In 2005, Vanessa Woods accepted a marriage proposal from a man she barely knew and agreed to join him on a research trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country reeling from a brutal decade-long war that had claimed the lives of millions. Settling in at a bonobo sanctuary in Congo's capital, Vanessa and her fiancee entered the world of a rare ape with whom we share 98.7 percent of our DNA. She soon discovered that many of the inhabitants of the sanctuary---ape and human alike---are refugees from unspeakable violence, yet bonobos live in a peaceful society in which females are in charge, war is nonexistent, and sex is as common and friendly as a handshake.
A fascinating memoir of hope and adventure, Bonobo Handshake traces Woods' self-discovery as she finds herself falling deeply in love with her husband, the apes, and her new surroundings while probing life's greatest question: What ultimately makes us human?
Courageous and extraordinary, this true story of revelation and transformation in a fragile corner of Africa is about looking past the differences between animals and ourselves, and finding in them the same extraordinary courage and will to survive. For Vanessa, it is about finding her own path as a writer and scientist, falling in love, and finding a home.©2010 Vanessa Woods (P)2010 Tantor
“A beautifully written journey into the tangled jungle of the human mind, it also brings us movingly into...loving contact with our extraordinary cousins. This is a compelling story, told with striking honesty, humor, and intelligence.” (Alan Alda)
"Funny, adventurous, and heartbreaking, Woods takes us with her to darkest Africa to meet our nearest relative, the nearly extinct bonobo. This must-read book illuminates extraordinary courage in both people and animals." (Sara Gruen, best-selling author of Water for Elephants)
I loved this book, including the quirky narrator, whose Aussie accent and intimacy are a perfect match for Vanessa Wood's story of falling in love with the bonobos of central Africa's Congo. Although I knew a bit about bonobos' matriarchal social structure and "make-love-not-war" approach to communal living, "Bonobo Handshake" not only deepened my knowledge, but made me care deeply about these remarkable members of the great ape family. Equally interesting are the author's descriptions of the Congo, which is the only place in the world where the endangered Bonobos live in the wild. It's rare to find a book that's both a good yarn and educational, and this one excels at all levels.
School Librarian, Cybrarian, Voracious Reader and Lifelong Inquirer.
This book will appeal to all who love real life adventure stories set in faraway, exotic places, particularly if the protagonist travels to do good works. The author is in Africa to study the little known Bonobo, almost identical looking to their primate cousins the Chimpanzee, but oh so different in several notable ways. Where Chimps are competitive and can be violent, Bonobos work together in peaceful groupings and use sexual contact for almost every type of emotion and communication, including with their human caregivers. You will fall in love with these quirky, delicate and loving creatures.
I love animal stories and was fascinated to learn about the Bonobo. I loved the author's sense of humor and compassion.
There is an episode where a female Bonobo develops a strong crush on the author's husband, also a researcher, and is hilariously demonstrative in her advances. Woods humorously recounts how astonished she is to realize she's insanely jealous of this competing female's attention to her beloved!
The scientific experiments that showed Bonobos innately cooperate with one another without being taught were fascinating. I laughed out loud at several of the passages depicting the sexual activity by the Bonobos: they have sex constantly with random members of their social group from an extremely young age, as casually as humans shake hands. And they not-so-subtly request that humans touch them in certain places as this is their customary way of greeting one another. Obviously this can create some awkward moments which the author, and talented reader Eyre, treat with humor and grace.
The story is about the author and her husband's work in the Congo studying bonobos, but it includes the concurrent story of their dynamic interpersonal relationship and the tumultuous political and tribal conflicts in the country. The author presents detailed information comparing the very contrasting behaviors and personalities of chimpanzees and bonobos.
Justine Eyre does an excellent job reading this book. Her normal Aussie accent fits the portrayal nicely, and she does an excellent job with American, French, and Congolese accents as well.
This was a book I wanted to savor and enjoy over time.
Once you learn about these closest relatives of ours, you may start seeking to turn on your own inner bonobo genetic inheritance and will likely want to financially support the protection and conservation of bonobos through Vanessa Woods' website
The author gives voice to per personal journey, the research she was involved in and the political strife of the African country of the Congo and weaves them into a meaningful look at human nature. If you want to learn about the actual research, this is not the book. The behind-the-scenes info given here is fascinating, but in this book the research unfolds as it becomes relevant to her story, not linear or conclusive in any scientifically explained way. That is not to say that there is only a little about the Bonobos and Chimps they researched! In fact, there is a "put you right in the moment" quality that is fascinating. Much of the story is, however, also about her relationships with humans, but fortunately she is insightful and entertaining in writing about this too. An interesting coincidence for me is that the author (whom I looked up on wiki just for ha, ha's) and her husband are now famous for research on dog behavior, which happens to be my line of work. How surprised I was when the husband, Brian, she kept mentioning turned out to be Brian Hare of the Dog Cognition Project!
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