By The Way:

Congo story screen Meet the Author:  Desmond Morris reminisces about his career, announces his new book "Watching," and recounts serious breaches of etiquette involving his friend Congo, the chimp, at the Café Royal in London. A three-minute, captioned video.

photo of Desmond Morris Visit the Desmond Morris official website at www.Desmond-Morris.com.

Desmond Morris After many years spent living in London where I had written “The Naked Ape,” I moved in the late 1960s to a village on the small Mediterranean island of Malta.  …  From here I was able to look back at the urban environment and view it dispassionately.  I wanted to have a look at the way in which man, the primeval hunter becomes transformed into man, the modern city dweller.  What had happened to all those ancient primitive urges—the need for spaces, for territory, for hunting grounds now that he was crushed into tiny cells inside these great cities?  Some people, of course, call the city a concrete jungle, but jungles aren't like that.  Animals in jungles aren't overcrowded.  And overcrowding is the central problem of modern city life.  If you want to look for crowded animals, you have to look in a zoo.  And then it occurred to me.  The city is not a concrete jungle, it's a human zoo. 

– Desmond Morris in “The Human Zoo” (the television program), Part 3 of the 1994 television series “The Human Animal: A Personal View of the Human Species” by Desmond Morris

Is Human Behavior Rational?

“The Human Zoo” book cover, 1996, paperback edition, ISBN-13: 9-781568-361048
“The Human Zoo”
1996 paperback edition

Are you often baffled by human behavior, dismissing it as irreconcilable with reason? Then this is the book for you—human behavior from the point of view of the zoologist. As it turns out, the key to understanding much of human behavior can be found in comparisons with other animal species, especially other primate species. There is nothing particularly demeaning in these comparisons, although they can be a source of amusement at times. But overall, we can thank our evolutionary heritage for enabling us to make astonishing advancements of which we can be proud. Moreover, knowing how our ancient ancestry shapes our needs can help us design a better society now and avoid serious mistakes in the future.

So, if you are interested in what makes us and our society tick, and the strengths and weaknesses of the way things work, you owe it to yourself to read this book.

“The Human Zoo” Television Program

Back in 1994 or so, a 49-minute television program bearing the same title of the book aired as Part 3 of the series “The Human Animal.” This excellent program gives you a quick look at some of the book's major ideas with illustrative examples. However, the book is no mere carbon copy of the program and provides much greater detail and depth, many more detailed justifications and explanations and, in many cases, different examples. To see “The Human Zoo” television program, including the author's quote above, click here…

Buy the Book

I definitely recommend that you buy the book.

If you're like me, you will find yourself recalling portions of this book quite often as you journey through life, more than often enough to justify having your own copy. For example, if you follow politics at all—and it's impossible for anyone to totally avoid the subject—you are sure to gain some stunning insights, as well as a few laughs, as Desmond Morris analyzes the techniques our leaders use to inspire our allegaince and gain our enthusiastic cooperation, or at least our grudging conformity. Surprisingly, human power politics, far from being evidence of our unique position at the top of the evolutionary ladder is, in reality, a carrying forward into our species of certain behaviors in other animals, especially primates. From a species perspective, "the apple didn't fall far from the tree," I think is the expression that would apply here. In Chapter 2, see the “ten commandments of dominance,” which alone makes the book well worth adding to the shelf at home.

You can buy it new at your local bookstore or online, of course. But for three or four dollars, including shipping, the book is widely available in used condition from various online sources, for example, www.AbeBooks.com. You might limit your choices as I do to booksellers with a high rating.

Popular Songs Recall Themes in “The Human Zoo”…

To get into the proper frame of mind, and get you tuned into this “Human Zoo” vibe, try listening to the following music on YouTube ;-]

“Apeman” by The Kinks, with lyrics “Apeman” by The Kinks, with lyrics

Source: YouTube: “Apeman” by The Kinks - from the album “To The Bone” (With Lyrics),
posted by mozer83, Aug. 26, 2010, accessed Oct. 13, 2010

Or try this:

“Apeman” by The Kinks, another nice version, also with lyrics Another nice version of “Apeman” by The Kinks, with lyrics on the same page. To access the lyrics, click "Show more" under the YouTube video screen.

Source: YouTube: The Kinks - Apeman 1970,
posted by fritz51177, July 25, 2008, accessed Dec. 31, 2010

There are other popular songs, parts of which appear, no doubt accidentally, to have been intentionally written with the book in mind, so much so that it can seem rather eerie:

“Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears, both the title and first verse, echo one of the main themes of Chapter 2, the struggle for social dominance in any organized group of mammals, including humans (38).

A later verse of the song beginning “I can't stand this indecision,” recalls an important idea expressed in the ten commandments of dominance and elsewhere, that the successful leader must not appear to be indecisive. “The great super-tribal leader cannot enjoy the luxury of ponderous restraint and ‘further examination of the facts.’ The biological nature of his role as a dominant animal forces him to make a snap decision or lose face” (43-44).

“Cult of Personality” by Living Colour was a very popular music video on MTV that dealt with the problems and conflicts inherent in “the leader principle” or “F├╝hrerprinzip.” Is the problem of humanity one of selecting the right leader or is there a problem with the leader principle itself? Desmond Morris is also keenly aware of this issue. On the one hand, members of the super-tribe demand that power reside in a single, dominant individual, as was the case in the ancient tribal environment (49). On the other hand, no single individual has the knowledge to make sound, well-informed decisions in a society of any size or complexity (43). (Warning: Heavy Metal—have your earplugs ready.)