Because Ideas Matter...
The faculty and staff of Butler University's College of Liberal
Arts and Sciences presents
The Well-Dressed Ape: A Natural History of Myself
by Hannah Holmes, Random House 2009
Reviewed by Michael Zimmerman
When science and travel writer Holmes turns
from writing articles to books, she looks close to home.
Her first two books (The Secret Life of Dust and Suburban
Safari) focused on the dust in her house and the life in her yard.
In her third outing she continues this trend, examining herself and
hoping "that defining my animal self would clarify my identity in
the natural world….I've been uncomfortable with the notion that I
was an animal apart, a sort of extraterrestrial on my own
As in her pervious works, she successfully uses the mundane to
make larger points about life and the human condition. She situates
Homo sapiens within the animal kingdom, looking at similarities and
differences between humans and other species while offering
evolutionary explanations for both.
Chapters deal with such diverse topics as brain architecture and
function, reproduction, diet, behavior and communication.
Throughout we learn that humans are not nearly as different as many
would have us believe; perhaps we are different by degree but not
by kind. For example, a surprising number of species communicate
fairly well and some, like prairie dogs, actually have a not
Holmes concludes with a chapter on environmental degradation and
notes that we began transforming the planet even before we were
fully human. Her optimistic conclusion is that we are the only
species capable of thinking about the effect of its actions and
acting against narrow self-interest, even if we don't always do so.
Her writing is provocative and enjoyable if occasionally a bit too
-Michael Zimmerman is Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and
Sciences and professor of biology at Butler University.