As ecologically adaptable animals, baboons are distributed widely across Africa, and display a variety of morphological and behavioral differences that reflect both local ecology and a complex evolutionary history. As long-lived, slowly reproducing animals, baboons face numerous ecological challenges to survival and successful reproduction. As group-living animals, the social world presents an equally diverse array of challenges that require the negotiation of individual needs within the constraints imposed by others. Understanding how all these facets of baboon evolutionary history, life history, ecology, sociality, and cognition fit together is an enormous but engaging challenge, and despite one hundred years of study, it is clear there is a still much to learn about the various natural histories of baboons. What also is clear, however, is that an appreciation of contingency holds the key to understanding all these facets of baboon evolution and behavior. In what follows, I hope to illustrate exactly what I mean by this, highlighting along the way that history is not to be ignored, variability is information and not merely “noise”, and that behavioral and cognitive complexity can be two very different things.