Monday, March 16, 2009

Nim Chimpsky, the book

I finished reading Nim Chimpsky: The chimp who would be human, by Elizabeth Hess. It was, predictably, a moving book that certainly left me with a lot to think about.

Funny how a few hours away from the page-turning helps to organize your thoughts. As I was reading the book, there were times that I wanted to call Ms. Hess and ask her if there was anyone who could live up to her seemingly open disdain. There were few characters in the book who came across seeming to possess even a small measure of respect, and since a few of the characters are individuals I've admired for one reason or another it was hard to read repeated, unrepentant critiques of their character or motives.

It was only after I put the book down and stepped back a bit that I got it. Regardless of their motives (some of which were more noble than others), just about every person who involved themselves with primate language experiments had no real idea what they were doing. And with every stumble, frustration or upheaval the one who truly always paid the price was Nim. I'm sure that those who claim to still feel guilt or sorrow over his story are telling the truth, but that doesn't change the fact that when they reached the ends of their collective ropes, it was Nim who was left hanging at the end of it, dangling.

Nim Chimpsky is not easy reading, especially if you are someone who has deep feeling about sentient creatures, but it is an important book. Having taken a little time after closing the cover, if I were to call Ms. Hess now I think I'd simply say "Thank you."

1 comment:

Elizabeth Hess said...

Thanks for commenting on the book. I appreciate your thoughts. When I began writing Nim I had no pre-conceptions about the chimp, the psychologists, or the students who cared for him. But I came to understand that few of them had ever asked: So, what happened to the chimp? That's the first question that I wanted to answer. Writing a biography of an animal, especially a captive one, requires much patience and research. Nim's life was virtually kept secret.
Elizabeth Hess


Blog Design By Sour Apple Studio © All Rights Reserved.