Desmond Morris, in his introduction to The Naked Ape: A Zoologist’s Study of the Human Animal, says that of the 193 species of monkeys and apes, all but one is covered with hair. He identifiesHomo sapiens, the self-named ape, as the exception. In the seven chapters that follow, Morris studies humans from a zoological perspective, focusing on origins, sexual behavior, rearing, exploration, fighting, feeding, and comfort. The final chapter explores humans as they relate to other animals.
From a zoological perspective, Morris rejects the idea of a homocentric universe. He contends that humans’ biological nature has shaped their social structure and not the reverse. He argues that the human reproductive cycle has the potential to overpopulate the world, and therefore, those opposing birth control are engaged in “dangerous war mongering.” Finally, he cautions people that humans may destroy themselves if they do not control population and aggression and the resulting environmental damage both to other species and to the earth.
The Naked Ape’s view that the behavior of humans was determined largely by their biology and that humans share many characteristics with animals, particularly apes, was offensive to many readers and enlightening to others. Nevertheless, the book had an effect on teachings in psychology, sociology, and history. Although Christian fundamentalists and other groups objected to the book, many young people found in its pages a justification for the sexual revolution.
In 1973, Playboy produced The Naked Ape, a film version of the best-selling book, starring Victoria Principal.
Naked Ape or Homo Sapiens? (1969), by John Lewis and Bernard Towers, presents a reply from a scientific and philosophical perspective to Morris’s The Naked Ape.