Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Holiday Gift Guide: Planet Ape by Desmond Morris with Steve Parker

If you wanted to commission the penultimate book on apes, the name Desmond Morris would come up. Many books and paintings and years ago, zoologist, ethnologist, artist and brilliant thinker wrote The Naked Ape. It was 1967 and it shocked the world by writing about man in the same way one would write about animals. It was a ground-breaking work, an international bestseller and it led to a 1973 film of the same title as well as wide-spread reconsideration of the way we think about humans and animals and the little that can separate them.

In the time between, Morris has written about many things, including dogs, horses, cats, babies and other things. Many of those books have been bestselling. But none could compare with that first all-important bestseller and more than 40 years later, and with Morris now into his 80s, he’s come back to some of the ground he covered in The Naked Ape, with Planet Ape (Firefly Books). This time out, though, it’s the hairy apes that have focus: the naked ones get the (justifiable) blame.

This is a fantastic book. One can not imagine a better one on this topic. It is gorgeous enough to sit on a coffee table, yet informative enough for the reference section of a library. Wonderful photos illustrate page upon page of facts and thoughts and ideas. And in the true tradition of a book by Morris, you not only learn about the subject at hand, you are also pushed to think independently about what all these facts might mean. The information is shared in a thoughtful, intelligent way and, without even realizing it, we end up learning as much about ourselves as we do about the apes Morris obviously has a very real affection for.

A portion of the profits generated by Planet Ape are earmarked for charities who are working to conserve the apes Morris and co-author Parker deliver to us so vividly. Once you’ve experienced Planet Ape, you’ll understand just how important that is.

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