Sapolsky, a professor of biology and neurology at Sanford University, traveled each summer for almost two decades to East Africa to study the relationship between stress in disease in a troop of baboons. He tells many tales of his experiences in Africa, alone in the Serengeti "with no radio, no television, no electricity, no running water, and no telephone. His nearest neighbors are the Masai, a warlike tribespeople whose marriages are polygamous, with wedding parties featuring tureens of cow's blood." There is story after amazing story, near death encounters, rampant corruption on all levels of government and even just crossing borders. His writing is clever and compelling, captivating, with some stories hilarious, others quite sad. His fondness for "his" baboons is well communicated, his description of their interactions and behavior so cleverly detailed, I felt I sitting next to him observing! Overall an excellent read.
I really liked A Primate's Memoir, for a lot of reasons. The opening line among them...
I joined the baboon troop during my twenty-first year. I had never planned to become a savanna baboon when I grew up; instead, I had always assumed I would become a mountain gorilla.
That first line had me when it was used on NPR years ago, and it worked well when I read the book. The book recounts Sapolsky's adventures studying a babboon troop in Kenya and knocking about Africa and by turns its interesting, amusing, harrowing and moving. Sapolsky humanizes the baboons, or at least makes them interesting and sympathetic to me - a reach because I file them under "Carnivorous and too damn clever for my comfort."
The book closes sadly for me because the troop gets nailed by something that is entirely avoidable, but every day in Kenya.
This is a marvelous book. My son read this in a college course and recommended it to me. I was hesitant for fear it would be too academic or dry but the opposite was true. It was full of scientific information, based on the author's observations, but it was also full of great stories about the life he lived while he did his research. No wonder Sapolsky got a MacArthur genius grant.
I really enjoyed this book. I loved the stories of the people and culture the author encountered in Africa, mostly in Kenya. To me, the slowest parts of the book were when he wrote about the baboons he was there to study.