed me those first few days. People would ask, "What is all the fuss about, why was Alex so special?" and I'd say, "Because a bird with a brain the size of a shelled walnut could do the kinds of things that young children do. And that changed our perception of what we mean by 'bird brain.' It changed the way we think about animal thinking." That was the scientific truth I had known for many years, and now the idea was beginning to be accepted. But that didn't help me with thepersonal devastation.

Friends drove up from Washington, D.C., that first weekend to ensure I would not be alone, that I would eat and at least try to rest. I functioned each minute, hour, day on automatic pilot, doing whatever was necessary, deprived of sleep, torn by grief. And all amidst this very public outpouring. I was aware of it, of course, yet not fully aware, not then, anyway. I was cognizant of the gathering acclaim, inevitably so because of this endless stream of interviews. But it seemed to involve someone else, or at least had an unreality to it. The phone would ring and I'd click into "interview mode," responding as I had many other times when something Alex had done occasioned a media blitz, responding in a professional manner to the inquiries. This time, however, I'd fall apart until the next call.

Pictures of Alex appeared on CNN, in Time magazine, and in scores of other places across the country. National Public Radio ran a story on All Things Considered: "Alex the Parrot, an Apt Student, Passes Away." ATC's host, Melissa Block, said, "Alex shattered the notion that parrots are only capable of mimicking words." Diane Sawyer did a two-and-a-half-minute segment on ABC's Good Morning America...long for morning television, I'm told. "And now I have a kind of obituary," she began, "and I want to inform the next of kin about a death in the family. And, yes, the next of kin would be all of us." She said that Alex had been a kind of bird genius, "opening new vistas on what animals can do." She aired a video that showed Alex answering questions about the color, shape, and number of objects, and so on. The video landed on YouTube. The previous day, CBS anchor Katie Couric devoted more time to Alex's life and death than to major political stories.

Two days later, the prominent British newspaper, The Guardian, wrote, "America is in mourning. Alex, the African Grey parrot who was smarter than the average U.S. president, has died at the relatively tender age of 31." The story was spreading around the world, eventually to Australia. Robyn Williams, from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's radio Science Show, interviewed me, the second time we'd talked about Alex and his achievements. The first time, five years earlier, we'd talked about what other feats Alex might achieve in his future. Not this time.

I was told that the New York Times article had been the most e-mailed story of the day, even while General David Petraeus was testifying in Washington, D.C., on Iraq. A second New York Times article, on September 12, in its Editorial Notebook section, was titled simply "Alex the Parrot," by Verlyn Klinkenborg. This piece was a little more philosophical than most. "Thinking about animals...and especially thinking about whether animals can think...is like looking at the world through a two-way mirror," Klinkenborg began. "There, for example, on the other side of the mirror, is Alex. . . . But looking at Alex, who mastered a surprising vocabulary of words and concepts, the question is always how much of our reflection we see." The article ended: "The value [of the work] lies in our surprise, our renewed awareness of how little we allow ourselves to expect from the animals around us." A lovely piece, another acknowledgment. But it still felt unreal.

Even Jay Leno had a crack at Alex, on his late-night TV show. (A friend told me about it; I don't have a working TV.) "Sad news: a thirty-year-old parrot by the name of Alex, who had been used by researchers at Harvard University to study how parrots communicate, has died," said Leno. "I believe his last words were, 'Yes, I want a cracker!'?" He went on, "This parrot was very intelligent. They say he knew over one hundred words. They say his intelligence was somewhere between a dog and Miss Teen South Carolina." Sigh.

By now every major newspaper had covered Alex's death, noting his remarkable cognitive skills and our breakthrough work together. Even the venerable British science journal Nature wrote about it in "Farewell to a Famous Parrot." "Pepperberg has published dozens of scientific papers about Alex's verbal, mathematical and cognitive abilities," noted David Chandler, "and the two have appeared on a wide variety of television programmes and popular press stories." Chandler continued, "In the process, they have transformed people's understanding of the mental abilities of non-human animals." (A bittersweet irony here: when I started working with Alex three decades earlier, a paper I submitted to Nature was summarily dismissed without review...as was another I had submitted more recently.)

Alex & Me
How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence—and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process
. Copyright © by Irene Pepperberg. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 77 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(45)

4 Star

(15)

3 Star

(12)

2 Star

(4)

1 Star

(1)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 77 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 29, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Truly amazing! Cry, laugh, and learn why "Bird Brain" is really a compliment

    I loved this book. It is about a science experiment to prove the intelligence of an african gray parrot, but it is anything but a dry scientific report. It is told with so much love and feeling, it pulls you into the story and you get to know Alex very well. <BR/>I was most surprised by the concepts Alex picked up and learned on his own, without being taught: like to say no and mean it, or to apologize. I also loved how strict he was as an assistant teacher to subsequent other parrots, telling them to say words better. He could be quite bossy.<BR/>Overall, it is a warm, compelling and immensly interesting book.

    12 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2009

    amazing alex

    What an enjoyable read...Alex was quite a character, and left the world with a greater understanding of how animals think, and feel. Informative, entertaining, a good balance between scientific research and story telling,I was amazed with his antics and abilities ,and couldn't help falling in love with the little guy.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 23, 2008

    Alex & Me

    This is one of the best books I have read that made sense as to the parrot world! As a parrot owner myself, Dr. Pepperberg poured her heart out in the book and I hope she is able to go on with "The Alex Foundation" and her research with Wart and Griffin!<BR/><BR/>This books is heart felt and informative! Coodos to you Dr. P<BR/><BR/>Cynthia LaChester

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 9, 2008

    Alex & Me was absolutely excellent!

    I recommend giving this book to anyone who is associated with people who have birds, they will come away with a better understanding of the love we feel for our feathered children.<BR/>I truly enjoyed this book, we would not have considered an African Grey Parrot if it were not for Alex. Our baby died 5mos ago at 9yrs old, it was clearly my own feelings Irene Pepperberg described, once I was able to complete the first chapter, through my tears, it was a wonderful book telling of her tribulations and the excitement of her learning that birds are more aware than she ever knew!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2011

    Can't get any better than this!

    The title says it all. It is the biography of both bird and person. All the work done by both to accomplish what many didin't believe could happen. Well written, easy reading, and yet, statistical sound, I could follow the research process that Pepperberg went through in her work with Alex. It will give you a new respect for "bird brains."

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2011

    Inspiring

    I originally purchased this book because I knew of Alex but did not know the story behind why Dr. Pepperberg started out on the journey to research birds. I did not expect such a beautiful heartfelt story.

    As a bird lover and owner, this book brought me much joy and sadness, and gave me a much better understanding of my relationship with my Quaker parrot.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 11, 2009

    a delightful read for parrot owners

    if you own parrots, you will really appreciate the training that Alex went through and the patience of his trainer.
    it is a true story, not very lengthy and supports the "theory" that some parrots do realize what they say, not just mimick their handlers. granted, Alex was one parrot in a very few who achieved such a level of intelligence. after you read the book, you will wish you had met him.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2009

    Excellent!

    Outstanding telling of Dr. Pepperberg's research with Alex and African Grays in general. If anyone has doubts about the intelligence of animals, this will definitely eliminate them.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 6, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Sweet and touching

    The book is a great quick read. It was very touching, had it's scientific elements in discussing the research this lil guy revolutionized. It's warm, it's funny, and unfortunately quite sad as well. The story of how this lil guy comes into this scientist's life and basically changes the way scientists previously thought of these creatures. I know they do not just mimic or repeat words. Humans want to think they are one of the few that are capable of emotion, intelligence, communication, etc., but we have to realise that creatures of all sizes have emotions, intelligence and communicate in their own way. I have known several people that own African Grey Parrots and these birds demonstrate time and time again that they are quite capable of understanding questions and feelings, hence being able to respond to questions or commands accurately. I recommend this book to anyone who loves animals and science :)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 17, 2009

    Alex & Me is a journey into the capacity of animals to think, reason and emote.

    For those that are skeptical about the ability of animals to think, reason, act on their thinking and reasoning and their ability to have emotions, Alex & Me should open your minds. Alex was an African Gray parrot who transformed the way scientists look at the minds of animals.<BR/><BR/>This story is abundant with anecdotes of Alex's life and achievements, and chronicles the relationship between him and Dr. Irene Pepperberg. For the animal lover, you are sure to have your beliefs in animal cognition bolstered. For those that aren't animal lovers, you are sure to gain a new respect for animals. For everyone, this book will bring laughs and a tear to the eye.<BR/><BR/>All in all, the book is an easy and good read. I found myself wanting to know more about Alex's achievments than the bookk provided, and I was a little disappointed in the amount of time Pepperberg spent on her personal life. But I learned a lot about the animal mind and will never again use the term "bird brain" in a derogatory manner.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2008

    Insightful and inspirational!

    I have never been so emotionally affected by a book as I have with this one! A truly inspirational story about the famous African Grey parrot, Alex, and the scientist who studied him. "Bird brain" will have a whole new meaning after reading this book and learning about avian intelligence. This story explains the scientific studies involving African Grey parrots and the emotional and intellectual relationships among humans and other species. It shows how the tenacity, passion, and dedication of Dr. Pepperburg, led to the discovery of the intelligence of birds. It is a truly inspirational story and the best animal-related book that I have ever read! R.I.P. Alex.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2013

    Excellent and heartwarming

    A must-read for scientists and bird lovers alike!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2013

    Ggoo Good

    I did not like the way it told u it died

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2012

    I wanna get this but...

    Want to read a sample on my simple touch nook ereader but no sign for one. Is this just me or do any of you see this problem? *confoozeled* :-( !!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2012

    Deserves 10 stars

    Great story and i learnda lot. It almost made me cry

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  • Posted February 4, 2012

    Very Informative

    This book was reccommended by a friend becasue I was wanting to read bird books. I learned a lot about African Greys and their capabilities. It was very moving and interesting. It would be a great read for people that still think that animals cant or dont think or feel. Which we all know is not true. Her struggle to prove that though is one worth praising!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2011

    Good Great book!!!

    I dont know what to say!!!!!!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 26, 2011

    One of my all-time favorites!

    I read this book a at least a couple years ago and plan to reread soon. With so many books I think that is the best compliment!

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  • Posted April 23, 2011

    Loved This!,

    Maybe you have to like and appreciate the gifts animals bring to our lives, but I found this book so enjoyable. Alex is a platinum plated star and I could see so well why Dr. Pepperberg loved him so much. Bonus...when you finish it, you can watch some actual videos of Dr. Pepperberg and Alex working together. Just search Alex parrot.

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  • Posted January 25, 2010

    Alex and Me Hits a Grand Slam in Describing the Relationship and Interconnectedness of All Life

    Alex and Me is a poignant recounting of the author's relationship with Alex, a parrot, with whom she worked, studied, learned and loved for thirty years. The Most important lesson for me is
    from pages 223 and 4

    Referring to reductionism (whatever that is), the Author says "It falls short because it fails to recognize the connectedness, the unity, that is the deep essence of nature in all realms.There is a oneness in nature in the essence of interdependence.But I strongly believe in the oneness and beauty of the world that Alex taught Deb and me. My philosophy of life is based on an appreciation of the holistic nature of the world.My religion is therefore much akin to the Native American lore of being and belonging, of equality and responsibility for nature.""

    The unity of all life is a message that all humnaity needs to hear and listen to.

    A. Eric Rosen

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