Jul 21, 2010

Visions of Caliban

on Chimpanzees and People
by Dale Peterson and Jane Goodall

This profound book is a sobering look at humankind's relationship with chimpanzees. Not only in a historical sense- our early fascination with them, use of them in research, groundbreaking studies in the wild that finally began to reveal their true natures- but also as we have represented them in literature (which, surely, shows how we really feel about them in our deepest selves). The book opens with a discussion about the role of Caliban in Shakespeare's play The Tempest (one of my favorites). I have to admit, before I read Visions I never thought of Caliban as being an ape, I just thought he was some sort of monster and let it remain fuzzy. But reading how Peterson unravels the play it is so brilliantly clear to me. Throughout this book, each chapter is headed by a quote from The Tempest, making it a very curious meld of literature and science, indeed. It is sorrowing to read Goodall's words when she describes the horrors of experimentation labs where chimps are abused, and of how people who want to profit from it manage to get chimps for labs even though it's illegal. Both authors argue for the need to protect these intelligent animals, so close to us, and make it clear how painfully we have treated them, and continue to do so even though we understand them now better than ever before.

Granted, I read this book four or five years ago, so I'm sure I've forgotten huge blocks of it. But it's one I do want to revisit someday and peruse more carefully; and perhaps this little mention here will encourage one of you to pick it up and read it. (Do come back and tell me about it!)

Rating: 3/5 ........ 367 pages, 1993


Jenny said...

The Tempest quotes and analogies make me want to read this a lot! I love The Tempest too--it's probably my favorite comedy, and it's pretty close to being my favorite play. It was the first play I ever saw at the Globe in London, which remains the best performance of a Shakespeare play I've ever seen. I have been meaning to read some Jane Goodall stuff anyway.

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Zibilee said...

It sounds like this book has a lot going for it, and though I have not read The Tempest, this review has made me curious about both books. I love chimpanzees and think that they are marvelous animals. It is truly sad to think of them in the lab being experimented upon.