The drive from Washington, DC, to western Maryland brought us to bucolic, red-barn country within an hour. Horses gazed up halfheartedly at our passing car, clearly oblivious to the great experiment going on just down the road. A tribe of three hundred rhesus monkeys, whose original members came from the mountains of Sri Lanka, has made its home in Poolesville. They’re here to help humans figure out why we behave the way we do.

We’d come to see the monkeys, and also the man who has been watching them for more than forty years, neuropsychologist Steve Suomi of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He is a leading explorer of the tangled, centuries-old, nature versus nurture terrain, and he commands a small empire of warehouse ...

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