by Herbert S. Terrace
Nim the chimp was at first raised in a human household, to see if he could assimilate language like a child. But if I recall correctly, his later years were spent mostly at a research facility, being taught and tested. He learned to use over 100 words in sign language. It's fascinating to read about Nim, the methods and details of the research project, the chimpanzee's behavior. Overall the burning question addressed in the book was: did the chimp know what he was saying? or was he just cleverly mimicking the hand gestures, following subconscious human cues? In this regard Terrace seems to be really critical of the project, scrutinizing his own scientific methods and finding fault with Nim's performance. Nim wasn't the only chimpanzee being taught language at the time; if I remember rightly quite a bit of the book included the author's criticism of other language experiments among his colleagues. But then again, I read several books about similar efforts around the same time frame, so I could be getting them confused in my memory.
You can read more about Nim here. There are a few more books written about Nim from other viewpoints, including one which details the end of his life and discusses abuse which occurred at the facility. I wasn't aware of this aspect of Nim's story before, just discovered it while poking around online today, and it made me very sad to think of.
I cannot find a single other review of this book online. If anyone out there has read it and can correct my memory, or give more insight, please comment!
Rating: 3/5 322 pages, 1987