This title is not available in our membership service

We’re working with the publisher to make it available as soon as possible.

Request Title
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

Now Elizabeth Hess’s unforgettable biography is the inspiration for Project Nim, a riveting new documentary directed by James Marsh and produced by Simon Chinn, the Oscar-winning team known for Man on Wire. Hess, a consultant on the film, says, “Getting a call from James Marsh and Simon Chinn is an author’s dream. Project Nim is nothing short of amazing.”


Could an adorable chimpanzee raised from infancy by a human family bridge the gap between species—and change the way we think about the boundaries between the animal and human worlds? Here is the strange and moving account of an experiment intended to answer just those questions, and the astonishing biography of the chimp who was chosen to see it through.

Dubbed Project Nim, the experiment was the brainchild of Herbert S. Terrace, a psychologist at Columbia University. His goal was to teach a chimpanzee American Sign Language in order to refute Noam Chomsky’s assertion that language is an exclusively human trait. Nim Chimpsky, the baby chimp at the center of this ambitious, potentially groundbreaking study, was “adopted” by one of Dr. Terrace’s graduate students and brought home to live with her and her large family in their elegant brownstone on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

At first Nim’s progress in learning ASL and adapting to his new environment exceeded all expectations. His charm, mischievous sense of humor, and keen, sometimes shrewdly manipulative understanding of human nature endeared him to everyone he met, and even led to guest appearances on Sesame Street, where he was meant to model good behavior for toddlers. But no one had thought through the long-term consequences of raising a chimp in the human world, and when funding for the study ran out, Nim’s problems began.

Over the next two decades, exiled from the people he loved, Nim was rotated in and out of various facilities. It would be a long time before this chimp who had been brought up to identify with his human caretakers had another opportunity to blow out the candles on a cake celebrating his birthday. No matter where he was sent, however, Nim’s hard-earned ability to converse with humans would prove to be his salvation, protecting him from the fate of many of his peers.

Drawing on interviews with the people who lived with Nim, diapered him, dressed him, taught him, and loved him, Elizabeth Hess weaves an unforgettable tale of an extraordinary and charismatic creature. His story will move and entertain at the same time that it challenges us to ask what it means to be human, and what we owe to the animals who so enrich our lives.


From the Hardcover edition.
Published: Random House Publishing Group an imprint of Random House Publishing Group on
ISBN: 9780553904703
List price: $13.99
Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
Availability for Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human
  1. This book can be read on up to 6 mobile devices.
This book is scarcely about Nim Chimpsky at all, its far more about all the humans in his life. Its about the person who bought him, the many people who raised him as a human child - although they would never have given up on the job as they all did so quickly with Nim - and all the people who were part of the various experiments on him. Finally it is about the people who looked after him in his retirement.

As a book about an animal, animal behaviour and language acquisition, this book fails miserably - Vince Smith, Roger Fouts and Sue Savage-Rumbaugh have all written much more interestingly on these subjects. However, it was interesting to see the wheeling and dealing and politicking of the world that lives on research grants and where jealousy rather than co-operation is the name of the game for these scientists.

more
The terribly sad story of Nim the chimp who was raised with human children and taught sign language, and then after a brief period in a chimp sanctuary, more or less abandoned to his fate. I devoured this immediately after watching Project Nim (2011), an extremely good documentary. I recommend both.more
In Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human, author Elizabeth Hess chronicles the awkward but innovative experiment in which a chimpanzee was raised as a human in order to test the long held ideal that language is a uniquely human trait. Named in parody of linguist Noam Chomsky, Nim Chimpsky is the center of "Project Nim" and thus the book surrounding his life.Delving into the details of the primate facility in Oklahoma where he was born to the home of his foster family and the research university in New York, Hess unravels a story that fluctuates between humorous, sweet, appalling, and unbelievable. I found myself exceptionally interested in the scientific side of this story but was shocked at the lack of ethics and standards in raising of Nim. Though expected to learn ASL, the family he lived with was not fluent in sign language and few of his numerous handlers were intent on keeping records of his progress. Also, when the project began very little thought was given to the long term ramification of teaching a chimpanzee to behave as a human and predictably, the adolescent Nim quickly becomes too much to handle. The tragedy of the personable chimp left without a home or a purpose - and the greater story of research animals in general - is ultimately the most stunning part of Hess's work.It's impossible to approach this book without falling a little bit in love with the precocious Nim. The photographic documentation of the tiny baby chimp who dresses in toddler clothes; growing into a midsized animal with enough sense to wash dishes and play with pets; and finally a full grown ape with a deep intelligence in his all-too-human eyes reveal the closeness of chimpanzees to homo sapiens in a way that statistics about genetic similarity will never match. Though it may not conclusively answer the questions of animals' ability to use language what Nim's story does is raise even more questions about our compassion towards other species. This is a book for lovers of animals and fans of science and anyone who enjoys an out of the ordinary biography.more
This book is the biography of chimp, and an examination of the circumstances surrounding his life and death. The animal in question was called "Nim Chimpsky" and he was raised in a human home and taught sign language from birth as part of an experiment to try and refute linguist Noam Chompsky's teachings that animals can't really learn language. (NB: This isn't "learn language" as a layman like me might mean it. The question at issue here isn't whether or not animals can learn words. There's no question that a chimp can learn to sign "banana give me eat." Chompsky's argument is more involved than that. To express it very crudely, his assertion is that animals can't employ syntax ). The book is much less about the question of linguistics, though, and much more focused on the life of the chimp. Here was an extraordinarily smart creature. He was brought up like a child -- taught to hang his jacket on a hook, to help to wash the dishes, and to watch TV and munch snacks with the family. Then, at the end of the experiment, he's back to being just another expendable animal, locked in a tiny cage uselessly begging his captors in sign language to be let out.It's a frustrating history to read, full of sloppy experiments, of people who are caring but who have no idea how to deal with a chimp, and of people experienced in dealing with chimps but regard them as no more deserving of sympathy than a rat. The real tragedy, as Hess paints it is of well-meaning people who mostly just have no idea how hard it will be to care for him: people who assume that he'll be as easy as a dog, or maybe as easy as a human child, and simple questions of money, since for most of Nim's life, the funds to keep him were in short supply.Further, it can be, at times, horrifying, as this humanized creature is treated in ways that make you cringe. Hess' book is very informal, is opinionated and I don't know how rigorously it was researched. So, I won't treat it as a gospel truth. But, having never read in detail about these Ape Language Acquisition experiments before, I found it very interestingmore
If there's anyone left on the planet who needs convincing that chimpanzees are more like us (or we're like them) than they'd care to think they need to read Elizabeth Hess's biography of Nim Chimpsky, the chimpanzee who was taught to communicate in American Sign Language (ASL).Animal biographies are a publishing curiosity. Me Cheeta: The autobiography, the memoir of Cheeta, the celebrity chimpanzee who swung from tree to fame in the Tarzan movies, was recently published. As clever as chimpanzees are no one really believes it was Cheeta who wrote it (it was James Lever). American Presidential pets are also notorious for writing books. Socks, the Clinton's cat, wrote Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids' Letters to the First Pets (well, Hillary claims to have written it which is just as likely as Socks writing it). Bush Senior's dog, Millie, wrote Millie's Book; As Dictated to Barbara Bush (debatable, again, as to whether it was Millie or Barbara who wrote it). We look forward to the literary delights of Barney (Bush Junior's dog), who will presumably write from his residential retreat in Midland, Texas. (Barney already has his own page on the White House website.Writing a serious biography of an animal is a formidable challenge, as I know from working with the artist, Sue Coe, on a project about Topsy, the elephant electrocuted by Edison in 1903. Human lives, unlike animal lives, are documented from birth to death. Hess's accomplishment in Nim Chimpsky: The chimp who would be human is framing the biography to address his life and the lives of the humans and chimpanzees who shaped his life, starting as a controversial research tool and ending as a rescued celebrity.From this beginning to the final years at The Fund for Animals' Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas, Hess recounts Nim's life and the cast of human and chimpanzee characters (there's even a "Where They Are Now" for the people) with discipline and diligence.Born at the Institute for Primate Studies in Norman, Oklahoma and taken from his mother 10 days after his birth, Nim was given to an affluent white family to be raised in an Upper West Side Manhattan brownstone. Diapered and dressed like a human baby, he was taught American Sign Language in order to prove we are not the only ones with the capacity to learn language.I reacted to Nim's biography with anger and despair as well as a deeper appreciation of how unscientific science really can be when it wants to be. For example, the name, Nim Chimpsky, is a silly reworking of Noam Chomsky, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguist who maintains only humans are capable of language. Science and anthropomorphism were conveniently cast aside throughout Nim's life. He was raised as a human baby by people who had no relevant experience or professional training in chimpanzees and their welfare. He was taught ASL primarily by people who were either learning it for the first time or picked it up as they went along. The research proceeded without a secure financial foundation thereby putting the chimpanzees' lives at continuous risk.Thankfully, Hess doesn't let her emotions interfere with her remarkable ability to retell (and research) Nim's story. Every now and then, however, she let us know what she really thinks. These few moments underscore the understated approach she takes. Nim's tragedy speaks for itself, as do all the other chimpanzees mentioned in the book, including Kitty, Midge, Lulu and Sally.The recently published revised European Commission Council Directive (86/609/EEC) on animal research proposed a ban on the use of great apes (orang-utans, gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos). Animal advocates say this is an empty gesture. Apes are not used in the European Union for research. If there's anyone left on the planet who needs convincing that this shouldn't be the case for the rest of the world should read Elizabeth Hess's biography of Nim, the chimp who endured the tragedy of being almost human.more
I really loved this book! It was truly heartbreaking to read about all of the torments that Nim went through and he seemed to really believe he was human, which after all was the purpose of most of the experimenting he went through. I was entertained, horrified, I cried, and I was amazed. That about sums it up!more
Well-done story of a chimpanzee raised with humans and taught sign language. Journalist author Elizabeth Hess covers the story honestly, warts and all. The ape is named Nim Chimpsky, not in honor of Noam Chomsky but to spite him, as he thought that only humans could learn language. Nim was one of the early attempts to teach a chimp sign language, and the sad thing is how often his life was uprooted despite his having the love of many of his caretakers, and how little attention was paid in these early years to what was necessary to meet the chimp's needs. The story also makes clear taht chimps are not humans, though sharing many human characteristics. Nim was strong and often bit, at least once causing severe damage. Yet many of those who dealt with him were captured by looking into his deep, emotion-filled eyes. The book raises a lot of ethical issues about how we treat animals.Well done story.more
Read all 8 reviews

Reviews

This book is scarcely about Nim Chimpsky at all, its far more about all the humans in his life. Its about the person who bought him, the many people who raised him as a human child - although they would never have given up on the job as they all did so quickly with Nim - and all the people who were part of the various experiments on him. Finally it is about the people who looked after him in his retirement.

As a book about an animal, animal behaviour and language acquisition, this book fails miserably - Vince Smith, Roger Fouts and Sue Savage-Rumbaugh have all written much more interestingly on these subjects. However, it was interesting to see the wheeling and dealing and politicking of the world that lives on research grants and where jealousy rather than co-operation is the name of the game for these scientists.

more
The terribly sad story of Nim the chimp who was raised with human children and taught sign language, and then after a brief period in a chimp sanctuary, more or less abandoned to his fate. I devoured this immediately after watching Project Nim (2011), an extremely good documentary. I recommend both.more
In Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human, author Elizabeth Hess chronicles the awkward but innovative experiment in which a chimpanzee was raised as a human in order to test the long held ideal that language is a uniquely human trait. Named in parody of linguist Noam Chomsky, Nim Chimpsky is the center of "Project Nim" and thus the book surrounding his life.Delving into the details of the primate facility in Oklahoma where he was born to the home of his foster family and the research university in New York, Hess unravels a story that fluctuates between humorous, sweet, appalling, and unbelievable. I found myself exceptionally interested in the scientific side of this story but was shocked at the lack of ethics and standards in raising of Nim. Though expected to learn ASL, the family he lived with was not fluent in sign language and few of his numerous handlers were intent on keeping records of his progress. Also, when the project began very little thought was given to the long term ramification of teaching a chimpanzee to behave as a human and predictably, the adolescent Nim quickly becomes too much to handle. The tragedy of the personable chimp left without a home or a purpose - and the greater story of research animals in general - is ultimately the most stunning part of Hess's work.It's impossible to approach this book without falling a little bit in love with the precocious Nim. The photographic documentation of the tiny baby chimp who dresses in toddler clothes; growing into a midsized animal with enough sense to wash dishes and play with pets; and finally a full grown ape with a deep intelligence in his all-too-human eyes reveal the closeness of chimpanzees to homo sapiens in a way that statistics about genetic similarity will never match. Though it may not conclusively answer the questions of animals' ability to use language what Nim's story does is raise even more questions about our compassion towards other species. This is a book for lovers of animals and fans of science and anyone who enjoys an out of the ordinary biography.more
This book is the biography of chimp, and an examination of the circumstances surrounding his life and death. The animal in question was called "Nim Chimpsky" and he was raised in a human home and taught sign language from birth as part of an experiment to try and refute linguist Noam Chompsky's teachings that animals can't really learn language. (NB: This isn't "learn language" as a layman like me might mean it. The question at issue here isn't whether or not animals can learn words. There's no question that a chimp can learn to sign "banana give me eat." Chompsky's argument is more involved than that. To express it very crudely, his assertion is that animals can't employ syntax ). The book is much less about the question of linguistics, though, and much more focused on the life of the chimp. Here was an extraordinarily smart creature. He was brought up like a child -- taught to hang his jacket on a hook, to help to wash the dishes, and to watch TV and munch snacks with the family. Then, at the end of the experiment, he's back to being just another expendable animal, locked in a tiny cage uselessly begging his captors in sign language to be let out.It's a frustrating history to read, full of sloppy experiments, of people who are caring but who have no idea how to deal with a chimp, and of people experienced in dealing with chimps but regard them as no more deserving of sympathy than a rat. The real tragedy, as Hess paints it is of well-meaning people who mostly just have no idea how hard it will be to care for him: people who assume that he'll be as easy as a dog, or maybe as easy as a human child, and simple questions of money, since for most of Nim's life, the funds to keep him were in short supply.Further, it can be, at times, horrifying, as this humanized creature is treated in ways that make you cringe. Hess' book is very informal, is opinionated and I don't know how rigorously it was researched. So, I won't treat it as a gospel truth. But, having never read in detail about these Ape Language Acquisition experiments before, I found it very interestingmore
If there's anyone left on the planet who needs convincing that chimpanzees are more like us (or we're like them) than they'd care to think they need to read Elizabeth Hess's biography of Nim Chimpsky, the chimpanzee who was taught to communicate in American Sign Language (ASL).Animal biographies are a publishing curiosity. Me Cheeta: The autobiography, the memoir of Cheeta, the celebrity chimpanzee who swung from tree to fame in the Tarzan movies, was recently published. As clever as chimpanzees are no one really believes it was Cheeta who wrote it (it was James Lever). American Presidential pets are also notorious for writing books. Socks, the Clinton's cat, wrote Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids' Letters to the First Pets (well, Hillary claims to have written it which is just as likely as Socks writing it). Bush Senior's dog, Millie, wrote Millie's Book; As Dictated to Barbara Bush (debatable, again, as to whether it was Millie or Barbara who wrote it). We look forward to the literary delights of Barney (Bush Junior's dog), who will presumably write from his residential retreat in Midland, Texas. (Barney already has his own page on the White House website.Writing a serious biography of an animal is a formidable challenge, as I know from working with the artist, Sue Coe, on a project about Topsy, the elephant electrocuted by Edison in 1903. Human lives, unlike animal lives, are documented from birth to death. Hess's accomplishment in Nim Chimpsky: The chimp who would be human is framing the biography to address his life and the lives of the humans and chimpanzees who shaped his life, starting as a controversial research tool and ending as a rescued celebrity.From this beginning to the final years at The Fund for Animals' Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas, Hess recounts Nim's life and the cast of human and chimpanzee characters (there's even a "Where They Are Now" for the people) with discipline and diligence.Born at the Institute for Primate Studies in Norman, Oklahoma and taken from his mother 10 days after his birth, Nim was given to an affluent white family to be raised in an Upper West Side Manhattan brownstone. Diapered and dressed like a human baby, he was taught American Sign Language in order to prove we are not the only ones with the capacity to learn language.I reacted to Nim's biography with anger and despair as well as a deeper appreciation of how unscientific science really can be when it wants to be. For example, the name, Nim Chimpsky, is a silly reworking of Noam Chomsky, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguist who maintains only humans are capable of language. Science and anthropomorphism were conveniently cast aside throughout Nim's life. He was raised as a human baby by people who had no relevant experience or professional training in chimpanzees and their welfare. He was taught ASL primarily by people who were either learning it for the first time or picked it up as they went along. The research proceeded without a secure financial foundation thereby putting the chimpanzees' lives at continuous risk.Thankfully, Hess doesn't let her emotions interfere with her remarkable ability to retell (and research) Nim's story. Every now and then, however, she let us know what she really thinks. These few moments underscore the understated approach she takes. Nim's tragedy speaks for itself, as do all the other chimpanzees mentioned in the book, including Kitty, Midge, Lulu and Sally.The recently published revised European Commission Council Directive (86/609/EEC) on animal research proposed a ban on the use of great apes (orang-utans, gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos). Animal advocates say this is an empty gesture. Apes are not used in the European Union for research. If there's anyone left on the planet who needs convincing that this shouldn't be the case for the rest of the world should read Elizabeth Hess's biography of Nim, the chimp who endured the tragedy of being almost human.more
I really loved this book! It was truly heartbreaking to read about all of the torments that Nim went through and he seemed to really believe he was human, which after all was the purpose of most of the experimenting he went through. I was entertained, horrified, I cried, and I was amazed. That about sums it up!more
Well-done story of a chimpanzee raised with humans and taught sign language. Journalist author Elizabeth Hess covers the story honestly, warts and all. The ape is named Nim Chimpsky, not in honor of Noam Chomsky but to spite him, as he thought that only humans could learn language. Nim was one of the early attempts to teach a chimp sign language, and the sad thing is how often his life was uprooted despite his having the love of many of his caretakers, and how little attention was paid in these early years to what was necessary to meet the chimp's needs. The story also makes clear taht chimps are not humans, though sharing many human characteristics. Nim was strong and often bit, at least once causing severe damage. Yet many of those who dealt with him were captured by looking into his deep, emotion-filled eyes. The book raises a lot of ethical issues about how we treat animals.Well done story.more
Load more
scribd