Next of Kin: My Conversations with Chimpanzees

Next of Kin: My Conversations with Chimpanzees

by Roger Fouts


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780380728220
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/01/1998
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 345,803
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.00(d)
Lexile: 1160L (what's this?)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

A Tale of Two Chimps

The first chimpanzee I ever knew was Curious George, the mischievous hero of the classic children's book written by H. A. Rey.

It was the late 1940s and I was a small boy. One night my mother read me the story about "a good little monkey" who is captured in Africa by "the man with the yellow hat." The mysterious man pops Curious George into a sack, puts him on a ship, and takes him to a big city far away.

Curious George feels sad to leave home. But he is soon having fun. He tries hard to be good, but he can't seem to help getting into trouble. "The naughty little monkey" winds up in prison. His friend, the man with the yellow hat, rescues him and puts him in a zoo, where the story ends happily: "What a nice place for George to live!"

I loved this story. It never occurred to me to wonder why Curious George had to leave his home in the jungle, or who the man with the yellow hat was, or why he put George in a zoo. I was only a child.

As a child I also didn't realize that George was not a monkey at all but a chimpanzee. In fact, the book's author had once wanted to call his character Zozo the Chimp. Monkeys, for the most part, are small, narrow-bodied creatures who walk exclusively on all fours and sport tails for balancing. They are our distant evolutionary relatives. Curious George is clearly a chimpanzee: he has no tail, he sometimes runs on two legs, and his face is apelike, with its flat nose and protruding jaw. The chimpanzee is humankind's closest living relative and a member of the great ape family, which also includes gorillas and orangutans. An upright, two-hundred-poundadult chimpanzee resembles our earliest hominid ancestors more than any monkey.

Twenty years later, when I entered graduate school, I met another chimpanzee--a real chimpanzee. Her name was Washoe. She, too, had been abducted from the African junglein this case to become part of the American space program. She, too, was an irrepressible bundle of mischief

Washoe the real chimpanzee was more fantastical than Curious George in one important respect: she teamed how to talk with her hands using American Sign Language. Washoe was the first talking nonhuman, and in the wake of her accomplishment the ancient notion that humans are unique in their capacity for language was shaken forever.

But Washoe's use of language, white remarkable enough in itself, was only the beginning. Those first signs initiated a lifelong conversation between two friends who happened to belong to different species. From the moment I first met Washoe our destinies became as intertwined as two clasped hands. This book chronicles that shared lifetime of joy and hardship, scientific breakthroughs and controversies.

How does one account for the extraordinary connection between humans and chimpanzees? The answer has to do, oddly enough, with the reason children love Curious George. Unlike other storybook animals, Curious George, the chimpanzee, was not anthropomorphized. Chimpanzee behavior really is like human behavior-there is no need to embellish it. Children identify with George's wonder at the world around him, his innocent need to wreak havoc, his thoughtful way of solving problems that creates even bigger problems, his delight in breaking rules and undermining authority figures, and his shame at being caught and punished. In short, children see themselves in Curious George. Little do they know that the Curious George chatacter is no fantasy. The chimpanzee child really does think, feel, and rebel just like the human child.

Most children never discover this remarkable fact. They grow up and leave their storybook alter egos behind. I grew up and met Washoe.

Nothing was further from my own mind when I met Washoe in 1967 than humankind's relationship to other species. My future was mapped out in clear bold lines: I was going to pursue an exciting career in psychology working with children.

But then Washoe began talking. She took me on an amazing journey to a world where animals can think and feel-and can communicate those thoughts and feelings through language. Along the way I met dozens of other chimpanzees, each one as individualistic and expressive as Washoe herself. In the end I learned more about my own species than I ever dreamed possible: the nature of our intelligence, the origins of our language, the extent of our compassion, and the depths of our cruelty.

This is Washoe's story. I tell it to repay a lifelong debt to her and all the other chimpanzees who have touched my heart and opened my mind.

Curious George wasn't the only animal I knew as a young boy. I grew up on a farm where animals were a very important part of our family's life.

My closest animal companion was our dog, Brownie. Feisty and fiercely loyal, Brownie was a fixture of our household. She needed us and we needed her. In addition to guarding the house, she baby-sat the youngest kids in the fields during the harvest season.

One day I saw Brownie do something that shaped my view of animals forever. She saved my brother's life. It happened during cucumber-picking season when I was four years old. The whole family-my parents, six brothers, and one sister-had been out in the field all day working. Brownie had been watching over me and my nine-year-old brother, Ed, whenever he got tired of picking. By the time the sun was going down our Chevy flatbed was piled high with boxes of cucumbers. It was time to head home for dinner. Ed wanted to ride back on our older brother's bicycle, a big thing that he could barely control. My parents said OK and Ed headed out on the bike, chaperoned by Brownie. Twenty minutes later, the rest of us clambered onto the truck and left the field with my twenty-year-old brother, Bob, driving...

Next of Kin: Conversatio. Copyright © by Jean Various. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Next of Kin: My Conversations with Chimpanzees 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
puckrobin on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This book quite literally altered how I see humanity, how I see our responsibility as a race to each other and to all other creatures on the planet, and what hope I have for humanity and our world. Fouts' memoir of the time he spent studying, working with, observing and developing close personal friendships with a group of chimpanzees, beginning with the charming and indomitable Washoe, is thought provoking, laugh provoking, and at time achingly bitter. After reading this book, I felt as if I too knew Washoe. I wanted very, very much to meet this incredible person - and after reading this book, you will not doubt that Washoe or her family of displaced chimps are "personals" with distinct personalities - but before I could get there, Washoe passed away. When I logged onto the website to find out what Washoe and her cohorts were up to, and found out that she'd passed away, I was heartbroken - but I was also awed and inspired by the number of people who had read this book and also felt like they knew Washoe, who also felt as though 'knowing' Washoe through these pages enriched their lives. If you have ever loved a 'person' who was not human - a pet or a wild animal you were lucky enough to observe - you will revel in the hope and love that are the foundation of this story.Note: if you read the book and enjoy it, do check out Roger Fouts' page for the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute in Washington State and/or Friends of Washoe on the net.
mccin68 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Great book. I read the book before going on a 2 week volunteer trip to CHCI. Being able to watch the chimps, Washoe, Dar, Loulis and Tatu was amazing as staff helped interpret teh behaviors, signing and relationships of the chimps. The Fouts dedication as well as all the staff and interns at CHCI was demonstrated daily in the efforts they took to ensure the chimps needs were met and I could tell the chimps were family to them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is both enjoyable to read and very thought-provoking. It is multi-faceted, and I have read it twice and still come away with new understandings and insights. It is a vital book about the way we treat animals, and it clearly shows that they have minds and feelings and remarkable abilities. This book is about chimpanzees, language, research, compassion, comparative psychology, and most of all, about relationships -- the ones we can enter with animals if we can accept and respect their uniqueness. It's one of the best books I've read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is simply the best book available problematizing the ethical relationship between humans and other animals. I've used it to introduce hundreds of students to animal ethics.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dr. Fouts flunked me in Psychology 101. I was just a helpless Freshman. I know I should have gone to the Dean because he did not order enough of the text book he was teaching the course from. The University Store ran out of the original book, and substituted another one. I know that he knows what he is talking about, and reveals his experiences in this book. He is telling a real story. I am sure everything he says is true, in this, his latest work. I can also verify that he does in fact know Washoe, and did interact with her. He contributed to her having a new habitat, and was the one that caused her to be happy. Dr. Fouts is outstanding in his field and we should appreciate his taking time to create this 'novel' for us.