Hominoid Psychology Research Group

The Book: Bonobo Handshake

Bonobo Handshake: A memoir of love and adventure in the Congo

A young woman follows her fiancé to war-torn Congo to study extremely endangered bonobo apes – who teach her a new truth about love and belonging.

In 2005, Vanessa Woods accepted a marriage proposal from a man she barely knew and agreed to join him on a research trip to the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. Settling in at a bonobo sanctuary in Congo’s capital, Vanessa and her fiancé entered the world of a rare ape with whom we share 98.7% of our DNA. Vanessa soon discovered that bonobos live in a peaceful society in which females are in charge, war is nonexistent, and sex is as common and friendly as a handshake.

A fascinating memoir of hope and adventure, Bonobo Handshake traces Vanessa’s self-discovery as she finds herself falling deeply in love with her husband, the apes, and her new surroundings. Courageous and extraordinary, Almost French meets The Poisonwood Bible in this true story of revelation and transformation in a fragile corner of Africa.

Praise for Bonobo Handshake

“This is a startling book. Page after page astonished me. A beautifully written journey into the tangled jungle of the human mind, it also brings us movingly into intimate, loving contact with our extraordinary cousins. This is a compelling story, told with striking honesty, humor, and intelligence.” Alan Alda

“Funny, adventurous, and heartbreaking. Woods takes us with her to darkest Africa to meet our nearest relative, the nearly extinct bonobo. This must-read book illuminates extraordinary courage in both people and animals.” Sara Gruen, author of New York Times Bestseller Water For Elephants

“Don’t think that this is just a book about apes. It’s a love story, an adventure story, and a political education about a country that has seen more tragedy and inhumanity than you can imagine. Above all, it’s an introduction to creatures who have every claim to being more human, in the best sense of the word, than we are.” Adam Hochschild, author of award winning King Leopold’s Ghost

“Gain insights into both the darkness and altruistic sides of our own emotions by getting to know chimpanzees and bonobos in an African sanctuary. This book is both shocking and hilarious.” Temple Grandin, author of Animals in Translation and Animals Make Us Human