Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Review: Alex and Me by Irene Pepperberg

Alex and Me by Irene Pepperberg

Summary: On September 6, 2007, an African Grey parrot named Alex died prematurely at age thirty-one. His last words to his owner, Irene Pepperberg, were "You be good. I love you."
What would normally be a quiet, very private event was, in Alex's case, headline news. Over the thirty years they had worked together, Alex and Irene had become famous—two pioneers who opened an unprecedented window into the hidden yet vast world of animal minds. Alex's brain was the size of a shelled walnut, and when Irene and Alex first met, birds were not believed to possess any potential for language, consciousness, or anything remotely comparable to human intelligence. Yet, over the years, Alex proved many things. He could add. He could sound out words. He understood concepts like bigger, smaller, more, fewer, and none. He was capable of thought and intention. Together, Alex and Irene uncovered a startling reality: We live in a world populated by thinking, conscious creatures.
Review: This book was a quick read and a very sweet and cute book. It does not going into much of the science behind the brain of birds, including Grey parrots, or how Alex's brain was working when he was learning tasks. I had been hoping for a bit more science, but I can read The Alex Studies for more of the science behind Pebberberg's work.

I am a fan of birds and Pepperberg is as well so it made sense to mention her childhood and how her love of birds began. I feel she goes a little too in depth about her childhood. It takes Pepperberg about 50 pages to get into the story. The initial chapter about the outpouring of sympathy and media attention over Alex's death felt a little too long and could have been much shorter without Pebberberg quoting sympathy letters, newspapers, and emails. The work Pepperberg did with Alex and the other birds is very interesting and it does show that birds, and all animals too, have more intelligence then we give them credit for. However, I feel that Alex may very well be a genius among Grey parrots and what Pepperberg learned that Alex could do might not translate to other Grey parrots. And the intelligence of one species says very little about the intelligence of another species.


Recommendation: I would recommend this book to a fan of birds or anyone who enjoys lighter memoirs.

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