One of the best books I’ve read in a long time is “A Primate’s Memoir”, by Robert M. Sapolsky. He is a zoologist originally from New York City, now based in Stanford,
Robert M. Sapolsky:
A Primate’s Memoir
Love, Death and Baboons in East Africa
at Vintage/Random House
and this book is mainly the story of his relationship with a troop of savanna baboons that he studied, for a few months of every year and consistently over many years, in Kenya. Basically he was following their social life in great detail, and correlating the ups and downs of individual animals’ circumstances with physiological measurements such as levels of hormones, etc. As is not entirely incongruent with a lifestyle choice of the West over the East coast, a fair amount of the lessons he draws are on the value of chilling out and avoiding unnecessary stress.
The stories about the animals are a real soap opera, and since he has followed the animals over what are a few baboon generations, there are some moving tales in here. Some things make you wonder how much we have changed since adopting a mostly bipedal posture.
Of course, being out on his own in a fairly remote part of Africa, Sapolsky also has time to observe and reflect on the local people and how they are coping with changes in the economic and social structure of their countries. There are a couple of forays out to the coast and up to Sudan, with some seriously scary hitch-hiking tales. By coincidence, I read this book about the same time as “Dreams from my Father”, by Barack Obama, and I’d say their observations of Africa back each other up in some interesting ways.
Here’s a video of Sapolsky talking about stress (unfortunately, an interview where he explains how he got into baboons is no longer available):