While researching her previous book, Suburban Safari, in which she explored the wildlife of her backyard, Holmes realized that no field description existed for Homo sapiens. She set out to create one, and the result is sometimes illuminating and often funny…The Well-Dressed Ape is aimed at educating a general audience about human biology, and for the most part it succeeds.
The Washington Post
Holmes (Suburban Safari) has been "uncomfortable with the notion that I was an animal apart, a sort of extraterrestrial on my own planet." Hence, she examines her "animal self," hoping to "clarify my identity in the natural world." As in her previous works, she uses the mundane to make larger points about life and the human condition. Beginning each chapter in a scientific mode, she then glides into more personal reflections ("I'm most aware of my brain when I encounter its limitations") and then compares humans with other animals: "My wad of wiring is so hot and bothered that it puts all the world's other brains to shame. Or does it?" Holmes thus continually underscores that humans are not nearly as different as many would have us believe. For example, a surprising number of species communicate fairly well, and prairie dogs actually have a sizable vocabulary. Holmes's optimistic conclusion is that we are the only species capable of thinking about the effect of our actions and acting against narrow self-interest, even if we don't always do so. Holmes makes the scientific personal in prose that is juicy and humorous, if occasionally a bit too cute. (Jan. 20)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Science reporter Holmes (Suburban Safari) here reports on a most interesting scientific specimen—herself—and the species to which she belongs, Homo sapiens, drawing on her own observations as well as on the latest scientific theories and research. Unfortunately, despite the author's wit and made-for-audio writing style, some of the information she provides is questionable, out-of-date, or just plain incorrect. Audie Award winner Joyce Bean (Kiss Me While I Sleep) reads in a manner that conveys her enjoyment of the subject matter. Owing to the occasional factual errors, this excellent audio production of an otherwise charming and well-written book is not suitable for library patrons. [Audio clip available through brillianceaudio.com.—Ed.]—I. Pour-El, Des Moines Area Community Coll., Boone, IA
Head on, Holmes confronts the notion that human beings are just another mammal, essentially creating a field guide for Homo sapiens. Eleven chapters focus on a physical description, the brain, perception, range, territoriality, diet, reproduction, behavior, communication, predators, and ecosystem impacts. Each one begins with a clinical description (from one-half to a full page) of the subject discussed, which is then examined in detail by looking at a sample of Homo sapiens (the author herself) and then at different theories that explain why Homo sapiens are the way they are. Holmes is good at providing all sides of the story-often, all current theories-even those that contradict one another. In addition, she compares Homo sapiens to other animals, revealing our species' strengths and weaknesses, and our environmental impact-the good and the bad. The book combines comparative anatomy, biology, anthropology, and psychology and presents the information in a witty and humorous style that will attract even the most disinterested readers. This volume would be an excellent selection as a biology class review book.-Kelliann Bogan, Colby-Sawyer College, New London, NH
A pellucid spin through the contours of the human brain and the folds of the human body. Holmes (Suburban Safari: A Year on the Lawn, 2005, etc.) is a skilled practitioner of the rocks-for-jocks school of science writing. Thus it is that she ventures observations such as, "Noise is a disturbance among air molecules," and "The orangutan eats for five hours a day . . . Dust mites eat skin around the clock, without cease." All that basic science has a point, though, providing the basis for Holmes's deeper subject of explaining why humans are different from the other denizens of creation, for better or worse. As she appends to her battery of prandial statistics, our species has the evolutionary advantage-maybe-of being able to rip open a package, zap it and consume it in a few minutes, thereby freeing ourselves to do great things such as plan trips to the moon and plot the extinction of other species. The careful reader will learn scads of facts to attend to all kinds of questions they may not have known they had. Why is it that anorexics don't ovulate? It's because "nature abhors waste," including the waste of an egg to a malnourished environment. Do creatures other than humans lie? Sure-a spider who bounces in her web when threatened does so to send the message that she's many times bigger than she really is. Do animals get divorced? Yes, but they don't have to pay lawyers to do so. As the author notes, "Flamingo couples almost always split up; masked booby marriages last about half of the time; about 10 percent of mute swan unions dissolve." Holmes happily details what distinguishes us from them, which turns out to be both less and more than one might have thought. Careful science meetsgood writing-a pleasure for fans of Lewis Thomas, Natalie Angier and other interpreters of scientific fact. Agent: Michelle Tessler/Tessler Literary Agency
“Fascinating . . . a feast of provocative science and engaging trivia.” —USA Today
“Smart and upbeat, [The Well-Dressed Ape] will leave you prouder of your links to wild things.”—People
“The Well-Dressed Ape is a hoot.”—St. Petersburg Times
“Amusing and illuminating.”—Outside
“Full of interesting facts.”—The Washington Post Book World
“Juicy and humorous.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Highly recommended.” —Library Journal (starred review)