I am a Dutch/American biologist, born in 1948 in Den Bosch, the Netherlands. I have lived in the USA since 1981.
My passion is primate behavior, and the comparison between primate and human behavior. I pursue the first as a scientist and the second as the author of popular science books. For me, there is nothing more logical than to look at human society through the lens of animal behavior. I have a Ph. D. in biology and ethology (the study of animal behavior) from the University of Utrecht.
My first book, "Chimpanzee Politics" (1982), compared the schmoozing and scheming of chimpanzees involved in power struggles with that of human politicians. The book was put on the reading list of congress in Washington. Ever since, I have drawn parallels between primate and human behavior, from aggression to morality and culture.
Gender differences are a logical subject for a primatologist since the gender debate always turns around. the interaction between nature and nurture. Despite attempts to separate gender from biology, as if it were purely a human construct, the reason we have a gender duality is that our species has two sexes to begin with. I agree that the sexual binary is a mere approximation (even at the biological level, it has exceptions and intermediates), but still, the way the sexes differ in other primates tells us something about ourselves.
My latest book "Different: Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist" (Norton, 2022) compares sex differences in three closely related species: humans, chimpanzees, and bonobos. It tries to dispel the idea that only humans have genders and that only we have gender diversity. Other primates, too, adopt sex-typical behavior from watching others, hence have genders. They show the same array of gender expressions celebrated under the LGBTQ flag. My book pays attention to non-conforming individuals as well as homosexual behavior among the primates.
Since childhood, I have been an animal lover, and in fact -- even though my career has focused on primate behavior -- I am interested in all sorts of animals, including fish and birds, but also elephants and dolphins. My book on animal intelligence -- "Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?" (Norton, 2016) -- reflects this broader interest, as it covers a wide range of species.
My wife, Catherine, and I live in a forested area near Smoke Rise, in Georgia, a state we love. I retired from my position at Emory University in 2019, right before the Covid crisis. I am still involved in primate studies, mainly at sanctuaries for great apes in Africa, but mostly devote my time to reading, writing, and touring to give lectures.
I am a member of the National Academy of Sciences as well as of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2007, Time declared me one of The Worlds’ 100 Most Influential People Today.
My books have been translated into over twenty languages, appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, and received awards, such as:
• The 2020 PEN / E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award for "Mama’s Last Hug"
• The 1989 Los Angeles Times Book Award for "Peacemaking among Primates"
More on my background on the following website:
My public Facebook page with 750K followers announces upcoming lectures: