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Anthropomorphism's OK, but...
on 22 June 2011
This is an interesting and informative book on a very interesting and vitally important subject. It is good to have such a wide survey of the 'men of the forest' and the people who have worked and are working with them, in my case all the more because I myself recently spent a week in Tanjung Puting, Indonesia, their surest stronghold, observing these apes.
I normally have no problems with anthropomorphism. You only have to spend time with your pet animals to know that they do have feelings and can work things out to a certain extent. How much more so one of our closest relatives. And indeed, I had the distinct impression - while having no way of knowing - that the orang-utans I saw played to the crowd sometimes, as they made the connection between us and the food they were brought. But this author and his informants really overdo it. For example, rather than say 'It was as if his eyes were saying...', they say 'His eyes told me that he was thinking...'. You'd scarcely dare say that for sure of a fellow human being!
This, plus a rather mystical, romantic style of writing, and at times a poor one (the author is apparently a professor of journalism - at a university ranked 1412th worldwide) will not gain any converts amongst some of those he is setting out to win over; the rest of us are on his side already.
Two specific comments. What the heck was he doing taking a professional horn player to play to the orang-utans, if he wanted a flute to be played? Ludicrous experiment anyway and no conclusions drawn from it in the event it seems.
And how frustrating not to be told whether Princess (whom I saw in Tanjung Puting) passed on her learnt sign language to her offspring. Did he even think to ask?
Frankly this is a rather amateur, unscientific book, but nevertheless an essential read, since apparently there is nothing else which covers this subject.
Three stars for writing style and content + five stars for importance of subject = four star rating.