After 30 years of language research using her pet parrot, Alex, as the principal subject, Dr. Pepperberg contends that her bird's level of comprehension equaled that of chimps and dolphins. Although her work and conclusions have not been widely accepted, she provides enough data from her records for listeners to evaluate her methods and decide for themselves. Narrator Julia Gibson chooses a diminutive voice as her rendition of the author speaking, maybe because she wants to emphasize the warm relationship of owner and pet more than the rigorous science of the story. Gibson makes no attempt to imitate Alex as he works on his lessons, missing a precious opportunity for characterization.
What would normally be a quiet, very private event was, in Alex's case, headline news. Over the 30 years they had worked together, Alex and Irene had become famous - two pioneers who opened an unprecedented window into the hidden yet vast world of animal minds. Alex's brain was the size of a shelled walnut, and when Irene and Alex first met, birds were not believed to possess any potential for language, consciousness, or anything remotely comparable to human intelligence. Yet, over the years, Alex proved many things. He could add. He could sound out words. He understood concepts like bigger, smaller, more, fewer, and none. He was capable of thought and intention. Together, Alex and Irene uncovered a startling reality: We live in a world populated by thinking, conscious creatures.
The fame that resulted was extraordinary. Yet there was a side to their relationship that never made the papers. They were emotionally connected to one another. They shared a deep bond far beyond science. Alex missed Irene when she was away. He was jealous when she paid attention to other parrots, or even people. He liked to show her who was boss. He loved to dance. He sometimes became bored by the repetition of his tests, and played jokes on her. Sometimes they sniped at each other. Yet nearly every day, they each said, "I love you."
Alex and Irene stayed together through thick and thin - despite sneers from experts, extraordinary financial sacrifices, and a nomadic existence from one university to another. The story of their 30-year adventure is equally a landmark of scientific achievement and of an unforgettable human-animal bond.
©2008 Irene M. Pepperberg; (P)2008 HarperCollins Publishers
So many books--so little time
I'm a bird lover and I am constantly amazed by what birds are capable of doing. I think I went into the book knowing quite a bit about the story up front. I watched the TV programs about Alex, saw a variety of Utube videos and had read several articles about this subject. So maybe that's why the book felt a bit repetitive. When I finished listening I had the feeling that I wanted to know more about Alex the bird and the other birds the author had worked with. The story was amazing--but in some ways incomplete. All in all, concerns aside, a fascinating book for bird lovers.
This book came recommended to us by a friend. It was quite an education in African gray parrots, and how their intelligence level is on par with a 5-year old human - I didn't know that. Independently, the book is another window into the back-biting and internecine world of academia.
The first chapter is distracting. It fast-forwards to the aftermath of Alex' death and all the paeans and epitaphs he received from the world press. That, before we know anything about the bird himself. And this chapter is WAY over-long. Second, the author never tells us why or how Alex died . . . making for quite an anticlimax. The author in general does not come across as a very sympathetic person.
What she went on to do after Alex's death, and whether she replicated the results with any other animals.
A little bit self repeating story. I expected more about the actual studies. Anyway, nice to learn something new about the pioneer of animal cognition research.
Okay, Alex and Dr. Pepperberg are a story that everyone should know. With creative, intuitively-devised methodology, Irene was able to shatter ideas of animal intelligence. Alex's accomplishments are the kind of jaw-dropping items you'll find yourself sharing with friends and family. I have the highest respect for their work and wish they were even more widely known than they are.
The thing is, you could learn just about as much watching some YouTube videos and listening to some interviews with Dr. Pepperberg (FreshAir has a great one). The book is padded with a lot of biographical information that I just didn't find that compelling and the real insights could be related in one hour rather than nearly six. The reading was adequate but the writing is just not that compelling and there's not enough science here to keep my interest.
This is a wonderful book about the African Gray that could do more than we every imagined. It is also the first person story about the researcher who owned the Gray and difficulties (politically and otherwise) of sustaining research in this needy area of study. The book is read very well, the audio is wonderful, and the story is entertaining as well as informative. If you don't have any interest in animal or ornithological cognition, listen to this book anyway for the story line. You will come away amazed at life around us and the creatures that enhabit our world. I am now convinced that those who believe there is a God have no more problems than those who believe there is none. This Gray has shown us more than we are ready to accept - even still.
hearing anecdotal accounts of Alex's personality and ability to communicate is inspiring. I think I might prefer to read this account more than listen to it though. there was some scientific editorializing that i might skip. Also I wasn't fond of the strange musical interludes between sections of the recording.
I was always interested seeing Alex on PBS specials. To hear his story from Dr. Pepperberg was enchanting and wonderful. I am on my 4th or 5th listen to this book. The concept of animal cognition really touches home. I do believe that it is a matter of degree, and not a switch!
The story of Alex the Parrot is jaw-dropping by any standards, but Pepperberg also does a great job of telling it in this book. It's not only a story about the amazing conceptual achievements of this bird, but also about Pepperberg's struggle to keep funding the lab on a shoestring, and the struggle to be taken seriously with a scientific project that was genuinely original, and therefore originally dismissed by many as nonsense.
I had no idea how far cognition can go in the brain of a bird, and that really kept me interested in the book throughout the read. Julia Gibson as reader was first a bit annoying, but I got used to it and think that her voice actually reflects what the author is like. A lot of personal history of Ms. Pepperberg is also covered in the book. While some reviewers disliked that fact, I did find it interesting as well. It does show how difficult it can be to drive into new scientific directions without having the support of the community initially. It also shows that perseverance can get you there non-the-less. The subject of bird intelligence, in brains that are only distantly related to mammal brains, has kept me thinking for weeks after I listened to the book. Maybe the intelligence attested to the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park is not impossible after all?
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