I thought it would take off. I thought it would be massive. I thought it would be the next Marley and Me. I was positive that Irene Pepperberg’s book, Alex and Me would be a smash hit putting the book about the world’s worst dog to shame. It was big, but it wasn’t the massive hit Marley’s story was.
Irene’s book did respectably well. And I’m pleased for her. The problem is, for a book this damned good, this interesting and this well written, it should have gone to the top and stayed there. Well, it didn’t. And that’s just not right.
For as popular and talented as Alex was, and still is, people who loved his interview with Alan Alda on the TV show, Scientific Frontiers should have trotted right out and bought the book to get the back story on how that television special came about. If you enjoy the film clips of Alex and Irene on Youtube, watching Irene work with Alex, Griffin and Arthur, you should race out and buy the book. It is simply wonderful.
Irene and writer Roger Lewin crafted a book that not only gives insight and detail into the story of Alex, it gives you the backstory of so many things we know about him. How did he begin to say “corknut?” Where did he get the word, “Banerry?” How in God’s name did Irene and Alex end up at MIT anyway? Do you want to know? Buy the book. It’ll tell you all about it.
Following her life from her childhood and first bird, to her education and ultimately her choice to forgo work in her chosen field of chemistry to study animal cognition and communication, Alex and Me is a detailed chronicle of Irene’s life with Alex and their achievements, accomplishments and difficulties.
The book takes you to Arizona where Irene worked as a professor, back to MIT, her old stomping grounds where she earned her chemistry degree, and on to Brandeis University, where her lab is now. In her book, she discusses the struggle to raise funds for the Alex Foundation that still goes on today, and her battle to have her research and work taken seriously.
It’s witty, thoughtful, and gives the reader a “bird’s eye view” so to speak, of Alex and Irene’s story. It’s not just an I-did-this-and-then-I-did-that tale. Irene’s book tells you not only what she did, but how she did them and why. It fills all of those questions you’d want to ask her if you had an hour or two to sit down with Irene and ask her anything you wanted to know.
For people interested in training their parrot, the book is inspiring. It also answers a common question Irene is always asked: “What was Alex really like?”
Well, let me tell you, from the sound of it, Alex was a real pistol. He had an attitude, confidence, and he was even a bit demanding. He also was somewhat of a bully from what I’ve been able to gather. In reading this account of Alex and what his personality was like, I had one constant thought nagging at me: “My God, this sounds a bit like Parker.” And if you have an African Grey or two, you will see many similarities in your own birds.
Alex stunned the world with his ability and potential. And when he died, I know I wasn’t the only one who cried when I heard the news. I’ve seen person after person break down in tears right in front of Irene, trying to express how bad they felt when Alex passed away. I was emotionally paralyzed for two weeks after Alex died. This wasn’t even my bird, but it affected me deeply. However, I am pleased to know that I’m in huge company.
Alex is an icon, and will forever be remembered as “The smartest bird in the world.” He broke previously held scientific notions into pieces, shattering what it means to be human, and what it means to be cognizant. He changed many minds about the connection all creatures have in nature and in the world, including humans.
As Irene put it in the book, “…he (Alex) did leave me this great gift of what was once known and embraced, but was lost; the oneness of nature and our part in it.”
Irene’s book will answer so many questions you might have about African Greys, animal intelligence and the amazing story of Alex, a very special African Grey Parrot.
Alex and Me should be in every bird person’s library. It’s that good.
You can purchase your copy here: The Alex Foundation
January 26, 2011 at 9:12 am
Wonderful review! I can’t wait to read the book!
January 26, 2011 at 10:29 am
This goes back to your Latte Drive, but the thing that most surprised me is how, even today, after everything that she’s learned and accomplished, how she still has to beg and scratch for money. Terrible.
January 26, 2011 at 10:45 am
I know Tess. There are a lot of factors at play here. Federal funding cutbacks, the economy, and she is still trying to get people to understand her work in the first place.
People don’t understand that this is not “trick training” she’s doing here. It’s far more than that.
January 26, 2011 at 12:41 pm
Every bird lover should have a copy of this book! And it’s a great gift too! Put it at the top of your Christmas and birthday gift list.
January 26, 2011 at 1:58 pm
I highly recommend this book to anyone…not just bird enthusiasts.
January 26, 2011 at 5:53 pm
It’s an awesome book and she’s beyond awesome (not to mention Alex!). I bought several signed copies when they first came out and gave them to friends, keeping one for me of course. I was pretty disgusted when Time Magazine ran a good-sized article last year about animal intelligence and didn’t mention a word about Alex. I even emailed them but heard no response. Someday I hope Irene’s work is given the respect and attention it truly deserves.
Thanks for your good review! And Mongo and Sinbad (GW and B&G) say hey to Parker and Pepper. They feel that Parker and Pepper are really little grey macaws, as they seem to share many traits, ha! I was hesitant at first to tell Mongo and Sinbad about Parker and Pepper’s exploits, thinking that they might try to imitate some of the more interesting antics…. but then it became clear to me upon further reading of your work that my two are already there in terms of behavior (or beyond, given their sizes which mostly means the ability to throw things farther). So no worries!
January 27, 2011 at 12:53 pm
I never thought about it before, but you’re right! Not so much Pepper, but Parker is definitely more “Macaw -like” than other Greys I know.
January 26, 2011 at 9:20 pm
I love this book!!! I think anyone who has been around animals, not just parrots, can relate to the relationship that Irene had with Alex. I laughed and I cried. Alex was a remarkable parrot and his intelligence opened many minds but it wasn’t his intelligence that makes me love the book- it is the story itself. In one word it is WONDERFUL!!!
January 28, 2011 at 12:33 am
I finally got the chance to read “Alex and Me”, and the whole first chapter kept me in tears. Im planning to also buy several copies to distribute among friends, family and my bird owners. More than likely I wont be able to wait until christmas!
I absolutely respect and admire Irene’s dedication.
February 1, 2011 at 2:18 pm
This is an area of interest for me Patricia as you well know so I finally got of my butt and ordered a copy from Amazon. Your review was excellent and very thorough. What else would we have expected from Irene? Her work speaks for itself. I will receive my copy the day after tomorrow Feb. 3 and look forward to finally reading “Alex and Me”!