Monkey Business

The Naked Ape

by Desmond Morris
McGraw-Hill, 252 pp., $5.95

The Stone Age Hunters

by Grahame Clark
McGraw-Hill, 144 pp., $5.50

It would be nice to think that Morris’s attempt to present a biology of Man is meant as a joke, not to be taken seriously. Indeed the author has obviously enjoyed writing it and judging by its success his readers like it too. It is not difficult to see the secret of the formula. Start out determined to shock and be unconventional (the attitude that puts you on the side of the reader against the experts—always a success this). Then make up a story about how the human race may have evolved. Use this to produce an ingenious explanation of human sexual habits and make this an excuse to fill nearly a quarter of your book with a racy re-hash of Kinsey. The rest you fill up with some elementary sections on child psychology, add a piece on aggression and conclude with a section on man’s loves and hates among animals. The formula is complete. The ordinary reader learns a bit more about things he has vaguely heard of. Some knowledge is painlessly dispensed, fun is had by all and no great harm done. The description of man’s strongly developed sexuality as the basis for his unusual “pair-bonding” may even help some people to understand their reactions better. But it is hard to think that therapists of any school will feel that the very naïve treatments, say of homosexuality or even masturbation, will help anyone. Let’s hope they aren’t meant to. Dr. Morris’s favorite theory is that breasts and red lips represent an ape turned back to front. He even returns to it to explain why sadistic schoolmasters make the boys take down their trousers for a beating.

It would be easy to criticize this book on many points of style, taste, and fact. The author tries to disarm with his claim that he is a zoologist, man is an animal and therefore “fair game for my pen.” But it is not fair for any biologist to describe only those aspects of an animal that interest him and titillate his readers, especially if the ones omitted are the essential biological foundations of the success of the species. Dr. Morris has pages and pages about sex, quite a lot about smiling, frowning, and much talk of displacement activities and many other ethological matters, but nothing at all about language. As there is no index nor list of contents it is hard to be sure whether the word is even mentioned. The only references to learning are repeated assertions about the child being “imprinted” on its mother (indeed on her heart-beats) and then later taking transitory “minor imprints” from sexual play before “pair-bonding.” So much for learning and education, mathematics, poetry, and literature. The author devotes a few lines to explaining why he has “omitted the growth of science and technology from this discussion [of exploratory behaviour] because it has largely been concerned with specific improvements employed in achieving the basic goals, such as fighting …

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