Morris, Desmond 1928–

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MORRIS, Desmond 1928–

(Desmond John Morris)


Born January 24, 1928, in Purton, Wiltshire, England; son of Harry Howe (a writer) and Dorothy Marjorie Fuller Morris; married Ramona Baulch (a writer), July 30, 1952; children: Jason. Education: Birmingham University, B.Sc., 1951; Magdalen College, Oxford, D.Phil., 1954. Hobbies and other interests: Painting, archaeology.


Oxford University, Oxford, England, researcher in animal behavior in department of zoology, 1954-56; Zoological Society of London, London, England, head of Granada TV and Film Unit, 1956-59, curator of mammals, 1959-67; Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, England, director, 1967-68; full-time writer, 1968—. Oxford University, research fellow at Wolfson College, 1973-81. Paintings exhibited in numerous shows in England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the United States, first in one-man show in Swindon, England, 1948. Zootime television series, Granada TV, host, 1956-67; appeared on numerous other television programs, including Life, 1965-67; The Human Race, 1982; The Animals Roadshow, 1987-89; The Animal Contract, 1989; Animal Country, 1991-96; The Human Animal, 1994; and The Human Sexes, 1997. Social Issues Research Centre, member of panel of advisors.


Zoological Society of London (scientific fellow), Oxford United Football Club (member, board of directors; former vice chair).


Statuette with Pedestal, World Organization for Human Potential, 1971, for The Naked Ape and The Human Zoo; D.Sc., Reading University, 1998.


The Reproductive Behaviour of the Ten-spined Stickleback, E.J. Brill (Boston, MA), 1958.

Introducing Curious Creatures, Spring Books (London, England), 1961.

(Editor, with Caroline Jarvis) The International Zoo Yearbook, Zoological Society of London (London, England), Volumes 1-4, 1962–63.

The Biology of Art: A Study of the Picture-making Behaviour of the Great Apes and Its Relationship to Human Art, Knopf (New York, NY), 1962.

(With wife, Ramona Morris) Men and Snakes, McGraw (New York, NY), 1965.

The Mammals: A Guide to the Living Species, Harper (New York, NY), 1965.

(With Ramona Morris) Men and Apes, McGraw (New York, NY), 1966.

(With Ramona Morris) Men and Pandas, Hutchinson (London, England), 1966, McGraw (New York, NY), 1967, revised edition published as The Giant Panda, Penguin (New York, NY), 1981.

(Editor) Primate Ethology, Aldine (Chicago, IL), 1967, revised edition, Aldine/Transaction (New Brunswick, NJ), 2006.

The Naked Ape: A Zoologist's Study of the Human Animal, J. Cape (London, England), 1967, McGraw (New York, NY), 1968, revised edition published as The Illustrated Naked Ape, J. Cape (London, England), 1986.

The Human Zoo, McGraw (New York, NY), 1969.

Patterns of Reproductive Behaviour: Collected Papers, J. Cape (London, England), 1970, McGraw (New York, NY), 1971.

Intimate Behavior, J. Cape (London, England), 1971, Random House (New York, NY), 1972.

Manwatching: A Field Guide to Human Behavior, Abrams (New York, NY), 1977.

(With Peter Collett, Peter Marsh, and Marie O'Shaughnessy) Gestures: Their Origins and Distributions, Stein & Day (New York, NY), 1979.

Animal Days, J. Cape (London, England), 1979, Morrow (New York, NY), 1980.

The Soccer Tribe, J. Cape (London, England), 1981.

Inrock (fiction), J. Cape (London, England), 1983.

The Book of Ages (fantasy novel), Viking Press (New York, NY), 1983.

The Art of Ancient Cyprus, Phaidon (Oxford, England), 1985.

Bodywatching: A Field Guide to the Human Species, J. Cape (London, England), 1985.

Dogwatching, J. Cape (London, England), 1986, Crown Books (New York, NY), 1987.

Catwatching, Crown Books (New York, NY), 1987.

The Secret Surrealist: The Paintings of Desmond Morris, Phaidon (Oxford, England), 1987.

Catlore, Crown Books (New York, NY), 1988.

(With the Roadshow Team) The Animals Roadshow, J. Cape (London, England), 1988.

Horsewatching, Crown Books (New York, NY), 1988.

Animalwatching: A Field Guide to Animal Behavior, Crown Books (New York, NY), 1990.

The Animal Contract: Sharing the Planet, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1990.

Babywatching, Crown Books (New York, NY), 1992.

The Human Animal: A Personal View of the Human Species, Crown Books (New York, NY), 1994.

Illustrated Babywatching, Ebury (London, England), 1995.

Bodytalk: The Meaning of Human Gestures, Crown Books (New York, NY), 1995.

Cat World: A Feline Encyclopedia, Penguin (New York, NY), 1997.

The Human Sexes: A Natural History of Man and Woman, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.

Illustrated Horsewatching, Ebury (London, England), 1998.

Cool Cats: The 100 Cat Breeds of the World, Ebury (London, England), 1999, published as Cat Breeds of the World, Viking (New York, NY), 1999.

(With Kaori Ishida) The Naked Ape and Cosmetic Behavior (in Japanese), Kyuryudo (Tokyo, Japan), 1999.

Body Guards: Protective Amulets and Charms, Ebury (London, England), 1999.

The Naked Eye: My Travels in Search of the Human Species, Ebury (London, England), 2000.

Dogs: The Ultimate Dictionary of Over 1,000 Dog Breeds, Trafalgar Square (North Pomfret, VT), 2002.

The Naked Woman: A Study of the Female Body, Thomas Dunne (New York, NY), 2005.

for children

The Story of Congo, Batsford (London, England), 1958.

Apes and Monkeys, Bodley Head (London, England), 1964, McGraw (New York, NY), 1965.

The Big Cats, McGraw (New York, NY), 1965.

Zoo Time, Hart-Davis (London, England), 1966.

The World of Animals, illustrated by Peter Barrett, Viking Press (New York, NY), 1993.


Also contributor to journals, including Behavior, British Birds, New Scientist, and Zoo Life.


The Naked Ape was filmed by Universal and released in 1973.


Desmond Morris first came to wide public attention as the host of Zootime, a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) television series featuring the animals of the London Zoo, and as the author of The Naked Ape: A Zoologist's Study of the Human Animal, in which he examines humans from a zoologist's perspective. Over the course of his career, he has emerged as "a keen observer of animals (human and other) and a prolific author," wrote Library Journal contributor Lee Arnold, reviewing The Naked Eye: My Travels in Search of the Human Species. Morris's fascination with animals began in early childhood, when he spent hours at a time in close observation of worms and beetles near his home. As a student, he was drawn to the science of ethology—the study of natural animal behavior. His teachers were some of the founders of this young science, including Konrad Lorenz and Niko Tinbergen. Morris's research in this discipline uncovered such phenomena as homosexuality among the tenspined stickleback fish and the "divorce" of mated pairs of zebra finches.

In The Naked Ape Morris brings the methods of observation he learned as an ethologist to bear upon his fellow man. He states that humans are merely one of many variations within the ape family, and then attempts to explain humankind's complex behavior by relating it to that of the lesser apes. The result proved fascinating to the general public; the book quickly became a bestseller. Many scientists, however, particularly anthropologists (whose domain is specifically the study of man), have reserved harsh criticism for Morris and The Naked Ape.

Saturday Review contributor Morton Fried thought Morris unqualified to write a book on human behavior. Morris, he wrote, "has simply given us a naive and scientifically reactionary book…. Clearly, he never took even a freshman course in [anthropology], or he flunked it." New York Review of Books critic J.Z. Young similarly faulted the book, suggesting that Morris deliberately emphasizes the most provocative aspects of his subject in order to ensure his book's popularity. Young pointed out that while more than one-fourth of The Naked Ape describes man's sexual habits, there is no mention whatsoever of language or learning. "It is not fair for any biologist to describe only those aspects of an animal that interest him and titillate his readers, especially if the ones omitted are the essential biological foundations of the success of the species." Other reviewers, however, praised Morris for making scientific material accessible to a wide audience. In Natural History, Peter Williams commended The Naked Ape for its "brilliant insights"; a Times Literary Supplement critic called it "not only a thoughtful and stimulating book, but also an extremely interesting one." Readers apparently agreed, for The Naked Ape was eventually published in more than twenty countries and sold over ten million copies.

Publication of Animal Days marked a change in tone. "This time, Morris doesn't try to shock or titillate with … theories," noted Peter Gwynne in Newsweek. "[Animal Days] is a straightforward, unpretentious memoir of his encounters with animals and fellow scientists. And it is a delightful book." Writing in the New York Times, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt likewise praised the book for its "gallery of arresting portraits of Mr. Morris's fellow animal behaviorists—the first great generation of them, really." A New York Times Book Review critic concluded that Animal Days is "a visit with an engaging raconteur who has spent his life in a fascinating field."

Morris's books have continued to bring the more intriguing aspects of animal nature to a broad readership. In Bodytalk: The Meaning of Human Gestures, the naturalist examines the vast number of meanings attached to hand gestures. Among the six hundred gestures Morris discusses are the "thumbs up" and "high five" familiar to most Americans, as well as the German convention of signaling someone as an idiot by slapping one's elbow with the palm of one's hand. Morris has also written books for children. Illustrated with watercolor paintings by Peter Barrett, The World of Animals finds the author contrasting the real nature of a variety of species with their cartoon and stuffed-animal counterparts. Not only lions, tigers, and bears, but koalas, platypuses, and beavers are described in a prose style accessible to younger readers that is as engaging as "the narration of a zoo tour led by an enthusiastic and expert guide," noted Booklist reviewer Elizabeth Bush. Other Morris books geared toward explaining nature to younger readers include The Story of Congo and The Big Cats.

In books such as Dogwatching and Catwatching, Morris applies his ethologist's eye to some of humanity's favorite pets. The books offer a variety of information about animals, answering questions from why cats seem to prefer women to why dogs bark. "The author turns his attention to animal behavior in just the right tone for pet lovers," noted Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Mordecai Siegal, who commended the books' question-and-answer format as "quite appropriate for the curator of a zoo." Nevertheless, he echoed former criticisms of Morris's work, faulting the books for "the absence of information sources." The author replied to this charge in an interview with Kathy Hacker for the Chicago Tribune, saying that the popular nature of his books precludes the use of extensive citations: "A lot of the statements I make have this huge backup of quantified field work…. [Some] do not and are simply based on intuition and anecdotal observation. The agony of writing a pop book is that you can't say which is which. The text has got to flow," Morris continued. "If you put down every detail and every chart and every figure, I suspect people wouldn't read it at all."

Morris continued to titillate readers with The Naked Woman: A Study of the Female Body. A guide to the female body as much as it is a social commentary on it, the book explains how humans' main function is breeding, and therefore the female human anatomy is based on being sexually alluring to men. When it comes to social customs, Morris does not hesitate to criticize what he feels are misguided, inappropriate, or misogynistic practices that serve to subjugate women. Among these he includes Muslim laws regarding treatment of women and the practice of female circumcision. Overall, Morris believes that the female body has undergone significant physical adaptations more recently than has the male body, which makes it more complicated and more highly evolved.

In terms of the practical design of the female body, Morris notes that it is sometimes not quite right. For instance, round breasts are sexually attractive to mature males, but they tend to smother babies. He also theorizes that blonde hair is the most attractive to males because it is the softest and writes about the delicacy of the female foot as a sexual signifier. On the whole, reviewers felt the book offered interesting ideas as well as significant doses of controversy. "Most women who read the book are likely to be amused and irked, probably in equal proportions," wrote Enrique Fernandez in the Miami Herald, but Carol Haggas of Booklist called Morris "positively giddy with admiration for his subject," which she felt he tackles "cogently."

Morris embraced another popular topic in Dogs: The Ultimate Dictionary of Over 1,000 Dog Breeds. Instead of focusing on physical characteristics, as many dog guides do, Morris prefers a historical approach to discussing which dogs were used for what purpose thousands of years ago (for rescuing, hunting, herding, and guiding) and where each breed originated, up to contemporary developments in dog breeding, such as the rise of the Schnoodle and wolf-dog hybrids. The book provides "delightful browsing," according to a reviewer from Booklist, and Cleo Pappas, writing in Library Journal, said the author's "painstaking scholarship and research … set the book apart" from others of its ilk.

Morris's popularity extends to his other books, which encompass a variety of subjects, from art to soccer. His wide range of interests prompted Gwynne to write of him, "Zoologist Desmond Morris is the epitome of the scholar with interests too lively to hide under an academic bushel." Of himself, Morris told William Overend of the Los Angeles Times: "I describe myself as a senile 14-year-old…. I get more foolish and frivolous each year. I confess to cultivating immaturity. I don't aspire to maturity because it's so often connected with rigid thought…. I really don't want to ever take things too seriously, least of all myself."



Morris, Desmond, Animal Days, J. Cape (London, England), 1979, Morrow (New York, NY), 1980.

Morris, Desmond, The Naked Eye: My Travels in Search of the Human Species, Ebury Press (London, England), 2000.


American Scientist, January-February, 1997, Robert Root-Bernstein, "Art, Imagination, and the Scientist," p. 64.

Booklist, December 13, 1993, Elizabeth Bush, review of The World of Animals, pp. 751-752; November 1, 2002, review of Dogs: The Ultimate Dictionary of Over 1,000 Dog Breeds, p. 538; August, 2005, Carol Haggas, review of The Naked Woman: A Study of the Female Body, p. 1974.

Chicago Tribune, January 9, 1986, Kathy Hacker, interview with Desmond Morris.

Entertainment Weekly, March 6, 1998, Margot Mifflin, review of The Human Sexes: A Natural History of Man and Woman, p. 74.

Financial Times, October 9, 2004, review of The Naked Woman, p. 33.

Library Journal, June 15, 2001, Lee Arnold, review of The Naked Eye, p. 94; June 15, 2002, Cleo Pappas, review of Dogs, p. 58.

Los Angeles Times, May 21, 1984, William Overend, interview with Desmond Morris. Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 31, 1987, Mordecai Siegal, review of Dogwatching and Catwatching; April 9, 1995, review of Bodytalk.

Miami Herald, October 12, 2005, Enrique Fernandez, review of The Naked Woman.

Natural History, February, 1968, Peter Williams, review of The Naked Ape; January, 1970, review of The Human Zoo, p. 104.

Newsweek, August 4, 1980, Peter Gwynne, review of Animal Days.

New York Review of Books, March 14, 1968, J.Z. Young, review of The Naked Ape.

New York Times, July 18, 1980, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Animal Days; Walter Goodman, December 30, 1994, review of The Human Animal: The Language of the Body, p. B15; February 2, 1998, Walter Goodman, review of The Human Sexes, p. E5.

New York Times Book Review, August 10, 1980, review of Animal Days; May 14, 1995, Helen Fisher, review of Bodytalk: The Meaning of Human Gestures, p. 16.

Publishers Weekly, October 18, 1993, review of The World of Animals, p. 74.

Saturday Review, February 17, 1968, Morton Fried, review of The Naked Ape; March 4, 1972, review of Intimate Behavior, p. 77; July, 1980, James Sloan Allen, review of Animal Days, p. 60.

School Library Journal, January, 1994, Sally Bates Goodroe, review of The World of Animals, pp. 126-127.

Time, December 9, 1985, review of Bodywatching.

Times Literary Supplement, November 9, 1967, review of The Naked Ape.

Yale Review, summer, 1968, review of The Naked Ape, p. 612.


Desmond Morris Information Page, (June 2, 2006).*

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Morris, Desmond 1928–

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