The Right Coast

January 07, 2004
 
Going Ape
By Maimon Schwarzschild

For more on the simian question, and various homo sapiens questions, read Jared Diamond's "The Third Chimpanzee". (The Third Chimp is us, of course, as you already guessed.) Diamond is the author of "Guns, Germs, and Steel", a truly fascinating book. "The Third Chimpanzee" is an earlier book, first published in 1992. Diamond is sometimes irritatingly p.c. -- there are intermittent pieties in both books about global warming and nuclear war and such -- but this is more than outweighed by Diamond's very provocative ideas about evolution, development, and the human animal and its habitat. "Guns, Germs and Steel" is an extraordinary book: you will never think about the world in quite the same way once you have read it. "The Third Chimpanzee" may not be quite as much of an epiphany, but it is still full of very intriguing ideas and facts about our species and our near-but-very-different primate cousins.

By way of a bonus, "The Third Chimpanzee" also has a sobering essay about why intelligent life in the universe may be vanishingly rare: a useful corrective to the Carl Sagan view that Close Encounters with ETs ought to be happening any moment now.