Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Book: The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris

"There are one hundred and ninety-three living species of of monkeys and apes. One hundred and ninety-two of them are covered with hair. The exception is a naked ape self-named Homo sapiens."

While some of the accepted wisdom may have changed since this book was first published in 1967, "The Naked Ape" remains an exciting, highly readable and eye-opening account of man as an animal. In just two-hundred or so pages, all of the essential topics are covered including include the origins of the hairless ape, exploration, sex, feeding and animals.

Morris's zoological work is shaded with opinions, some of which readers may disagree with, but the striking originality on display adds much colour and the arguments remains convincing on most counts. I highly recommend this book as a refreshing reminder of who you are.

As to the origins of the hairless ape, theories of denudation put forward include the survival value of naked skin as a means of parasite avoidance; reducing dirt capture; the ability to make fire as a way to keep warm; and the interesting idea that we went through a phase as an aquatic ape when we left the forests (as surprising as this sounds, it isn't that far fetched). Social evolution is also cited but the theory favoured by Morris is that we lost our hair to avoid overheating after giving chase to prey or when running from carnivorous rivals.

There are a couple of long quotes to post on man's inherent exploratory nature and the displacement strategies we employ, but I'll save these for later in the week.


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