In June 1977, we drove to Noah's Ark, a pet store near O'Hare Airport in Chicago to pick out my own Grey parrot. I had been in touch with the bird department director of Noah's Ark several times in the previous few months, and knew they had been bred in captivity...The bird director greeted us and showed us where the Greys were, a big cage with eight birds, all about a year old. "Which one would you like?" he said, looking at me.
I shrugged, because I didn't know how to choose. In any case, I reasoned that because I was embarking on a scientific study that should reflect the cognitive abilities of Greys in general, I thought it best to have one chosen at random. "Why don't you select one for me?" I said.
"OK," he replied, and picked up a net, opened the cage door, and scooped up the most conveniet bird he could reach. He flipped the bird on its back on a table, clipped its wings, claws, and beak, and popped it into a small box. Very unceremonious."
-Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence - and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process by Irene M. Pepperberg
So begins the 30 year friendship and professional relationship that changes Irene Pepperberg's life and the world's understanding of the cognitive and communication abilities of birds (and by association non-mammals).
In Alex & Me, Irene Pepperberg reads as part memoir and part a glimpse into her research. Irene shares what it was like for her from when she receives her first pet at four-years old, and bonds with a bird to her experience as one of the first young women in the hard sciences at MIT and Harvard in the 1960s and 1970s. Although Irene obtained her doctorate was in theoretical chemistry, she discovered and was drawn to the study of animal minds, animal thinking, and communication. While at Harvard, Irene fell in love and married a fellow graduate student. When her husband was offered a teaching position at Purdue, Irene accompanied him and tried to find financial and professional support for her research into the cognitive and communication skills of Grey parrots.
She had no inkling of how much Alex and their work together experience would shape the next thirty years of her life and how they would change the world's understanding of the complexity and ability of a "bird's brain."
The story of Alex & Me is also a story of deep friendship and the amazing bird that is Alex. I had no understanding of how much a bird could understand or process, but reading about Irene and her colleagues' experiences with Alex and the other Grey parrots makes you realize how amazing animals are. Alex and his colleagues are socialized and deal with people for hours each day and form close personal bonds and make themselves understood. I can't help but wonder about the other animals around us that must be able to comprehend much more than we'd given them credit for.
Alex & Me is an amazing and touching book and the stories of both Irene Pepperberg and Alex will surely stay in your thoughts long after you've finished the book.
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks; Reprint edition (September 1, 2009), 288 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours.show more