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Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human
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Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human

3.77 of 5 stars 3.77  ·  rating details  ·  583 ratings  ·  109 reviews
Now Elizabeth Hess’s unforgettable biography is the inspiration for Project Nim, a riveting new documentary directed by James Marsh and produced by Simon Chinn, the Oscar-winning team known for Man on Wire. Hess, a consultant on the film, says, “Getting a call from James Marsh and Simon Chinn is an author’s dream. Project Nim is nothing short of amazing.”

Could an adorable
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published February 26th 2008 by Bantam (first published January 1st 2008)
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Community Reviews

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Mar 24, 2008 Amy rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Erin, Garret and Jackie
Shelves: nonfiction
Wow...whether you are a BF Skinner or Noam Chompsky fan, an animal acitivist or advocate, are interested in language aquisition or linguistics, this book is fascinating. Though I am well aware of sentient animals being used in both behavioral and boimedical research, this book really was a wake up call for me. I have read many nonfiction accounts of amazing animals...animals who clearly have the ability to think and feel, Nim illustrates the humanness of primates poignantly. I would highly recom ...more
Sep 02, 2008 Susan rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: no one
Don't bother with this book, I was very disappointed in what I read. From the very beginning she mixes up what is fact and what is not, for example when talking about the genetic similarities between chimps and humans, she states "In 2006 Harvard geneticist David Reich discovered evidence that we share a common ancestor, the product of sexual relations between humans and chimpanzees."(pg. 9) This is speculation, but she is stating it as fact. It is also total crap. There has never been any cross ...more
This book is scarcely about Nim Chimpsky at all, its far more about all the humans in his life. Its about the person who bought him, the many people who raised him as a human child - although they would never have given up on the job as they all did so quickly with Nim - and all the people who were part of the various experiments on him. Finally it is about the people who looked after him in his retirement.

As a book about an animal, animal behaviour and language acquisition, this book fails mise
We live in a throw-away society, even when it comes to animals, as evidenced by the pets found in shelters. And Nim, a chimpanzee who lived with humans for the first few years of his life, was also a victim of this mentality.

Nim was taken from his mother within weeks of birth and went to live with a human family and taught American Sign Language. Researchers wanted to disprove Noam Chompsky's theory that language is inherent only in humans. Some studies were successful, others were not. But what
Jun 12, 2008 Fran rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: animal lovers, Okies, OU fans, non-fiction/ biography readers, science/ psychology buffs
Recommended to Fran by: indirectly Dr. Barbara King of "The Teaching Company"
Elizabeth Hess's biography of signing chimp Nim Chimpsky is no doubt the best piece of non-fiction I have read in years. If Dickens had written in the 1980's instead of the latter half of the 1800's, he might have created a fictional Nim Chimpsky with as tortured and erratic a life as poor Nim's real one. With a cast of characters, both human and animal, as disparate as the teen-ager who would later become Janice on "Friends", to animal advocate Cleveland Amory, to other signing chimps like Wash ...more
This is the story of Nim Chimpsky, a young chimp chosen to be part of a language experiment. The idea of the experiment was to prove Noam Chompsky wrong - Chompsky thought that language is inherent in human beings and for this reason can't be taught, that language is exlusive to humans. Project Nim is trying to prove that you can teach a chimp to use sign language and that the chimp is then able to communicate his thoughts and feelings.

To make the chimp's life as close to human as possible, Nim
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Beth Ann
I read the majority of this book, but I could not finish it. My lack of commitment has nothing to do with the author's prose. She writes well, and she goes into extraordinary background detail about the subject matter.

I'm queasy about the subject of vivisection to begin with. This book outraged me on the perversity employed by scientists when deciding what to do with unwanted language acquisition chimpanzees.

Many of these chimps had been raised with humans in their homes and then taught how to s
The amazing backstory of Nim (named for Noam Chomsky, MIT linguist who challenged the behaviorist theory of language), the famous chimp used to study the acquisition of language. As opposed to other famous chimps, who acquired sign language capabilities while caged, Nim was raised from the age of ten days as a human, first living with a family in a NYC brownstone and then, as he became harder to handle, in a Riverdale mansion associated with Columbia University. The basic thrust of the research ...more
Jun 21, 2008 Jenny rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those interested in langauge and/or animal research
Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human is a discomforting and absorbing biography of a research animal. In 1973, Columbia University psychologist Dr. Herbert Terrance set out to prove the renowned MIT linguistics professor Noam Chompsky wrong about language acquisition. Chomsky asserts that language, as defined by the innate ability for one to understand grammatical structure and to produce creatively new sentence structures, is an exclusively human trait. Terrance, on the other hand, believ ...more
OMG! this book is so sweet and funny! two funny parts, were when one time Nim was outside with one of his caretakers, and all of the sudden a thunderstorm began, and when Nim heard the thunder, he jumped into his caretakers shirt, just poking his eyes out the top. tee hee. another time, he was out in his fenced front yard, "helping" a different caretaker prune the roses, and when the caretaker realized he was sneaking eating roses, she turned right around, and sternly said, "stop eating those ro ...more
Jeffrey Dinsmore
I really wanted to like this book more than I did. Nim's story is fascinating, but the author focused too much on the people in Nim's life, particularly in his later years. It seems like he spent the last 20 years of his life in a cage, and I guess there isn't much of a story in that. Plus, he kinda sounded like a little bastard, and I had a hard time understanding why people were so emotionally affected by him. HOWEVER, the book does answer some interesting questions about chimpanzees who are u ...more
I have no idea what possessed me to buy this book, but whatever it was, I'm thankful for it. What a fantastic read! I don't usually indulge in biographies (I'm more of a "memoir" kind of girl), but this one was genuinely interesting and, at times, heartbreaking. I often sympathized more with Nim than with the people involved in his research project. In fact, most of them disgusted me. Nim, however, as well as the other chimps that Hess describes, both charmed and amazed me.
Nancy Groves
In retrospect, many of the experiments described in which efforts were made to teach a chimp to communicate with humans via sign language, seem cruel now. The chimp was raised by a succession of human families and other caretakers, never meeting another chimp until late in his life. As the funds for and interest in the research waned over the years, Nim was subsequently moved to other locations (a testing lab, an animal rescue facility ill equipped to care for him). Was the poor thing horrendous ...more
This opened my eyes to animal research and how far we've come in a relatively short period. I would be interested to know what the current state of primate research is, though I am afraid to find out. Somewhat confusing to read, as there are a lot of names, but not many reminders as to who people are. Wish the book at been footnoted so that I could have known to be looking at all the extras in the back, which I only thought to look up about halfway through.
Joan Sherwood
First let me say I'm intrigued by chimpanzees. That being said, whether you know anything about chimpanzees or not, this an incredible book. Nim was raised by a human family practically from the day he was born. He was part of a communication study and was taught sign language. Nim was full of spunk and personality. One can't help but love him. This isn't a book of cute funny stories about crazy little chimp. It's the real life a of a real chimp who loved communicating with humans. He experience ...more
Tammy BayAreaVeg
This is not in any way shape or form an animal rights book. But, written from the perspective of a Chimpanzee who was raised as a human, who could communicate with humans via sign language, I felt it really put a "face" on the topic of using animals in research.

I found this randomly on the new books shelf at my local library. Overall, a quick, engaging read.
Frank Spencer
You learn a lot about the researchers by reading this book, as well as about the subjects. I'll soon write more at
It amazes me how naive people are when it comes to animals and the lack of preparation that when into the care of the chimps in homes.

Mary Glass
What defines humanity?

The more I read, the more the lack of consistency and that this was never addressed as a possible reason for some disappointing results struck me. How could raising a chimp be less stressful than raising a child? While documenting all for science? Can a chimp be made to think like a human without outside chimp influence? Truly makes me doubt any moral high road in any use of animals for ANY research. Maybe when we can figure ourselves out. This smacks of torture.
The story of Nim Chimpsky is pretty heart breaking. He is shuffled from place to place as if he were nothing more than a suitcase, but he is acquiring language and attachments all along the way. It is bad enough to place captive-bred, non-language proficient chimps into many of the places where Nim lived, but researchers specifically fostered relationships and communication in Nim, only to take them away when funding or interest dried up. The transitory nature of his use as a research animal see ...more
Harrison George
This book is not doing it for me. I'm about a third of the way through, and can't get behind the author's narrative style. I've been introduced to a myriad of unenjoyable, unlikable characters add little to the overall story of Nim and his struggle to learn sign language.

Maybe I'm just dissatisfied with the story. A group of scientists in the 70's have, by all accounts, a passing interest in teaching a chimp sign language to see if the communication barriers between humans and other animals can
I feel very conflicted about this book. Very first thing, I have to comment on the title. This chimp had no choice in the matter. It wasn't (as the title implies) his will to 'become' human. He was acquired as an infant and *raised* as a human by people who had very little interest in what would happen to him when they stopped having a use for him. It's an important read for the insights into the uses we humans have for other animals and how rarely those uses are anything but destructive to the ...more
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What began as an intellectual feud of sorts between Professor Herbert Terrace and Noam Chomsky left in its wake a good many victims, simian and human. Chomsky's theory revolves around a universal grammar inherent in the huma brain and therefore exclusive to humans. Terrace's mentor at Harvard, B.F. Skinner, believed language could be learned through behaviorism. Thus begins the story which ultimately led to chimpanzees being taken from their mothers within days and sent to various families in or ...more
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Särah Nour
Hindsight is 20/20, especially when it comes to scientific studies that are revealed to have been miscalculated only in retrospect. Such is the true story behind Project Nim, an experiment that revealed the long-term consequences of exploiting a primate for research. A result of interviews and historical records collected by journalist Elizabeth Hess, Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human is a tragic, funny and maddening story of misguided attempts at scientific advances resulting in animal ...more
Kim Stallwood
If there’s anyone left on the planet who needs convincing that chimpanzees are more like us (or we’re like them) than they’d care to think they need to read Elizabeth Hess’s biography of Nim Chimpsky, the chimpanzee who was taught to communicate in American Sign Language (ASL).

Animal biographies are a publishing curiosity. Me Cheeta: The autobiography, the memoir of Cheeta, the celebrity chimpanzee who swung from tree to fame in the Tarzan movies, was recently published. As clever as chimpanzees
Well, hell. I assume it won't come as much of a surprise to you that a book about a chimp raised by humans might turn out to be really depressing.

I kept thinking of the case of Genie, the "wild child" found living in an attic, devoid of all socialization, in the 1970s. A group of researchers took her in and intended to study her acquisition of language and whether a child who had no early socialization could learn to speak. They obviously cared for her, but at the same time they also wanted to b
The psychological question of whether or not chimpanzees can communicate, while highly important, runs a clear second to the story of the "person" of Nim Chimsky in this insightful book -- including the insight of raising the question as to whether or not that word "person" ultimately should be left in scare quotes or not.

Actually, the issue of Nim learning American Sign Language is probably the third or fourth story line in this book.

Elizabeth Hess also shows how Nim's upbringing fit squarely i
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“Lucy preferred gin and tonics during the summer and switched over to whiskey sours in the winter. At dinner, a sit-down affair with the family, Lucy drank whatever the Temerlins drank, including expensive French wines. "She never gets obnoxious, even when smashed to the brink of unconsciousness," wrote Maurice, revealing more about the chimp's alcoholism than perhaps he intended. At one point, he tried to wean Lucy off the good stuff and onto Boone's Farm apple wine. Assuming she would delight in the fruity swill, he purchased a case and filled her glass one night at dinner. Lucy took a sip of the apple wine, noticed her parents were drinking something else, and put her glass down. She then graabbed Maurice's glass of Chablis and polished it off. She finished Jane's next. Not another sip of Boone's farm ever touched her lips.” 1 likes
“bright New York City students with a scientific bent; won a full scholarship to Cornell University; and ended up” 0 likes
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