"Artists like cats; soldiers like dogs.""Biologically speaking, if something bites you it's more likely to be female.""I viewed my fellow man not as a fallen angel, but as a risen ape.""Life is like a very short visit to a toyshop between birth and death.""No matter how old we become, we can still call them 'Holy Mother' and 'Father' and put a child-like trust in them.""The city is not a concrete jungle, it is a human zoo.""This unusual and highly successful species spends a great deal of time examining his higher motives and an equal amount of time ignoring his fundamental ones."
Morris was educated at Dauntsey's School, an independent school in West Lavington, Wiltshire. After military service, he attended the University of Birmingham where he graduated in 1951 with a First Class Honours Degree in Zoology. In 1954, he was awarded a D.Phil. from Oxford University for his thesis on the Reproductive Behaviour of the Ten-spined Stickleback, supervised by Nobel Laureate Niko Tinbergen. He was employed by the Zoological Society of London as Curator of Mammals at the London Zoo, eventually leaving in 1966 in frustration about stagnation at the zoo.
Morris first came to public attention in the 1950s as a presenter of the ITV television programme Zoo Time, but achieved worldwide fame in 1967 with his book The Naked Ape. The book is an unabashed look at the human species, notable for its focus on humanity's animal-like qualities and our similarity with apes, and for explaining human behaviour as largely evolved to meet the challenges of prehistoric life as a hunter-gatherer. Reprinted many times and in many languages, it continues to be a best-seller.
His later studies, books and television shows have continued this focus on human behaviour, explained from a bluntly zoological point of view. This approach itself, and his specific conclusions, have often attracted controversy. His book The Soccer Tribe published in 1981 was partly based on research carried out during his directorship of Oxford United, including as it did analysis of the 'tribal' chanting of the club's fans during matches at the club's Manor Ground.
In addition to his scientific pursuits, he is a surrealist artist. His work has been exhibited alongside works by Spanish painter Joan Miró and contributed significantly to the British Surrealist movement. He had his first solo show in 1948, and has shown regularly since then. In 1957, he curated an exhibition of chimpanzee paintings and drawings at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, including paintings by a young chimpanzee called Congo. Details from various of Morris's paintings can be seen on the cover art of early editions of Richard Dawkins's books The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker.
Morris was the executive director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London from 1967-68.
The Biology of Art (1963) - a look at the paintings of primates and their relation to human art
The Mammals: A Guide to the Living Species (1965) ... a comprehensive and compelling listing of all mammal genera, all non-rodent non-bat species, and additional information on select species.
The Naked Ape (1967) ... an unabashed look at the human species. The book is notable for its focus on humanity's animal-like qualities and our similarity with apes. Reprinted many times and in many languages, it continues to be a best-seller.
The Human Zoo (1969) ... a continuation of the previous book, analysing human behaviour in big modern societies and their resemblance to animal behaviour in captivity.
Intimate Behaviour (1971) ... this book examines and analyses any physical contact acted out by human animals. From clapping, to having a hair cut, to hand jive, to patting on the back, to hugging, to babe suckling, to copulation...
Gestures: Their Origin and Distribution (1979)
Animal Days (1979) ... Autobiographical
The Soccer Tribe (1981)
Pocket Guide to Manwatching (1982)
Bodywatching – A Field Guide to the Human Species (1985) ... Hundreds of photos analyzing the human body from hair down to the feet.
Catwatching: & Cat Lore (1986) ... a study of one of the most popular of household pets across the centuries.
Dogwatching (1986) ... an in-depth study of "man's best friend".
Horsewatching (1989) ... subtitled "Why does a horse whinny and everything else you ever wanted to know"
The Human Animal (1994) ... book and BBC documentary TV series
The Human Sexes (1997) ... Discovery/BBC documentary TV series
Cat World: A Feline Encyclopedia (1997)
The Naked Eye (2001)
Dogs: The Ultimate Dictionary of over 1000 Dog Breeds (2001)
Peoplewatching: The Desmond Morris Guide to Body Language (2002)
The Naked Woman: A Study of the Female Body (2004)
Linguaggio muto (Dumb language) (2004)
The Nature of Happiness (2004)
The Naked Man: A Study of the Male Body (2008)
Baby: A Portrait of the First Two Years of Life (2008)