Biology, Reviews

An embarrassing primate book

jacket imageLast Saturday Michael Bywater had an interesting take on Macachiavellian Intelligence: How Rhesus Macaques and Humans Have Conquered the World by Dario Maestripieri in the Daily Telegraph:

Primate books are good for us. They remind us that we’re primates, too. And the embarrassing primate books are best. Macachiavellian Intelligence is an excellently embarrassing primate book, and just the thing to make us blush and shuffle our feet.

How to write an embarrassing primate book? Focus on “the notorious ‘weed monkey’, the rhesus macaque.”

Rhesus macaques, in short, are sods. They are despotic and nepotistic; their power structures are matrilineal. The males hang around sullenly, get into fights, emigrate to other groups, get into more fights and lead lives of violence and aggression which, as Maestripieri explains, is because they want raw power. Power gets you everything. It’s worth the price.

Rhesus macaques are—after homo sapiens of course—the most successful primates on the planet, judged by population size and distribution. Is violence and aggression the reason for our success? Maestripieri’s understanding of rhesus society has much to say to our own.
(Bywater also gives a passing mention to another book on primates, Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind by Dorothy L. Cheney and Robert M. Seyfarth. We have an excerpt from that book.)