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

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

by Irene M. Pepperberg

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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 univer­sityto 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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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061672477
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/28/2008
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About 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.

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.

What People are Saying About This

Michiko Kakutani

“[Pepperberg’s] book movingly combines the scientific detail of a researcher...with the affectionate understanding that children instinctively possess....”

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Alex and Me 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 103 reviews.
Astrid_T More than 1 year ago
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.
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.
Overall, it is a warm, compelling and immensly interesting book.
lachas More than 1 year ago
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!

This books is heart felt and informative! Coodos to you Dr. P

Cynthia LaChester
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
tlchryst More than 1 year ago
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.
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
LaMargarita More than 1 year ago
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 :)
cfboyd1961 More than 1 year ago
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.

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.

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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The+science+of+Alex+%26+Me+was+so+clear+%26+understandable.++But+the+author%27s+ability+to+convey+the+emotional+invest-+ment+%26+attachment+between+she+%26+Alex+%26+amoung+all+along+the+way+was+simply+%22just+there%22.++It+was+assumed+%26+simply+flowed.++I+left+knowing+%26+loving+both.%0AAnn+J.+Hulyo%2C++NJ
Alliebadger on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a very interesting story. I learned about Alex the parrot in a class of mine and instantly wanted to know more. This provides a great background into what Alex (and therefore many other creatures) can be capable of. If you're looking for more information about animal communication and thought processes, this is a great resource. Do be wary if you're looking for a good read, though--to put it bluntly, scientist ain't no writer. It drags on at points (if the title gives you any indication), waxes poetic quite a lot at the end, and so on. But don't let that stop you if you're interested in the subject.
bridget3420 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Alex, an African Grey parrot, died at the ripe old age of 31. His brain may be small but he was an extremely intelligent creature. Irene loved her best friend Alex and was devastated when he passed away. This book shows that you don't have to be human to steal a humans heart.I adore my dogs and I have a special connection with them that can never be broken. I know about the love Irene felt for Alex and she told her story beautifully.
whitreidtan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Alex the African Grey parrot was justifiably famous in the scientific community. And when he died, unexpectedly, at a young age for a parrot, his obituary ran in the biggest newspapers and magazines of our time, highlighting his importance in our understanding of language formation and acquisition and in just far how our previous assumptions about human language were incorrect.Starting with Alex's death and the numbness Pepperberg, the scientist who worked with Alex for more than 30 years, felt afterwards, the narrative then shifts backwards in time to Pepperberg's childhood love of birds, her marriage, and education. And then Alex enters the story. A young bird whom Pepperberg chooses randomly to be the subject of her biological language studies. She makes the conscious decision not to bond too closely with Alex in order to maintain a needed distance in training and to ensure that her scientific results were unquestionable.This memoir of Alex, his accomplishments, and the training he underwent to learn to speak and comprehend as well as he did is very definitely written for the lay reader. Pepperberg doesn't go into great depth about the training or the conclusions as a result of Alex's abilities but she does discuss them superficially. Instead she describes a parrot who is a major personality in his own right, transcribing bits of her notes detailing when Alex was intractable or uncommunicative or teasing. She details his accomplishments and the various labs in which he lived.What she doesn't capture well though, is the great love that she must have felt for this smart, frustrating, amazing, challenging creature. And that is too bad, whether it is in an effort to maintain her original stance that she wasn't too attached to Alex so that her results remain scientifically significant or because she just couldn't open up about the emotional devastation she felt, because more transparency about that bond would have made this a stronger book. As it stands, it was an interesting and quick read even if, as an animal lover, I was already convinced that our critters have a lot more intelligence than we give them credit for. I do remember hearing about Alex after his death and I am glad that I had the chance to read this book.Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours for sending me a review copy of this book.
EowynA on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Recommended. This is the story of Alex, the Grey Parrot, who demonstrated a clear understanding of concepts previously successfully tested only in apes and dolphins. The book itself is fairly short, and presented in double-spaced text, so it is a very fast read. The book talks of the author's journey through the scientific/educational establishment with a research topic involving communication with a bird. And she succeeded - contrary to expectations. Alex the parrot has become famous, and her research famous as well. The book is written for a lay audience, with emphasis on anecdotes rather than the scientific discoveries. But those scientific discoveries are also discussed, in layman's terms. There are pointers to the full papers, as well. Enjoyable by anyone interested in linguistics, animal communication, and memoirs.
Jenners26 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Book OverviewThe subtitle for this book is "How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence¿and Formed A Deep Bond in the Process." I think this sums it up pretty well as this book is many things¿a memoir of Irene Pepperberg and her work with Alex, an exploration of animal intelligence, and a love story between Alex and Irene.Irene and Alex worked together for 30 years, and, in the process, shattered ideas about what level of communication animals could achieve. Alex was an African Grey parrot and had a brain the size of a shelled walnut. Yet his work with Irene proved he was capable of complex intellectual feats¿such as adding, sounding out words and understanding concepts such as bigger, smaller, more, fewer and none. He demonstrated that birds have a capacity for language that is deeper than simple imitation. He also exhibited a sense of humor, playfulness and seemed capable of emotions. Consider his last words to Irene: "You be good. I love you."The book begins with some background on Irene Pepperberg's formative years¿her lonely childhood, her early experiences with pet birds, her scientific background and her eventual decision to pursue human-animal communication as her life's work. Her work with Alex was ground-breaking and often occurred at great personal expense to both Irene and Alex¿both financially and emotionally. For much of her career, Irene had to hustle to find lab space, funding and staff support. Multiple moves to different academic environments characterized her early career until her research began getting recognition and financial support. In fact, much of her research happened only because of Irene's own tireless efforts to raise funds for The Alex Foundation, which supported her work when funding and academic positions were scarce.The bulk of the book documents Irene's work with Alex¿descriptions of his training, first-hand glimpses at his multiple breakthroughs, understandable explanations of linguistics and why what Alex was doing was so remarkable. Throughout her research with Alex, Irene always applied scientific methods and approaches. Conscious of the naysayers who criticized the field of human-animal communication, Irene was careful to avoid being too "close" to Alex¿rigorously documenting their training and forcing Alex to repeat tasks again and again to ensure her research was scientifically sound.Yet when Alex died prematurely at the age of 31, Irene succumbed to grief and allowed herself to feel¿perhaps for the first time¿the full measure of love she had for Alex. With his death, she finally allowed herself to discard the clinical distance she always attempted to maintain with Alex and feel the full wave of her love, respect and grief for him. With this book, Irene is finally able to present the full story of her work with Alex¿not just the scientific aspects but the emotional bonds they shared and developed over their long relationship.My ThoughtsI first came across the story of Alex when I read his obituary in The Economist Book of Obituaries. Alex was the only non-human in the book (and even made the cover). I was intrigued by his obituary, which talked glowingly of Irene's work with Alex. I then saw reviews of this book on several book blogs and knew I had to read it.This book was wonderful on so many levels. The writing is clear-eyed and accessible, and the descriptions of the training and breakthroughs are down-to-earth and easily understandable. Yet Irene also manages to provide a loving and affectionate look at Alex himself, who the reader comes to know and love during the course of the book. Irene does a brilliant job of explaining just enough so that non-scientific readers understand what was so remarkable about their research together but balances it out with anecdotal stories that make Alex's personality come alive.Although the book sometimes covers Irene's personal life, she keeps the focus firmly on her work with Alex. In the course of the book, Ire
zibilee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Book CoverIn this touching and eye-opening memoir, Irene Pepperberg reflects on the three decades she spent both teaching and bonding with the amazing African Grey Parrot, Alex. Pepperberg, a life-long bird lover, describes Alex's life in great detail, from the nervous first days of Alex's homecoming to the gradual instruction into the cognitive tasks that eventually become his hallmark. Alex is a bird like no other and shows that for a bird with a brain the size of a shelled walnut, being a bird brain is not such a bad thing. In his amazing ability to label objects, his ability to add and his stunning demonstration of expressing the concept of zero, he begins to show the world at large that he is indeed an exceptional animal. This in turn begins to change the way that scientists and the average population view the intelligence and capability of animals in general. Along the way, Alex becomes a cultural icon and a much loved celebrity. But Alex's story is not only filled with his remarkable accomplishments, it is also full of his particular brand of humor and the displays of independence that truly made Alex one of a kind. Both riotously funny and blindingly sad, Alex & Me takes a peek into the life of a truly exceptional bird and the woman who shared and celebrated his life.I love animal books, so I was really delighted to get a chance to read Alex & Me. I had previously seen Alex and Irene on television and thought that he was a simply amazing bird. But until reading the book, I had no idea just how amazing he was. From the very beginning of the book, the stage was set for Alex to come along and wow me, which he did. But the parts of the book I really enjoyed the most were the parts where Alex shot from the hip and became a comic genius. Like the time he told a very upset Irene to "Calm down," or when, failing to receive a treat after competing a task successfully, he phonetically spells out the name of the treat that he wants. Or the times when he admonishes another bird in the lab to speak more clearly. There were lots of really great moments like that in the book, and as I read it became harder and harder for me to see Alex as just a trained animal and easier for me to see him as a very intelligent and sentient creature of nature.A lot of the page space in this book was given to describing the experiments that Pepperburg was working on with Alex. I thought this was interesting because it really highlighted the methodology and inventiveness of what Alex was being taught and compared it to the tests that had previously been run by other animal behaviorists. I was also surprised to discover that Alex always surpassed what was expected of him and that he sometimes taught himself new concepts. Though Pepperberg worked with several other birds, and speaks about them in this book, it is clear that Alex was her greatest success and the star of the show.The book also explores some of the problems that Pepperburg had securing funding and lab space for her work with Alex, and her frequent moves across country in her attempts to find the right place for the continuation of her work. I was particularly fond of her descriptions of her stint at The Lab at MIT, a sort of geeky technological warehouse that hosted a smorgasbord of studies and a host of inventive departments.Though most of the book was very informative and funny, the first sections deal with Pepperburg's tremendous grief at Alex's unexpected death, which occurred on September 6, 2007, and the huge public outpouring that the announcement of Alex's passing received. I think that it was very clever to start the book off this way, because it immediately drew me into Alex's story and really humanized him for me. It was also astonishing to see how much support flooded in for Pepperberg. Some people even included testimonials about how seeing Alex perform his wonderful feats had changed their lives in some way.One thing that was very interesting was the fact that early in
Citizenjoyce on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Irene Pepperberg is a scientist so she has two strikes against her. She works in a profession that has limited respect for women and she does research on animal intelligence when much of her fellow scientists not to mention humans in general remain stuck in the old idea that animals act purely on instinct and are rather like warm blooded robots rather than sentient, intelligent creatures. Pepperberg is ambitious, intelligent, articulate and rather emotionally cold. Alex, the bird in her studies is quirky, intelligent, loving and fun. They made a great pair and a fascinating book.
reannon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In Sept. 2007, Alex, a 31 year- gray African parrot, the most famous parrot in the world, died, emotionally devastating the women who had had him for 30 years and was the cause of his fame. Irene Pepperberg grew up with birds all her life, then got her Ph.D. in theoretical chemistry. Yet the work didn't satisfy her, and she turned to studying cognition and language acquisition in the African gray parrot. African grays were chosen because their pronunciation is better than other birds capable of speech.Pepperberg began trauning Alex to recognize shapes, colors, and numbers. His capabilities for doing so were astounding. During the 30 years of training, he on his own picked up the abstract concept of none, was able to recognize what was same and what was different, and more. With other scientists studying animal cognition, this has caused a revolution, showing that animals are capable of thought, and that a creature with a brain the size of a shelled walnut was capable of abstract concepts.Pepperburg summed up her scientific studies in her previous book, The Alex Studies. This book in more personal, about her life and how it led her to this work, about her deep bond with Alex, the depth of which even she was not aware of until his loss, and about the studies she did with Alex. His personality emerges as the alpha bird, bossy, playful, and loving. His last words to her were "You be good. I love you. You'll be in tomorrow"?There are great moments of humor. In one, Alex was at the vets and near the desk of the accountant. He asked the accountant, "want a nut?" "No". "Want corn" "No, Alex, thank you"... this went on a while. Finally, Alex petulantly asked, "Well, what DO you want?". The accountant laughed and started paying attention to Alex, which is what he wanted.The book begins with a discussion of what Pepperberg calls her "It's a Wonderful Life" moment. After Alex's death, emails and letters poured in from people who let her know just how much she and Alex had meant in their lives... from scientists, animal lovers, and others.The book is fairly short, written for a lay person, and written well. Marvelous!
tjsjohanna on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There was so much interesting information about what Alex learned to do and what Dr. Pepperberg discovered about parrot intelligence and potential. Alex sounds like he was quite a character. Along the way there are snippets of Dr. Pepperberg's professional life (and a tiny bit of personal life) and curious things about animal-human communication in general. After reading this book, I found myself looking for more information on the internet - always a sign that the book succeeded in whetting my appetite for more.
bobbieharv on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'd been looking forward to this book but found it quite disappointing. The workmanlike prose grew tiring after a while; there were too many descriptions of the experiments and the author's various career moves and labs, at the expense of her thoughts on what these birds' intelligence consists of. And it was incomplete as well - I wanted to know what he died of, and how did he move from single words to complete sentences like Will you be in tomorrow? If he indeed said that, that's a big departure from three green triangles.
juglicerr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is Irene Pepperberg's moving tribute to Alex, the African Grey parrot that she worked with for thirty years, and whose linguistic and mental abilities helped upset assumptions about animal cognition. Pepperberg does hit the high points of her research results, but readers who are really interested in the science of their work should read her 2000 book The Alex Studies. Pepperberg chronicles her life, and the book is also interesting for its look at the life of a researcher and professor: it can be quite stressful, having to constantly be searching for grants and a new job, when one doesn't get tenure. When one is doing edgy research that contradicts long-held assumptions, it only becomes harder. The human-bird interactions are both fascinating and amusing. Alex knew what he wanted, and intended to make sure that his humans gave it to him. He would refuse to work when bored, demand treats whether or not it was convenient, and generally attempt to make it clear that he was top bird, a position perhaps exceeding top person. It was certainly eye-opening for me: I had no real appreciation of the personality and intelligence of birds. I was left with a question: was Alex unusual, even unique? But I suppose that I should take my own advice and read the Alex Studies. Particularly interesting for people with an interest in human-animal interactions, birds, and linguistics.
suetu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
All my life, I have been fascinated with the idea of cross-species communication. As a young girl, I devoured books about the ape language experiments and John C. Lilly's work with dolphins. It is mildly surprising, therefore, that I missed out on the news about Alex the talking parrot. I don't recall hearing one thing about Pepperberg's work with him until I heard about this book. And knew that I had to read it. Alex was an African gray parrot who worked with scientist Irene Pepperberg for about thirty years. The book actually opens and ends with discussion of Alex's untimely death at the age of 31 in September of 2007. Now, I was not a fan of this animal, and am not particularly fond of birds, but I sobbed like an idiot over Pepperberg's reminiscences and the pages of notes and tributes that she received after his death. You'd have to be hard-hearted indeed to be immune. And apparently Alex touched many, many lives in his own unique way. None more so than the scientist who worked with him. Pepperberg seems to be a bit of an odd bird herself. She had a strange upbringing and was by her own account socially awkward. Awkward, but wicked smart. She excelled academically and despite her interest in biology devoted herself to the study of chemistry, eventually earning a Ph.D. in the field. Unfortunately, by the time she completed her matriculation she realized her true interests lay elsewhere. Late in the game she made the switch to animal behavior. Her unusual background was one of many professional hindrances Pepperberg describes through the course of this book. There were never enough research grants, or lab space, or open minds. Well, all good stories need conflict. And the real story here is about the work she and Alex achieved over the course of his life. African grays are among the best talkers in the avian world. Pepperberg's idea to embark on language studies with a bird was fairly revolutionary back in the 70's. The experiments Pepperberg describes and the results achieved are unquestionably fascinating. And far from being a mere test subject, Alex as described has a personality that's larger than life. Alex & Me is very interesting on multiple levels--as far as it goes. But ultimately, that was my biggest frustration with this book. Totaling a scant 240 pages, the book never really went into anything in depth. Partly it is a memoir of Pepperberg's life, but everything is discussed fairly superficially--her childhood, her relationship with her husband, their eventual divorce, professional rivalries, and various friendships. Names of people are plugged in throughout the book, but not one other human is fleshed out significantly. Likewise, the science was absolutely riveting, but too often for my liking Pepperberg glossed over the details of her work, perhaps fearing she'd bore lay readers. It left me craving much more information, but to it's credit, Alex & Me did reawaken my interest in this subject.
afyfe on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A great and amazing story, but just an ok book. I loved learning about Alex and all he had learned and what an amazing bird he was, but as far as a good book to sit down and read this isn't it. If you have even a little interest in this subject you'll find this very interesting, however if you don't really care about animal communication I doubt you'll enjoy this book. i felt like the time periods went by at varying speeds which was a little weird, and I felt it jumped from idea to idea. I think the book could've been organized better becasue sometimes things came out of nowhere. I love the story of Alex but I wish this book had been composed differently so others who may not have a strong interest will still enjoy this book!
bertilak on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book did not convince me that Alex's vocalizations originated with Alex, as opposed to being responses to subliminal cues from the experimenters (the Clever Hans phenomenon). To be fair, it would be necessary to read the scientific papers to determine that. See the recommendation I have made from this book to The Alex Studies. Pepperberg may be right.