Desmond Morris has been referred to as a Renaissance man. He is widely known in both scientific and artistic circles. He has been a prolific author of children’s and adult books, nonfiction and fiction. He has made films and hosted television programs on animal behavior and other zoological topics. He has also been a successful surrealist painter for over 50 years.
Morris was born in the village of Purton, Wiltshire, England, in 1928. Even as a young child, he had a strong interest in natural history. Attending Birmingham University, he earned a BSc in zoology followed by a PhD in animal behavior from Oxford University. His thesis was on the reproductive behavior of the ten-spined stickleback.
After being awarded his doctorate, Morris moved to London to become the head of the TV and film unit at the London zoo. He simultaneously studied the artistic abilities of apes. He authored a number of natural history books and hosted a popular TV show, Zootime, for several years.
In 1967 Morris authored an international bestseller titled The Naked Ape. This work was quite controversial and made him infamous. In it, he used his zoological background to objectively study human behavior. He defines humans as simply another species in the ape family and relates complex human behavior to that of the lesser apes. While many scholars were incited by the content, and content that was not included, millions of copies of The Naked Ape were sold worldwide in two dozen languages. Morris left out detailed data and statistics, making his work comprehensible to the average reader. He did footnote his research and data for each chapter at the end of the book for those interested in the research supporting his commentary. After the success of The Naked Ape, he relocated to the island of Malta to paint and continue his writing.
Two more significant works quickly followed. In 1969, The Human Zoo continued the frank observations of The Naked Ape by scrutinizing the society that humans have created for themselves. He saw the neurotic behaviors exhibited by animals confined in zoos reflected in the humans living in crowded cities—”human zoos.”
Intimate Behavior, published in 1971, looks at physical contact between human beings. He analyzed the roots of human intimacy from before birth throughout the life span; not only sexual intimacy, but social intimacy, object intimacy, self-intimacy, and substitutes for intimacy when it is lacking.
Morris has traveled extensively around the world making observations and gathering data for his research. He has coauthored several books with his wife, Ramona Morris. Galleries frequently exhibit his paintings. In addition to his art and animal behavior research, Morris has written reference books on dogs, cats, amulets and charms, horses, soccer, and more.
A lively intellect and engaging narrative style ensure a wide readership.
In the decades since his first noteworthy studies were produced, Morris has persisted in fascinating us with his observations of his fellow humans. He has continued to produce television and film documentaries, write prolifically for adults and children, conduct animal behavior research, and paint. His broad range of interests from the sciences to the arts does confer on him the title of a modern Renaissance man.
- Morris, D. (1996). The human zoo (reprint ed.). New York: Kodansha Globe.
- Morris, D. (1997). Intimate behavior: A zoologists classic study of human intimacy (reprint ed.). New York: Kodansha Globe.
- Morris, D. (1999). The naked ape: A zoologists study of the human animal (reprint ed.). Los Alamitos, CA: Delta.