Junk Food Monkeys

In which there is plenty of monkey business.

Having had a bit of a strange assortment of books in my tbr pile lately, I started Robert Sapolskys Junk Food Monkeys after finishing with Moore. Not a continuous narrative like A Primate’s Memoir, Junk Food Monkeys is a collection of essays all dealing with the bordeline between biology and personality. Bravely, Sapolsky even considers what possible connections there are between our bodies chemical reactions and our belief in God (or other religious beliefs). Personally, I found some of the earlier essays more interesting, especially those dealing with the biology of psychological anormalities – are there really purely chemical reasons why some people are schitzophrenics? And are a lot of people walking around with a milder version of the same chemical configuration, resulting in just mildly odd or eccentic behaviour rather than actual illness? He also relates some interesting stories of how the availability of corpses for scientific research though the centuries has resulted in some very wrong conclusions and some serious errors in the treatment of patients. And can testosterone really be blamed for all the fact that all men are agressive idiots?

Sapolsky writes intelligently and readably (is that a word? probably not), and manages to balance the «populistic» aspect (this is a book anyone could read) with enough «meat» to make it interesting even if you know a lot on the subject already (or so I’ve been told by someone who does), and certainly makes it challenging enough for us mere mortals not to make me feel like I’m being talked down to, which is nice.

Bears and monkeys? What next?

I have been immersing myself in Natural History, as Stephen would call it. Being an old-fashioned kind of girl, I don’t know what they call it nowadays. Anyway, as I said, immersing myself… I borrowed A Primate’s Memoirs from my father, he’d just finished reading it and it seemed like just the thing for me to sink my teeth into. Robert Sapolsky has spent years immemorial – or a lot, in any case – in Kenya observing baboons and doing research on their behaviour and how their stress-levels, and hence potential stress-related diseases, relate to who they are (e.g. which rank in the flock) and how they live. All of this could be interesting enough, but in addition the author is blessed with a splendid dry humour which has me chortling (and on the bus, too, what will people think). In fact, even the acknowledgements section is worth reading, or you may miss gems such as this: «Finally, a number of humans, and a number of baboons, represent composites of a few members of a species. This was done to keep down the cast of characters (…) I, to the best of my knowledge, am not a composite.»

I also fell upon the latest package from The English Bookclub with glee, it contained the new hardback Stephen Fry book, Rescuing the Spectacled Bear. The book is Stephen’s diary from the production of a programme to be aired (which has been aired?) on BBC, all about – you guessed it – the spectacled bear. You know how Paddington comes from Peru? This is not Bond’s poetic lisence, there are bears in Peru, and they have these odd pale markings round their eyes, hence the spectacle part. And since Peru isn’t exactly the most affluent country in the world, and since the ecological systems they have in their care are so immensly diverse that it goes beyond belief (83 out of the worlds 120 defined habitats, from rain forest to the driest desert in the world), you can imagine that the amount of attention the poor bears are getting, conservation-wise, is pretty minute. Which problem Stephen and the producer, Nick Green, amongst others, are now trying to remedy. You can learn more about the project at the Bear Rescue site – a charity has been set up and the proceeds from the book go to establishing safe habitats for the bears and other such useful measures. As for the book, well an evening with Stephen is always a pleasure, and the only objection I have to the book at all is that it was way too short. So what are you waiting for? Go out and buy yourself a copy (or click here to buy from amazon). While you’re at it, buy one for someone for Christmas, too. They’ll enjoy it, and so will the bears.