Friday, December 31, 2010

Book Review: Alex & Me (Book 83 of 100)

'm not much of a scientist as people that read this column regularly know but I am a pet owner and books about people and their pets appeal to me. Alex, a 31 yr old gray parrot at the time of his death was not Dr. Irene Pepperberg's pet he was her research animal. But don't get alarmed Alex was spoiled in the laboratory not tortured he got more attention and a better quality of life than many so called pet parrots. Pet parrots often over groom themselves to the point of pulling out feathers because they are feeling neglected. And I thought Richard was bad, he just pees on things, doesn't injure himself.

The story of Alex is in large part also the story of Dr. Irene Pepperburg who went to MIT and later Harvard in an era when women didn't do that. She got her Doctorate in chemistry and married another scientist then she switched career paths and focused on the interesting world of human and animal inter communication. She taught Alex to add, count numbers up to 7, and even spell and compare object sizes. No bird is supposed to be able to do this. She also gave up a lot of money and spent a lot of money to continue her work with no funding. At one point she says that her entire protein input was tofu and then her house was set at 57 degrees during a Boston winter just so she could provide for her birds and keep her research going. I live near Boston and having your heat set at 57 degrees is insane during winter especially a typical New England one. It just shows how devoted she was to her work.

Of course most people know Alex died, but his work and that of Dr. Pepperburg continue. While I'm sure this bird had made many a convert he's made this non-scientist actually want to read the hardcore science studies that work compiled about him. Dr. Pepperburg published such a book called The Alex Studies and I am going to order it from inter library alone. I don't know if I have a science back round to comprehend all the hard data but I'm going to try because I am interested. Something no other than any other science experiment I've ever heard about can claim to have made me. That being said, I don't think I would be as interested in science if I hadn't read the memoir first.

I rate this book a 9.2. Get it in either audio book or traditional print for all the pet lovers in your life. It's a read you won't forget

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