By Hannah Holmes
368 pages; Random House
In science writer Hannah Holmes's wry new book, The Well-Dressed Ape, it becomes clear not only how closely related we are to simians but also that just a few evolutionary steps separate us from most of our cohabitants on this planet. As Holmes catalogs the similarities and contrasts, she manages to teach us about ourselves. Some of it is fun, like the fact that we have more hair follicles than a chimpanzee (which helps explain waxing) and that our home-building skills compare nicely with those of the bagworm. But the writer also has some sobering points to make. Although humans seem to be the most cooperative and adaptable of all animals, our genius in finding ways to destroy ourselves is unique. For example, we're tops at cultivating and processing food, but then we "consume quantities…that are fatal." Holmes doesn't pull any punches when tackling the big issues of our time—such as how much environmental harm our species has wreaked on the world—but, ultimately, she finds hope in the human brain's unparalleled capacity for compassion and change.