Can you imagine Stephen Jay Gould recast as a tall and lanky Jesuit priest who has an interest in evolution? Can you imagine someone actually attempting the famous experiment of getting a large number of chimpanzees at keyboards to see if you can get any Shakespeare? Eventually? (The experiment is enhanced with the use of carefully dispensed M&M’s.) Did you ever wonder, if a chimpanzee did make the switch to human levels of intelligence (by training, drugs, surgery, whatever) what kind of scotch if would prefer?


Normand de Ratour is the main character of three novels written by my former colleague Alfie Alcorn. I worked with Alfie when I guided tours in Africa for the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. When his first novel came out, it caused quite a stir among the Harvard Intelliganci. What Alphie did, roughly, and in my opinion, was this: He took several Harvard Museums’ (MZC, Peabody, etc) people, such as Stephen Jay Gould, David Pilbeam (then director of the Peabody), Wally the security guard, and so on. Then, he made a three column list: Profession/job, Physical appearance, and Personality. Then he hit “random” and ended up with things like a Lanky Stephen Jay Gould-like person who studies evolution.

I loved the book.

And, the reason I mention it today is this: Alphie’s third volume has recently come out. And now, it is time for you to dissect, excavate, and devour in a cannibalistic manner all three:

Alphie and his books have been written up here.



  1. #1 KBHC
    July 27, 2010

    That’s funny, I read Murder in the Museum of Man several years back, having no idea any of it was “based” on Harvard MCZ/Anthro folks. I adored the book, but that only makes it more fun! Now I need to pick up the other two volumes.

    I appreciated the setting of the book, since the author seemed to have some understanding of academia even as he was caricaturing it. And I loved the voice of Normand. I enjoy voices that are unique and not completely lovable — not in that modern fiction, my-protagonists-always-have-something-hateful-about-them way, but because it was so uncomfortable to read him. He reminded me of a few people I went to college with.

    Thanks for mentioning these books!