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Alex & Me Book Review

By Leah Lemieux

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Irene Pepperberg with her parrots © Michael Lovett (Brandeis)

Alex & Me is the remarkable account of scientist Irene Pepperberg and her unusual colleague, an irascible African Grey parrot called Alex.  Together this unlikely pair of pioneers opened an amazing window of discovery into the incredible capabilities of the avian mind.

When Pepperberg first began her ambitious and determined research with Alex, birds were not believed to possess any potential for language, consciousness or anything comparable to human intelligence.  One of the reasons she decided to work with parrots is their ability to learn human speech—making them the only animal that can express their thoughts aloud in English!

Over the next thirty years Alex and Dr. Pepperberg changed the way science regarded avian intelligence.  With a brain the size of a shelled walnut, Alex learned and demonstrated an unprecedented ability to count, sound out words, understand concepts like bigger, smaller, same, different, more, fewer, and none, as well as label and identify colors, shapes and textures.  Perhaps most strikingly Alex displayed a spontaneous ability to actually create his own names for things, while expressing his desires and opinions with insistence and finesse!

Pepperberg’s groundbreaking work with Alex (and the other parrots in her lab) has revealed that the intelligence of certain parrot species is comparable in many ways to that of a three-to-five-year-old human child!   (Confirming what many of us living with companion parrots have long suspected!)

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Alex with his blocks © Arlene Levin-Rowe

The implications of Dr. Pepperberg’s research also offers readers some food for thought regarding the impressive needs, requirements and capabilities of captive parrots, which should be of particular interest to parrot owners, breeders and collectors.

No less worthy of praise than her feathered colleague, Dr. Pepperberg is an associate research professor at Brandeis University in Massachusetts and teaches animal cognition at Harvard University. She is also the author of The Alex Studies: Cognitive and Communicative Abilities of Grey Parrots, and is head of the Alex Foundation www.AlexFoundation.org

The discoveries Pepperberg made with Alex also made them both famous and the subject of numerous documentaries.  Alex’s premature death at the age of thirty-one on September 6, 2007 made headline news all over North America, as did his final words to Irene: “You be good. I love you.”

Alex & Me is a touching story of both a landmark scientific achievement and a remarkable interspecies relationship, which opens our eyes to a whole new appreciation of the term “bird brain.”

Alex & Me

is published by Harper Paperbacks
ISBN: 9780061673986; ISBN10: 0061673986
and sells at $13.99 in the US
It has also been published in Australia, Portugal, Italy, Germany and Japan. 
Other countries in which it is expected to be published include Brazil, China and Israel.


Leah Lemieux

Leah Lemieux has been writing and lecturing on the topic of dolphin and whale conservation for the past twenty years, collaborating with individuals and organizations from a number of countries, including the Jane Goodall Institute’s Roots & Shoots program. Leah has also written articles on eco-tourism and in 2009 her first book, REKINDLING THE WATERS: The Truth About Swimming with Dolphins, was published in the UK.

In 2000 she adopted Bowie, a rescued Goffin’s cockatoo, introducing her to the world of these amazing, intelligent and sensitive creatures we call parrots. Needless to say, her life has never been the same since!

Her website is: www.RekindlingTheWaters.com

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