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A Primate's Memoir

4.32  ·  Rating Details ·  4,313 Ratings  ·  531 Reviews
Book-smart and more than a little naive, Robert Sapolsky left the comforts of college in the US for a research project studying a troop of baboons in Kenya. Whether he's relating his adventures with his neighbours, Masai tribesmen, or his experiences learning how to sneak up and dart suspicious baboons, Sapolsky combines irreverence and humour with the best credentials in ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published April 4th 2002 by Vintage (first published 2001)
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Monsterinthelibrary No, I don't believe so. An amusing memoir, perhaps?

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Aug 30, 2007 Megan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read this This is coming from a right-brained person who never would have given this book a second glance had it not been forced on her by a friend. It's an irreverent and thoughtful tale of a neuroscientist's years observing a tribe of baboons in Kenya to learn about their social hierarchy and resulting stress levels. I loved it for its ability to make you relate to a tribe of alternately loving, back-stabbing, calculating, snobby, inclusive baboons like you would family; the fact that Sapolsky ...more
A fascinating and entertaining read about an idealistic young naïve man raised in New York City takes to the savannahs of Kenya to study baboons and how he matured through his decades there in the 70s and 80s through experiences with both the animals and the people. As a child he was enamored by the dioramas at the museum and later by the romanticism and dedication of scientists like Jane Goodall. However, instead of chimps or gorilla his interest in the contribution of position in a social hier ...more
Roy Lotz
This book has been one of the many unread books sitting on my shelves and mocking me over the years. I had heard such good things about it, and the subject seemed so congenial to my interests, that I was excited to some day crack it open; but other books, seemingly more vital and pressing, kept popping up. Finally, I’ve burned through it; but I’m afraid the book didn’t quite justify the long anticipation.

In his autobiography, George Santayana writes: “Ghastly are those autobiographies that conta
Mar 02, 2011 Weinz rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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Coming from a family complete with calculating betrayal, ruthless treachery, judgmental snobbery, snarled canines and drool I easily was able to identify with Sapolsky’s primate family and his love/hate relationships with them. He’s a storyteller and created engaging anecdotes from his 20 years in Africa completing his thesis.

The memoir is a serious scientific study of baboon troops in Kenya that the writer dumbed down to appeal to the masses. The analytical side of me wanted more o
David Sven
Mar 03, 2013 David Sven rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I enjoyed this a lot more than I was expecting. I read it as part of a buddy read to expand my literary palate.

The story is the memoir of American Zoologist Robert Sapolsky, and his life studying baboons in Africa to determine the relationship between stress and disease in humans. The book was very easy reading and Sapolsky's humour was catching as he relates his first experiences as a young, naive, anything is possible, biologist encountering Africa for the first time, to working with the actua
Aug 26, 2012 Lee rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I cannot remember the last time I read a non-fiction book; it has been a while. So it was with interest when a friend choose this book for a group of us to read. We have a bit of a buddy read group and once a month one of us gets to choose something completely different. The purpose is to get us out of our reading comfort zone.

A Primates memoir is way out of my normal genre, but I have to say I enjoyed the change. I also have to say that I was expecting something completely different to what i g
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
If you ever doubt that we humans share an ancestor with other primates, just read a bit about the behavior of male baboons! You may recognize your husband, president, son, or even yourself.

Over a period of twenty years, Robert Sapolsky spent about three months of every year in Kenya observing the same baboon troop. He darted the male baboons with sedatives at different times and took blood samples to see what experiences caused the greatest production of stress hormones. (Couldn't do the females
Feb 19, 2008 KatieSuzanne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Andy
Recommended to KatieSuzanne by: NPR
Shelves: favorites, book-club
I loved this book! I loved it and then I loved it even more. It is written so well and has a little bit of everything in it. There's really cool science, history, humor, and more, all written in a way that anyone can understand and follow. I found myself reading out load to friends the chapter about the man who was a machine. That part still makes me laugh and the end made me cry like a baby. Then I reread the end and cried some more. I think if I was having a kid or buying a dog anytime soon I' ...more
Mar 03, 2012 Brenna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Robert Sapolsky was already on my list of scientists I admire due to his groundbreaking research on chronic stress and its role in disease. But this memoir propelled him to the upper ranks of my personal heroes. I was so moved by Sapolsky’s subject matter and his sensitive and emotional handling of it that I literally wept when I finished the book. I think my reaction freaked out James a bit when he came home from work to find me bawling on the sofa, but when I was enough under control again to ...more
There is a way to read this book. It’s difficult in the winter when it’s snowy outside and you really need those five blankets closeby, even though the heating is on maximum. This is an outdoors book. This weekend we had beautiful spring weather, so I put on my walking boots, packed the book, food and water in my backpack and off I went. Then somewhere in the middle of nowhere, with only fields and trees surrounding me, I finished this book. Now, that’s the way to read it!

The baboon parts in the
Morgan Blackledge
OMG. Sapolsky is an absolute treasure. His books and lectures are quirky, irreverent, funny as hell, brilliant, informative and utterly original.

His Stanford course on behavioral neurobiology (see it for free on YouTube) is a masterpiece. I have watched the entire thing (it's like 36 hours long total) at least 3 times. And I'm fixing to watch it again in preparation for the affective psychology course I'm about to teach.

As a psychology lecturer, I'd be green with envy if I was in the same speci
This is a highly amusing, perhaps even too amusing, book. I wouldn't have minded more hard facts and less jokes, because this does end up in the "easy entertainment" camp. (Except for the ending, which is mostly just sad.) The insights into Kenyan corruption, Masai life and hazardous traveling in Africa are all great. The book deals as much with that as it does with baboons.
Adam Lewis
Having recently finished a creative nonfiction class with a healthy reading list populated with memoirs, I can say that Sapolsky’s “A Primate’s Memoir” is the best one of that genre that I have had the chance to read.

In it we are treated to the author’s adventures in Africa studying baboons over the course of about two decades. But the focus retains a healthy balance between two types of primates – the troop of baboons and that other most complex primate – homo sapiens. Sapolsky has to deal wit
Dec 22, 2011 Ensiform rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The author, a field biologist, recounts many anecdotes and events he participated in from twenty years of study and travel in Africa. A brilliant collection of essays, it uses his study of baboons in Kenya (measuring stress levels among members of various rank in the troop) as a starting point for some broader observations and comments on the African, and human, experience. It gives insight into the proud Masai warrior, the corrupt soldier and Nairobi bureaucrat, the dying breed of the old colon ...more
Feb 10, 2008 Christine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought Sapolsky's writing rode a fine line between hilarity and being just a little too contrived to reach hilarity. However, Contrived or not, he brings home the reality and intrigue of an apparently fearless young man conducting research in a very foreign land. A Primate's Memoir leaves me also riding a line between wanting to move to Africa and become a primatologist who studies savanna baboons, and wanting to cower in my refrigerator next to my insulin, where I probably won't be eaten by ...more
"I had never planned to become a savanna baboon when I grew up; instead, I had always assumed I would become a mountain gorilla."

- from A Primate's Memoir by Robert M. Sapolsky

A Primate's Memoir: A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons, is the story of Robert M. Sapolsky's fieldwork as a young graduate student in Kenya. The goal of Sapolsky's graduate work was to determine the relationship of baboon stress levels to their overall health over a period of years. Sapolsky recount
Dec 16, 2015 Barb rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A few years ago I received, as a gift, a Great Course lectures series DVD, comprised of 24 lectures titled Biology and Human Behavior: The neurological Origins of Individuality by Stanford professor and MacArthur Foundation "genius" award recipient, Robert Sapolsky. The fact that he is also a reciprient of the Stanford University's Bing Award for Teaching Excellence is not surprising considering that the lectures were very, very good. I liked them so much, especially Sapolsky's droll delivery, t ...more
I read by far too few fact-based books and biographies. I appreciate reading them when I do, but I rarely buy them. Why is that, I wonder? I did however succeed in reading this book! It was part of a buddy read, and I'm happy we read it.

Sapolsky spent his many years in Africa studying baboons, as the title suggests, and while reading about his studies was much interesting what did it for me was reading about the African Experience and the culture. He describes it very vividly, and as I have been
Feb 25, 2012 Estie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, memoir
What a trip this book is! I was expecting an account of some scientists experience working with monkeys out in the African bush. But this book is so much more than that! It's a colorful ADVENTURE by a hilarious yet straightforward kid/guy/hippie/researcher/scientist. His research interests in baboons is what led him to the African bush, but that only forms a part of what this book is about. The reader is treated to accounts of his hitchhiking trips to various African countries (including war tor ...more
This is a book by an animal lover, a loner, a Jewish white guy from New York, a primate and cultural observer of baboons and of (mostly black) Africans whom he meets in his fieldwork in Kenya. His stories of the baboons are tender, revealing, uncomfortably familiar, as primate cultural stories often are. The stories of the Africans are spotty. Sometimes, I feel I am reading an astute cultural observer (Africans' rites, tribal relations, ghost stories), but other times I couldn't shake the creepy ...more
70% is enough for me to clock it in as read and move on. The book is an account of the every manic and intelligent Robert Sapolsky's experiences in bizarro-land (Africa)..., as HE paints it. Much of it is interesting, wonderfully well-written; but in the end, it is idiosyncratic, personal (without being revealing of character -- he mentions things he's too embarrassed to reveal..., and then doesn't reveal them), and it wearied me -- so time to move on. 70% is a lot further than I get in a lot of ...more
John Vibber
Dec 14, 2013 John Vibber rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thirty years ago Robert Sapolsky wanted to study stress in baboons and humans. He was a young neurologist/primatologist willing to live with hyenas, lions, and spear-wielding Maasai if that allowed him to steal blood samples from baboons. This is the journal of his maturation among primates, his own species and otherwise. It is an intensely funny, yet deeply poignant story. For me it was the most enjoyable naturalist adventure I’ve read since Farley Mowat’s “Never Cry Wolf.”
Entertaining read. I was expecting a more scientific progression. Although non-fiction animal and bird observation based studies are some of my favorite non-fiction reading, this one was partially just that, but in far greater sense a travelogue/memoir. Robert being the star of the show.

The tone of self enjoyed hilarity upon his own jokes and comparisons, especially his own humongous naivete is about 30% of the total copy. Which has nothing to do with the baboons or the study but about the Afric
Sep 10, 2008 Julia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm really struggling with the star system at GoodReads. Keeping Moby Dick as my five-star yardstick, EVERYTHING is going to fall a bit short of that, but this is a 4 3/4 star book. It's giggle-in-bed funny (see below for my favorite passage), gives all kinds of interesting insights into Africa, and it's personal and moving -- a very smart, no-nonsense accountant in my book group choked up yesterday while describing the ending. Sapolsky is a past winner of a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" ( ...more
Of all the "I spent years and years of my life following around X animal and studying them in the wild" books, this is, by far, the most entertaining of them (Sorry Mrs. Goodall, I still love you dearly).

Robert Sapolsky has written an absolutely wonderful account of his time with the Savanna baboons, and has made it not only spectacularly revealing, but frighteningly engaging as well. This book reads like a novel. We become as invested in the various baboon characters as much as any storybook f
Jun 18, 2011 Mel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: science geeks of the neuro- or zoo- variety
As a science geek, I enjoyed the hell out of this book. My only complaint is actually my own fault – I failed to catch the wordplay in the title, so I was expecting something more focused on his work. Instead, only about half of it (maybe a little less) focuses on the daily experience of field biology – the rest acts as a travelogue. But that's by no means a bad thing, because he has really interesting stories to tell there, as well.

The last chapter, though, completely blew me away – I have an e
Jan 15, 2013 Jess rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was one of the most hilarious books I've read in years. Sapolsky is a consummate storyteller and his life has been one adventure after another so he has plenty of fodder for stories. The first one- Orthodox boy from Brooklyn goes to Africa to live with and study baboons- is enough for a book in itself. There's more than humor here though, Sapolsky shares his feelings for the troop of baboons he's followed for years and the deep sorrow he and other scientists feel when they have to watch the ...more
Sep 01, 2015 Fredrik rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fakta, biografi, lydbok
Fantastisk lydbok!

Forfatteren, som også er forsker ("field biologist"), Robert Sapolsky, skriver om hvordan det er å studere bavianer i Kenya. Han beskriver relasjonene bavianene seg i mellom (og har gitt dem alle navn som Obediah, Joshua, Rachel, osv, alle kristne navn), og selve livet i Kenya på den tiden, samt hans opplevelser der.

Det er mye morsomt å lære. Både om bavianer og om Kenya/Afrika på den tiden, og hvordan utviklingen har gått i de 20 årene boken ble skrevet. Lærte mye om masai-sta
May 21, 2015 Santhosh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Misael Rivera Elías
Ay, ese ultimo capitulo :(

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Play Book Tag: A Primate's Memoir/Sapolsky - 3 stars 5 12 Nov 18, 2016 05:27PM  
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Robert Maurice Sapolsky is the John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Professor of Biological Sciences, and Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences, and by courtesy, Neurosurgery, at Stanford University.
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“We live well enough to have the luxury to get ourselves sick with purely social, psychological stress.” 7 likes
“Suddenly, I get this giddy desire to shock these guys a little. I continue, “These baboons really are our relatives. In fact, this baboon is my cousin.” And with that I lean over and give Daniel a loud messy kiss on his big ol’ nose. I get more of a response than I bargained for. The Masai freak and suddenly, they are waving their spears real close to my face, like they mean it. One is yelling, “He is not your cousin, he is not your cousin! A baboon cannot even cook ugali!” (Ugali is the ubiquitous and repulsive maize meal that everyone eats here. I almost respond that I don’t really know how to cook the stuff either, but decide to show some prudence at last.) “He is not your cousin!” 4 likes
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