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Book Review: “Alex and Me” - The Bird That Rocked the World

by amanda on October 31, 2008 · 1 comment

in news

I just picked up Irene Pepperberg’s book, “Alex and Me,” about the charasmatic African Grey who shook up the science community and captured people’s hearts. The book was written after his death. His death got a lot of media attention and more people have asked me about him since the blitz. However, his death isn’t when I first “met” Alex.

As a child, I wanted to be an animal trainer. One of the reasons was Alex. I picked up a “Weekly Reader” in elementary school and read about Alex, an amazing bird who could tell shapes, colors, fruits and he could count. He was a genius. I insisted I get a parrot of my own. Coming from a poorish family, we could purchase no “Alex” of our own. I settled on a cockatiel in a shiny gold cage. What did I name him? Alex. I honestly don’t think I knew he would never be as smart as the real thing!

For a cockatiel, Alex was pretty smart. He had a pretty good vocabulary for a cockatiel (he said “I love you”,”give me a kiss”,”hello”,”pretty bird” and “peanut”). I was convinced he was a genius. I remember buying him various baby toys and trying to get him to imitate the real Alex. Poor fella never had a chance, but I was convinced I was next Irene Pepperberg! Unfortunately, a curious dog got the best of my Alex when I accidentally left him out on his cage one evening. He had been with me for 5-6 years, but no where near the end of his life expectancy. I would later get my chance to work with bigger parrots at a local zoo.

I love to read about the Alex experiments. I’ve written college papers on corvid and psittacine cognition. I have Alex’s other book, “The Alex Studies,” marked up and dogeared. “The Alex Studies” is heavy reading. I wouldn’t recommend it to people who are not intimately interested in parrots. “Alex and Me” is light, fun and sad at the same time. It’s perfect for any animal lover.

“Alex and Me” recounts many fun and enlightening stories about Dr. Pepperberg’s journey with Alex and to find her voice and purpose in life. Those that have never been in academia will probably be surprised at her struggles to find funding and garner respect from her peers. Her childhood stories are fun, but the best parts of the story involve Alex and his cohorts. You get to see Alex being bossy, obstinate and surprising cognizant of his world. Parts of it made me laugh out loud, and I will admit that I had to choke back the tears and she said good bye to him for what I knew would the final time.

I highly recommend you pick up the book if you’ve ever loved a parrot. Pick it up even if the only parrot that’s ever pulled at your heart strings is Alex.

Also, why not donate to the Alex Foundation? Pepperberg is still doing research and still needs support.  Rock on, from one crazy bird lady to another!

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