Robert M. Sapolsky had the good sense, from a writer's point of view, to do a lot of crazy things while he was young. Most of them involved baboons. The week he graduated from Harvard, he set out for the plains of southwestern Kenya, where he was to follow a baboon troop on and off for more than 20 years. He did so both in his professional capacity as an animal behaviorist and in his less professional capacity as one of the troop's low-ranking males.
As a boy, entranced by the primate-filled dioramas at the Museum of Natural History in New York, he dreamed of morphing into a mountain gorilla. But his letter to Dian Fossey met with silence, and his scientific curiosity steered him toward questions of social organization that no forest primate could answer. Sapolsky resigned himself to abandoning all gorilla aspirations: ''You make compromises in life; not every kid can grow up to become president or a baseball star or a mountain gorilla. So I made plans to join the baboon troop.''
Sapolsky's earlier works, ''Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers'' and ''The Trouble With Testosterone,'' established him as one of the finest natural history writers around. ''A Primate's Memoir'' consolidates that reputation while offering something more. This time we are also treated to the nonfiction counterpart of a Bildungsroman, a portrait of the field biologist as a young man. The book's life flows largely from the youthful Sapolsky's penchant for throwing himself at the world and weighing the consequences later. Case in point: what specific aspect of his fancy education can help him escape a cave that he finds himself sharing with a large, drugged baboon and an impala (half-eaten, but alive enough to keep kicking him in the head)? His strategy also has to accommodate the baboon troop that's massing at the cave's entrance and hollering for impala blood.
more at the NY Times book review site: http://movies2.nytimes.com/books/01/04/01/reviews/010401.01nixont.html
Why this book? It's the right size at 302 pages but it's not in many libraries. It is available used cheaply. Sapolsky is known as an excellent writer on scientific subjects and a popular lecturer at Stanford.
Robert Sapolsky has interesting videos on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNnIGh9g6fA