‘Woods writes with youthful language that provokes the reader to laugh out loud, but the novel also contains moments of deep honesty, lurid historical accounts and stories of loss that bring tears to readers’ eyes. Woods’ combination of knowledge and honesty weaves a story that anyone can relate to regardless of travel, experience or bonobo handshakes.’ Izilwane

Bonobo Handshake is Woods’ beguiling story of falling in love with bonobos and the Congo’ – Bookpage

‘When Woods describes her daily interaction with the bonobos, her account takes on a warm charm. Woods’s personable, accessible work about bonobos elucidates the marvelous intelligence and tolerance of this gentle cousin to humans.’ – Publisher’s Weekly

‘This mostly joyous book is not afraid to talk about the terrible recent history of the Congo, but ultimately it comes down on the side of hope—for the Congo and the bonobos.’ – Booklist

‘The bonobos have found their advocate.’ – Kirkus Reviews

‘Bonobo Handshake is Eat Pray Love meets The Poisonwood Bible. Add some incredible bonobos. Stir with a voice that is fresh, funny, and sometimes heartbreaking… I think this book has the potential to be a Really Big Deal.’ – Regulator

‘Vanessa Woods is not a historian. She hadn’t published a book in America before. And you can’t exactly call it chick lit. But she pulls off all three with “Bonobo Handshake,” a page turner that journeys into the deepest jungle to tell a story of war, a peaceful primate cousin of man, and love – between woman and man and woman and ape.’ – Raleigh News and Observer (Download)

‘Exciting, informative and personal…This book marks another milestone in the progression of texts wherein the difference between the thoughts and emotions, even conceivably the worldviews, of other animals merge into ours seamlessly.’ St Louis Today

‘It is a fast and easy read, you never feel bored or inundated by information, yet you end the book with vastly more knowledge than when you began. And once you know about something enough, you start caring.’ – A blog around the clock

‘So, here’s the short review: read this book.’ – The Thoughtful Animal

‘Vanessa’s book is fantastic. I found myself turning page after page late into the night because I was caught up in the story that is equally about her passions and emotions, the war-torn politics of the Congo, and our other, lesser known closest relatives: the bonobos. Her writing is eloquent and yet simple and straightforward. She is so honest, open and personal that you can’t help but join her in her happiness, anger, anguish and joy. And, of course, you can’t help but fall in love, like she has, with our estranged genetic cousins that, as a species, we know so little about.’ – Observations of a Nerd

“This is a startling book. Page after page astonished me. A beautifully written journey into the tangled jungle of the human mind, it also brings us movingly into intimate, loving contact with our extraordinary cousins. This is a compelling story, told with striking honesty, humor, and intelligence.”
Alan Alda

“Funny, adventurous, and heartbreaking. Woods takes us with her to darkest Africa to meet our nearest relative, the nearly extinct bonobo. This must-read book illuminates extraordinary courage in both people and animals.”
Sara Gruen, author of New York Times Bestseller Water For Elephants

“Don’t think that this is just a book about apes. It’s a love story, an adventure story, and a political education about a country that has seen more tragedy and inhumanity than you can imagine. Above all, it’s an introduction to creatures who have every claim to being more human, in the best sense of the word, than we are.”
Adam Hochschild, author of the award winning King Leopold’s Ghost

“Gain insights into both the darkness and altruistic sides of our own emotions by getting to know chimpanzees and bonobos in an African sanctuary. This book is both shocking and hilarious.”
Temple Grandin, author of Animals in Translation and Animals Make Us Human


Diane Rehm show (Listen to the podcast here)

Leonard Lopate Show (Listen to the podcast here)

NPR’s Here On Earth (Listen to the podcast here)

Skeptically Speaking (Listen to the podcast here, interview starts after 18 mins)

The State of Things with Frank Stasio  (Listen to the podcast here)

AM Northwest (Katu-TV)

World Science Festival (All Creatures Great and Smart)

Office Hours

Letters and emails from bonobo fans

Dear Vanessa,
I’m a sales rep for the Penguin Group, out in the SF Bay area. I just returned from our sales conference, where your new book, Bonobo* Handshake was presented by Lauren Marino.  I was intrigued and sat down yesterday to read the manuscript.
I was completely enthralled from page one.  I read it in two sittings and found it to be one of the most compelling, un-put-downable books I’ve read in a long time (as a reference: I’ve been selling books for Penguin for 20 years and as you can imagine, I read A LOT of books)!  I was particularly impressed by how you combined the atrocities of war and upheaval in Congo, the research and abundance of information about Chimpanzees and Bonobos, and your own personal story—all in  such a humorous, emotionally rich and completely readable way!  I immediately went to your website to watch the videos of Lola ya Bonobo.  Well, enough gushing…

I look forward to selling your book to my accounts (independent bookstores) in the Bay area!

Warm regards,


P.S.  You’re right: there IS no spell-check for Bonobo!

Dear Vanessa,
Good morning!  I have finally dried the tears from my eyes after staying up way too late to finish Bonobo Handshake last night.  My husband and I own The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid, NY and we get the chance to read many advance reader’s copies.  I took home Bonobo Handshake to add to my bedside pile thinking that it would be interesting to look through.  I was an anthropology undergrad and loved every minute of it, but obviously now that I own a bookstore I didn’t continue with graduate work.

I had noooooo idea that I would fall in love with this book on the first page!  I read so many passages out loud to my husband who kept picking on me through my tear stained face.  I don’t remember learning about Bonobo’s in college and am totally fascinated by them now.  Your writing is great, your experiences phenomenal and this book is something I can’t stop talking about! I am so excited that I have read it and can’t wait to get my hands on Sara Gruen’s newest…I feel like this was the perfect “warmup”.

Thank you for all the research you did on the civil war taking place in the Congo region.  You hear little rumblings throughout the media, but NOTHING I have listened to captured it like you did!  Thank you for the awareness.

I am already talking about Bonobo Handshake to customers and they have all seemed very interested.  I will be recommending this to other independent booksellers for the Indie Next list.  I know this book will be a great boost to Friend of Bonobos and my donation will be going in shortly.  Thanks you so much for this book, it has certainly changed a part of my life.

Sarah Galvin

Dear Vanessa Woods,

I’ve never written to an author before, but I just HAD to when I finished your book, The Bonobo Handshake. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this book! I read a lot of nonfiction, and have long held a fascination for bonobos. This book was a perfect read for a lay person like myself and I learned so incredibly much from it. There aren’t many books out there about bonobos, but the way you combine their story with your personal story, and with the huge story that is Congo in Africa is just so impressive and informative. I will now be on the lookout for anything else you write as I do for my favorite authors that include Carl Safina, Rick Bass, Sy Montgomery, Doug Chadwick, Bernd Heinrich, etc.

I will share this book and its story with everyone and look forward to seeing you and your husband’s name in print again and will do my best to support the bonobos. Best of luck with all the great work you and everyone in the book are doing!!
Margaret Spilker

Hi Vanessa,

My name is Emma Flanagan and I’m just wondering if you will be touring Australia after the release of Bonobo Handshake in August. I work at Angus and Robertson in Townsville, North Queensland, and was lucky to receive an advance proof copy of the book from the publisher and absolutely loved it. I couldn’t put it down and read it in two days flat before going back to the beginning and reading it cover to cover again! …I just want to say again how much I loved Bonobo Handshake and hope to someday travel to Lola Ya Bonobo to see Kikongo and Lomela and the other Bonobos for myself. Thank you for a wonderful book and I hope to meet you someday (soon hopefully!) so that I can thank you in person for opening my eyes to bonobos (which I will admit I’d never heard of before this book!).

Thanks again, and I hope to hear from you soon,

Emma Flanagan

I just finished reading Bonobo Handshake and I’m overwhelmed. I’m also a streaky blotchy mess–I haven’t cried that much over a book in years. I had never heard of bonobos, and now I’m sending cash…thank you for the education!


I just finished your book. I mean just finished it as in ten minutes ago. I turned the last page and stared into space for some moments, which is what I do when I’ve just finished a book that I’m sure has somehow changed the way I will think about things. I don’t stare into space often after finishing a book, and I read a lot. Bonobo Handshake is deflty written, both charming and harrowing, probably brilliant. You may become to bonobos what Sarah McLachlan was for companion pets in terms of raising awareness and giving voice to realities dfficult to hear.

When I stopped staring into space after turning the last page of your book, I absent-mindedly turned on my CD player — to what I was listening to when I last listened to it — the North Carolina-based (I think Carrboro) Mandolin Orange’s “Easy” on the duo’s first (and only, so far) CD. I began crying. I felt I was listening to the Bonobo of the Congo song. Here’s a link: . I think you’ll see what I mean.

Thank you for your book. I’ll donate to Friends of Bonobos on a regular basis because of it. I’ll read more on bonobos because of it, and because of it I’ll make sure everyone I know knows what a bonobo is and why they deserve help and human kindness.



Hello Vanessa,

I just turned the last page of your “highbrow and brilliant” book. On occasion we New Yorkers get something right in our accolades.

I felt that your book encompassed all the we represent at Anne of Carversille. Feminism, green beings, positive sexuality, war and violence — you book sums up our content in 264 breathtaking pages.

I read in the London paper today about the results of your and Brian’s latest research — the saliva tests on chimps and bonobos, testosterone vs elevated cortisol levels.

In closing, your book is so heartfelt and positively dazzling in the interlinked totality of the story you tell, including the one about marriage. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it and am moved to respond. I did write about bonobos 2-3 times before now, but I’m hooked because of you.


Dear Vanessa:  I just finished reading your book and absolutely loved it.  I picked it up at the library on a whim because I loved the cover picture.  It is one I need to own as I have fallen in love with the Bonobos.  Your memoir was made even more exceptional as it kept me on the edge of my seat, reading on to learn how the studies came out, how the Congolese would fare in the midst of elections and most especially the survival of the bonobos.  Most of all your book gave me hope that perhaps there is an answer on peace in our world.  The violence against women and children has always weighed on me, maybe more so since I have children of my own.  So thank you for providing hope. I look forward to supporting the efforts to save the bonobos. – Jill
I loved your book Bonobo Handshake. I don’t remember how many times I cried while reading it, but it was worth it.
I believe I found out about your book after reading The art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. I don’t know how exactly, but I was searching stories for animals, and I saw the title to your book. I found it in a local bookstore but did not buy it then. Then it was a hunt to two stores, mangers setting up tables and so forth till I was able to come up with the name again, and I finally bought it. It’s amazing because your book made me Wikipedia so many subjects about Africa, the Congo, wars, the movie I have seen before, Hotel Rwanda, chimps, and Bonobos.  Many different subjects. Allot of them are heart wrenching.
Another thing I want to say thank you for is the fact that you included an email to write to. If you could know my husband he would tell you that very rarely am I speechless but when I saw the email to write to you, I was speechless. While reading the book I said to him, I wish you could write to these people that have experienced these things and have these amazing jobs, and then BOOM at the end of your book you give your email, so Thank you.