Feature

Author of the week: Vanessa Woods

Woods has gathered her studies about the promiscuous sex lives of bonobo monkeys into a new book, Bonobo Handshake. Sex, she says, is the “mechanism” these cousins of ours use to diffuse tension and live peacefully.

Vanessa Woods doesn’t just study bonobos, she’d like to be one, said Mark Schultz in the Durham, N.C., News. The 32-year-old Australian native has a new book out whose cheeky title, Bonobo Handshake, refers to the promiscuous sex lives of these diminutive and endangered primates. But it’s not the uninhibited, round-the-clock, gender-blind sex play that makes Woods want to switch species. It’s the remarkable side benefit that seems to come with it. “Bonobos hold the key to a world without war,” she writes. Sex, she says, “is not the most important thing about them at all”; rather, it’s merely the “mechanism” that these close cousins of ours use to diffuse tension and live peacefully. “Our mechanism,” she says, “obviously won’t be sex.”

Bonobo Handshake is about much more than Woods’ scientific research, said Kate Vander Wiede in The Christian Science Monitor. Woods recounts how she stumbled into bonobo studies by following a man to war-torn Congo, the only place bonobos can still be found in the wild. “Tucked between chapters on experiments, lovemaking, and delightful bonobo quirks” are harrowing scenes from the Congo war. Yet the juxtaposition is hardly accidental. “We need to use our gigantic brains” to find a way to be more like our bonobo cousins, she says. “Right now, there are seven conflicts going on that kill a thousand people a day all over the world. And bonobos, they just don’t have that. I mean, so you tell me, who’s smarter?”

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