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

3.79  ·  Rating Details ·  658 Ratings  ·  113 Reviews
""Drawing on interviews with the people who lived with Nim, diapered him, dressed him, taught him, and loved him, Elizabeth Hess weaves an unforgettable tale of an extraordinary and charismatic creature. His story will move and entertain at the same time that it challenges us to ask what it means to be human, and what we owe to the animals who so enrich our lives" From Goo ...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published February 26th 2008 by Bantam (first published January 1st 2008)
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Petra Eggs
Mar 13, 2016 Petra Eggs rated it really liked it
This book is scarcely about Nim Chimpsky at all, its far more about all the humans in his life. It's about the person who bought him, the many people who raised him as a human child - although they would never have given up on a child 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 mis
Sep 02, 2008 Susan rated it did not like it
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
Mar 24, 2008 Amy rated it really liked it
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
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
Mar 20, 2009 Lisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 21, 2008 Jenny rated it really liked it
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
Kevin McAllister
Mar 04, 2008 Kevin McAllister rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 28, 2008 Karen rated it really liked it
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
Beth Ann
May 28, 2008 Beth Ann rated it really liked it
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
Jun 12, 2008 Fran rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 26, 2008 Christine rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Animal Lovers, Animal Welfare
I love this book. It provides a window into animal research, animal researchers and the experiences of the animals involved. Nim Chimpsky follows the life of a remarkable chimp who is placed into a project designed to refute Noam Chomsky's assertion that language is an exclusively human trait.

Nim is placed in a human home and raised as a human, until Nim proves to be too much to handle. Nim is taken away from the only family he knows and subsequently lives with two additional 'research families
May 27, 2008 David rated it liked it
This book caught my eye in part because one of the people who worked extensively on Project Nim [effort to get a chimp to learn and use American Sign Language] had spoken to a psychology class I took as an undergraduate many years ago. The book turned out to be engrossing as a story about animal welfare, grantspersonship, university politics, and to some extent the sexual mores of the 1970s. It is a lot less useful as a guide to analyzing controversies relating to language development. I'm tempt ...more
Jeffrey Dinsmore
Apr 15, 2009 Jeffrey Dinsmore rated it liked it
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
Mar 14, 2009 Brigid rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 15, 2009 Bernadette rated it really liked it
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.
Sep 16, 2009 Jill rated it really liked it
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.
Tammy BayAreaVeg
Nov 02, 2008 Tammy BayAreaVeg rated it really liked it
Shelves: animalrights
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
Sep 01, 2011 Frank Spencer rated it it was amazing
Shelves: animals
You learn a lot about the researchers by reading this book, as well as about the subjects. I'll soon write more at
Sep 27, 2011 Jen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.

Jan 09, 2017 Tracy rated it it was ok
The story itself is certainly interesting but the book has loads on unnecessary detail about the people Nim interacts with, making it a boring read.
Kim Stallwood
Jan 28, 2013 Kim Stallwood rated it really liked it
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
Oct 05, 2016 Iz rated it really liked it
This book has stayed with me for years and years. I loved it even though it brought me to tears a few times.
Särah Nour
May 11, 2012 Särah Nour rated it liked it
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
May 12, 2008 Gwen rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 22, 2011 Tara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 05, 2012 Socraticgadfly rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, biography
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
Nov 03, 2011 Erin rated it really liked it
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
May 22, 2008 John rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Harrison George
Jul 27, 2013 Harrison George rated it did not like it
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
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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.” 2 likes
“In despair, she gave up on coercion and tried to manipulate him psychologically. When he behaved badly, she turned her back to him and began walking out of the room. The threat of abandonment made him panic. He stopped whatever he was doing and ran after Stephanie for a hug and reassurance. Nim learned to sign “sorry,” and did so often.” 0 likes
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