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Authors: Deborah Blum

Love at Goon Park

BOOK: Love at Goon Park
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Table of Contents
Praise for
Love at Goon Park
“In her 1994 book,
The Monkey Wars
, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Deborah Blum superbly balanced opposing views of the incendiary issue of primate vivisection. In
Love at Goon Park
, Blum does an equally skillful job balancing the pictures of that psychologist, Harry Harlow, as troubled soul and brutal abuser of his experimental subjects versus helper of humankind through brilliant science.... Blum does the excellent, requisite historian's job, illuminating a period whose zeitgeist differs from ours.... It's an irresistible story told exceedingly well.”
—Robert Sapolsky, from
Scientific American
“Blum's valuable book is sometimes enchanting and sometimes poignant, but always interesting. It shows the reality behind the simplistic stereotypes that have often been associated with this brilliant and troubled genius.”
—Duane M. Rumbaugh, Ph.D.,
The New England Journal of Medicine
“Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Blum (
The Monkey Wars
) rivetingly recounts Harlow's work while examining the man himself.... Blum's excellent biography, the first major new work devoted to him, should change that. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.”
Library Journal
“Blum integrates clear explanations of the theories Harlow was reacting against (such as behaviorism) with details about his fractured home and personal life. An informative, candid biography.”
“In this surprisingly compelling book, Blum (
The Monkey Wars
) reveals that many of the child-rearing truths we now take for granted—infants need parental attention; physical contact is related to emotional growth and cognitive development—were shunned by the psychological community of the 1950s. . . .
Monkey Wars
fans who have been waiting for a follow-up will find this book irresistible.”
—Publishers Weekly
“For generations of psychology students, the image of a baby monkey being comforted by a cloth doll is one of their most indelible memories of the subject. Yet even most psychologists know little about the brilliant, funny, and infuriating man behind the experiments. Nor do many people know about its context—the fall and rise of the concept of love in social science. Deborah Blum combines these elements into a gripping biography, written with intelligence, warmth, and panache.”
—Steven Pinker, author of
The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works
The Blank Slate
“Incredible as it may seem, half a century ago leading psychologists scoffed at the notion that affection was vital to an infant's flourishing. Deborah Blum brilliantly recalls this chilling era, and the scientist whose controversial experiments reaffirmed love's importance.
Love at Goon Park
is science history at its best.”
—John Horgan, author of
The End of Science
“Harry Harlow, whose name has become synonymous with cruel monkey experiments, actually helped put an end to cruel child-rearing practices. How these practices could ever have been advocated is only part of the puzzle presented in this lively biography. Blum does not shy away from the ethical questions raised by Harlow's research, yet reminds us that he was a complex man who won his battle with the scientific establishment so resoundingly that the outcome is now taken for granted.”
—Frans De Waal

Love at Goon Park
is the important story of the human need for love. Deborah Blum tells the engaging tale of Harry Harlow and his groundbreaking research with monkeys that proved our essential drive for social attachment. This book is not just good science writing, it's a great story.”
—Meredith F. Small,
author of
Our Babies, Ourselves
The Monkey Wars
Sex on the Brain
A Field Guide for Science Writers
To Ann and Murray Blum
Absolutely my favorite parents
Introduction to the 2011 Edition
Love at Goon Park
was first published, I gave a bookstore talk about the central character in my story, the chainsmoking, poetry-writing, alcoholic, impossible genius of a psychologist Harry Harlow. Mostly, of course, I talked about his mid–twentieth century crusade to persuade his fellow psychologists that love was a legitimate emotion, that it mattered, that it shaped human development.
I'd been struck by a compelling and controversial study he'd done with baby monkeys—one that looked at mother rejection of infant monkeys. The scientific prediction was that the little animals might become neurotic, depressed, somewhat withdrawn. But what the researchers saw instead was a sudden flowering of rather desperate outreach—the babies put everything into making those mothers love them. They cooed and cuddled, stroked and called.
It wasn't just that they wanted to fix that first fundamental relationship; they
to fix it before they could move on.
After the talk, a woman came up to continue the discussion. She was a nurse at one of the Madison, Wisconsin, hospitals. She worked in a clinic that cared for adult survivors of parental abuse. “You're describing my patients,” she said. “That's what they're like.” They were 30, 40, 50 years old, and they were still trapped in that childhood quest of trying to make their parents love them.
I remember it so clearly still, the kindness and the sadness in her face and her complete recognition of Harlow's message: “If monkeys have taught us anything, it's that you've got to learn how to love before you learn how to live.”
His work with monkeys is fraught with ethical questions about the rights and wrongs of experimenting on another species. But the connection he drew between love and a realized life is as powerful today as when he was illuminating it more than 50 years ago.
I was so glad when I learned that Basic Books planned to publish a new edition of
Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection
. Although it first appeared in 2002, and although I've published two books since, this one is in many ways my favorite work.
That might surprise you because, as I wrote in the preface to the first edition, when the idea first came up “I could hardly refuse fast enough.” I'd written about Harlow in an earlier book,
The Monkey Wars
, which explored ethical issues in primate research. That largely critical look had angered many of his old colleagues and friends, one of whom had called to let me know that she'd even hated the positive
New York Times
review of the book. I wasn't sure I wanted to spend any more of my life exploring primate research, and I wasn't sure that anyone would talk to me anyway. And yet, Harlow somehow stayed with me. And some years later when I was working on a series for
Mother Jones
about the destructive effect of neglect on children, I found myself thinking “but that's Harry Harlow's work.” And I found myself rethinking what Harlow had done, not the primate research so much but the pure power of it, the way it forced you to confront how much relationships matter in life.
I wrote: “And that's this book, partly a biography of Harry Harlow, partly the biography of a surprisingly recent idea in science—that love counts. A book is always a journey, and at the end of this, I asked myself whether I had learned to like Harry Harlow ... Easy question, tricky answer. He makes me laugh, even secondhand. He makes me think about friendship and parenthood and partnership in ways that I never had before. He still seems to me an edgy companion. And he seems wholly real.”
So real, in fact, that I'd find myself having mental conversations with him. He was no longer Professor Harlow of the University of
Wisconsin to me. He was Harry, and he was a prickly companion. “Why did you say that, Harry?” I'd ask despairingly after reading a particularly misogynistic statement or a deliberately provocative description of his research. “Why did you do that?” I talked to him and about him so much that to this day my children refer to
Love at Goon Park
as “the Harry book.”
But I remember with pleasure talking to a friend of mine who was working on a book about a computer scientist. His subject was a brilliant man but also a very nice one, a big cuddly bear of a researcher. “Everyone liked him,” my colleague complained. “It's really hard to make him interesting.”
I found myself grinning. “I don't have that problem.”
I had other problems, of course. I had to work to overcome all the resentment felt about the previous book by Harry's family and friends. “I didn't like your first book and I don't really like you,” one scientist told me. “But I want to have input.” Another researcher—at my own University of Wisconsin, no less—called his friends and told them not to talk to me. They mostly did anyway. I would like to tell you that it was due to my charm and persuasiveness, but mostly I think they also wanted to have some say in the story of a man who had been so important in their lives and their work.
Many of Harlow's students became influential primate researchers in their own right, pioneers in the study of social behavior and relationships, including Bill Mason at the University of California–Davis, Melinda Novak at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, and of course, Steve Suomi, at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, who continues to delve into the wonderfully complex questions of behavioral biology.
Like Harlow, many of them have been reviled by the animal rights community, especially those who insist that we simply should not experiment on animals so smart, so emotionally connected, so closely related to ourselves. Those issues shadow much of Harlow's work, and in this book I raise them as they arose in his own life. Even his
fellow researchers have said that he crossed ethical lines in some of his experiments. In particular his studies in parental rejection—those experiments I mentioned earlier—and in social isolation have helped make him a poster child for the animal rights movement.
I hope I've done those shadowed questions of right and wrong justice here, as well as to Harlow and the field in which he worked. But this is not an all-encompassing biography or a detailed history of psychology or a book on ethics. Rather, it is a journey with one very complicated scientist, one who spent most of his life trying to understand the role of relationships in monkey societies and by extension human ones. Everyone needs “a solid foundation of affection,” Harry once said, and this book is primarily about his efforts to dig down to that emotional bedrock.
BOOK: Love at Goon Park
2.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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