Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Exploring deep within

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Hannah Holmes, the Maine-born, Portland-dwelling science writer, naturalist, and friend to all animals has turned her lens deeply inward in her latest book, The Well-Dressed Ape: ANatural History of Myself. In the process, she not only reveals more of herself than perhaps might be generally considered polite (describing the color not only of the "fur" on top of her head but also elsewhere) but also uncovers deeper truths about all of us.

As much memoir as biology, Holmes compares her interactions with other humans against the ways other animals interact. We are, it turns out, definitively animalistic in our tendencies toward territory (whatever we have, we protect, protect, protect) but at the same time bizarrely unique (what we consider desirable in a location is not based on food productivity or defensive characteristics, but some external message of "status").

It is definitely fascinating — and amusing — to have the human animal explained in the detached, clinical prose of science, but most interesting, and in excellent supply from Holmes, is something we can never get from other fauna: the information from within the brain and the senses and the body of what the life of one of those creatures is actually like.

The Well-Dressed Ape: A Natural History of Myself | by Hannah Holmes | Random House | 351 pages | $25