Alex & Me

alex and me irene pepperbergAlex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Uncovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence–and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process by Irene M. Pepperberg, 2/5

Readers looking for more than a heartwarming animal story will be disappointed by this relentlessly unscientific book.  Pepperberg spends more time complaining about being unappreciated by the scientific community, blatantly anthropomorphizing her parrot and giving unsubstantiated anecdotes of Alex’s human-like behaviour than providing anything of academic interest.  I was annoyed right from the beginning of the punishingly emotive first chapter, which is all about the emotional trauma that Alex’s death caused the author.  Pepperberg appreciatively quotes a letter from a lady who said the parrot’s demise caused her as much grief as the death of her only child, even though this long-distance sympathiser had never even met Pepperberg or Alex!  Now that’s just crazy talk, but the author treats it as a matter of course.  While some interesting comments are made about the model/rival method of teaching (where the learner observes two trainers interacting), no satisfying explanation is given of the time between Alex being taught, with difficulty, his first word and Alex spontaneously spouting grammatically correct, complete sentences in response to complex social scenarios.  Given Pepperberg’s credentials, I can only assume that she is a legitimate scientist, but this book is not at all convincing.

[Why I read it: frustratingly, this book has been sitting by my bed for so long that I can’t even remember why I ordered it from the library in the first place.   I think it might have been mentioned in some other book I read.]

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