BOOKS: Next of Kin
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1997:
Next of Kin
by Roger Fouts
with Stephen Tukel Mills.
Introduction by Jane Goodall
William Morrow & Co.
(1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York,
NY 10019), 1997. 420 pages, hardcover, $25.00.
Chimpanzees’ use of English seems childlike, the tools
they make are simple, and their cultures are somewhat basic.
When these statements are understood they become revolutionary.
What Dr. Roger Fouts explains to us in Next of Kin
is that chimpanzees are us. Whether the public is ready for this
message and will be able to understand what this means about
the way we should treat the great apes remains to be seen.
Roger Fouts has spent the last 30 years thinking and
teaching about learning, language, evolution, and morality.
He has been pondering these topics while living with and talking
to a family of five chimpanzees, the most famous being
Washoe, the family’s matriarch.
Next of Kin is a tapestry of themes. Fouts says, “This is
Washoe’s story,” and while a preponderance of the book is
dedicated to Washoe’s biography, much more happens
between these covers. Next of Kin is at once Fouts’ autobiography,
a history of chimpanzee and human interaction, an investigation
into the evolution of language, and a depressing
acknowledgment of the lack of wisdom and compassion at the
National Institutes of Health. In the midst of all of this we also
find that Fouts’ research has led to some real life-altering
breakthroughs with autistic children.
Those familiar with The Great Ape Project, edited by
Paola Cavalieri and Peter Singer, or Visions of Calliban, by
Jane Goodall and D. Peterson, or The Monkey Wars, by
Deborah Blum will find much review here, but the repetition
will not distract from the importance of Roger Fouts’ work––
which should help people understand why extending basic
rights to the great apes is of such immediate importance.