Collins, the once-stale imprint of HarperCollins currently in the process of reinventing itself as a destination for major narrative non-fiction, has signed up Brandeis psychologist Irene Pepperberg to write a memoir about taking care of and studying Alex, the “world’s most famous parrot.”
Alex the parrot died in September after 30 years in Ms. Pepperberg’s care. Ms. Pepperberg studied the bird extensively and believed it had the intelligence of a 5-year-old human being. Her research found that Alex could not only speak but understand what he was saying, and that he could grasp certain abstract concepts and distinguish between colors, shapes, and quantities up to 6 (including what reports have called “a zero-like concept”!).
Collins announced today that Bruce Nichols, who was brought in as publisher this year from Simon & Schuster’s Free Press, acquired the book in a “major deal” (in publishing lingo that means he paid at least half a million dollars for it) from Max Brockman, the son of famed literary broker and science enthusiast John Brockman. The younger Mr. Brockman has been working as an agent at his father’s firm, Brockman Inc., for six years, he said this morning. Mr. Brockman said his father had been talking to Ms. Pepperberg for several years about doing a trade book.