History in Review
|The Naked Eye: Travels in Search of the Human Species
By Desmond Morris. (Trafalgar Square: 2001. Pg 256.) ISBN: 0-0918-7867-5.
Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - December 30, 2001
Desmond Morris first gained universal fame with the publication of his controversial book The Naked Ape. The publication of this book also afforded him that oft sought after measure of success, which is often associated with fame - fortune. Acquiring a substantial monetary remuneration when his book The Naked Ape became a bestseller, Morris quit his job and set out to do what he loved best - watch people. In this book, The Naked Eye, Morris shares with us his many observations over the last forty odd years as he traveled around the globe observing people.
Morris has a keen eye for detail and a ready wit that will have you chuckling as you read this fascinating book filled with autobiographical and natural history essays slash travel monologues. Morris is a biologist and natural historian. He is also a prolific writer and a skilled film maker. This book begins in 1968 when Morris and his wife Ramona moved to Malta, intent upon spending the proceeds of The Naked Ape as quickly as possible. The first essay in this book chronicles his stay in Malt, from 1968 to 1974. But rather than being a traditional travel monologue, Morris tells his story by describing the people he encountered, their culture, and interesting tidbits of historical import. For example, in 1968 the post master had the authority to open any package mailed into the country to search for 'tainted' material such as pornography and to summarily burn anything he thought offensive. One such offensive item that was consigned to the flames was Morris's own book, The Naked Ape. However tourist were free to bring copies of the book into Malta for their own reading pleasure. That is, just as long as they did not allow any Maltese natives to read it!
From Malta, Morris chronicles the observations he made in on Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands, where he points out the variations in body language and gestures from one region to another and the tragic consequences that can arise due to cultural misunderstandings. His travels then took him all around Europe and into Italy where he got to observe the Italian Mafia in a much too personal manner and where he also got to film Pope Paul VI, all due to a variety of misunderstandings. His essay on a cruise that he took on the QE2, around the Pacific, is especially entertaining. This cruise offered him the opportunity to observe millionaires at close range. He followed up this study by observing, at close range, the Rock Apes of Gibralter. The juxtaposition of these two essays, back to back, is especially enlightening.
Other essays in this collection chronicle Morris's trips to Japan, Africa, India, French Polynesia, and the United States. In the United States he studied gangs in Los Angeles and the unique culture of Las Vegas, a place where you can attend a drive-thru wedding then head off to the Cherry Patch II. The Cherry Patch is a brothel where you can go and see the mummified remains of Agnes, oldest hooker in Nevada. And for a diversion, you can also read Morris's essay on footballer culture and the often violent aspects of soccer behavior. The final essay of this book is the longest and most amazing. In 1998 at the age of 70, Morris embarked on a trip around the world. In a mere 92 days he traveled 37,000 miles and visited 21 countries. This last essay details his trip and his keen observations on the human behavior that he witnessed.
This is a wonderful book. Morris's writing is engaging, light hearted, and poignant. Many of his anecdotes are so funny that you will not be able to keep them to yourself. Consequently, you will find, more than once, that you cannot keep from reading passages aloud to anybody who just happens by. The Naked Eye can be read simply for pleasure, or as an introductory textbook on human behavior. Morris proffers his observations on body language, cultural eccentricities, and human foibles. Throughout he tries to explain how these variations arose, and the impact these variations can have when peoples from two diverse cultures meet. In short, The Naked Eye is an educational exposť on human behavior, which also provides the reader with an intimate look at various cultures around the world. In regard to most of the older essays, Morris has included short updates on some of the changes that have occurred in each location since he originally wrote that particular essay. Most importantly, this book also offers the reader a glimpse into the life, and work, of a phenomenally perceptive man. Without reservation, I whole-heartily recommend this book to, well, everyone!
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