The Naked Ape—A Book Review

Saturday, September 08, 2012 Vishaal 0 Comments

The Naked Ape: The Naked Ape, by Desmond Morris is a book I came across in a second hand book shop during one of my trips to Bangalore. After purchasing the book, I learnt that it had a controversial history, with scholars arguing it to be a textbook,  in biology, pre-med, sociology, and psychology courses.Just what is this book all about? It's about us . . . the human race.

There are 193 living species of monkeys and apes, 192 of which are covered with hair. Number 193 is the naked ape called man. Man came into being about 15 million years ago. At that time a sudden change in the climate occurred that sharply reduced. the size of the forests and forced a still hairy ape to forage for his food in the open spaces. Separated from the relatively easy - life of getting his food, man's' ancestors, says Morris, were forced to become hunters in order to survive. In the swift pace of the hunt, those with the least body hair became the least overheated and ran down the most game. Through the process of evolutionary selection, man gradually shed his furry coat entirely.

Some very interesting questions are raised in The Naked Ape and the  answers are somewhat startling, if not somewhat  logical and understandable.- For example, Why do 80 per cent of human mothers hold their infants in their left arm? It places the child closer to the heartbeat that comforted him in the womb. The reassuring effects of that heartbeat, according to Morris, continue into adult life.

A nervous speaker" often rock's back and forth on his feet at a heartbeat frequency. And why is he so nervous? Because everyone in the audience is staring at him - a signal of primitive aggression. Another interesting development about the naked ape is his sex life.

Emergence from the forest converted man into "the sexiest primate alive". To ensure that the female would be faithful to the male while he was away on the hunt, and that -the man would remain with the female to help in the extended rearing of the more slowing developing offspring, the "pair bond", or love, came to Homo Sapiens.

At the same rime, sexual relations became more rewarding to both the female and the male. The once brief mating season turned into a year-round affair.

In all of his endeavors, argues Morris, man should, take pains not to ignore his primeval instincts or else "our suppressed biological desires will build up and up until the dam bursts and the whole of our elaborate existence is swept away in the flood". A little dramatic, perhaps, but by taking this approach, and enhancing it with wit and graceful, non-technical prose, Zoologist Morris strikes a responsive chord in the very primate he is attempting to explain.