A zoologist's study of the human animal

Desmond Morris – Random UK - 2000 - 272 pages

The naked Ape

2022 April 13 | by Arduino Mancini Emotion and Motivation - Leadership - Women and Men

Let me ask you a few questions:

  • Why is man the only hairless primate?
  • Where does our nutrition come from?
  • And our sexual habits?

To answer them, I will ask for the help of a song.

The 2017 edition of the Italian Sanremo Song Festival saw the success of Francesco Gabbani with a song that went straight to the top of the ratings.

In the song the author ironically criticizes the western habit of embracing oriental cultures and philosophies superficially, making them a fashion rather than inspiring one’s own lifestyle: to this end, he uses the image of a naked dancing monkey, inspired by Desmond Morris’s book The Naked Monkey, which I am going to review today.

The title is “Occidentali’s Karma” and you can listen to it in full here (subtitles in English).



Needless to say, sales of the book soared, introducing the great public (and myself…) to a book that had been a worldwide bestseller for decades.

Now let’s come to the book.

Written by English ethologist and zoologist Desmond Morris and first published in 1967, the book has been translated into 23 languages and is still a reference for anyone wishing to analyze human behaviour from an unconventional point of view.

The author studies the human being as an animal and ape, the only example among the 193 living species of apes to be hairless, arguing that

  • Homo Sapiens has remained a naked ape and that in acquiring new, higher motives, he has lost none of the old, lower motives.
  • Often this causes him some embarrassment, but his old impulses have belonged to him for millions of years while the new ones only belong to him for a few millennia, and there is no hope that he can quickly shake off the genetic inheritance that has accumulated throughout his evolutionary past.
  • He would be a much less worried and more satisfied animal if only he would face this reality.

Desmond Morris studies Homo Sapiens by looking at his sexual habits, the strategies he follows in the management of struggle and conflict, the way he raises his children, the exploration of new areas of knowledge, his nutrition, and the way he seeks well-being, his relationship with other animals.

With irony and lucidity, he analyses the differences and similarities between our behaviour and that of other primates, leading us in the search to find the answer to questions such as:

  • Why is man the only primate without hair?
  • Where does homosexuality originate?
  • How do we deal with struggle?
  • Where do religions come from?
  • Why do we laugh?
  • Where did dance arise?

Below you will find a video of Desmond Morris talking about his book.



What is striking, as you scroll through the pages, is Morris’s ability to analyze situations and behaviour with brutal candour, eliminating redundancies and presenting the results with disarming simplicity.

In short, an amusing, curious and intriguing book that I suggest you buy, read and present as a gift.



Appendix: Literature


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