Oct 15, 2015

Reason for Hope

by Jane Goodall
with Phillip Berman

Jane Goodall is one of the field research scientists I have long admired. I was enthralled by her earlier books about studying chimpanzees in the wild and theorizing on what the behavior of these apes, so closely related to humans, could teach us. While this book mentions many of the highlights of her chimp studies, most of it is about her life before and after the pivotal Gombe studies. She tells of her childhood, what her family life was like, at what young age she displayed great concern for all animals. She describes how her life path led to working for Louis Leakey, how she first arrived in the rainforests surrounding the Gombe, and how the chimps changed her life. There's a switch in focus when she had a son to raise; by then students and other researchers had taken on the bulk of the chimpanzee work. Goodall learned of the often horrific conditions chimps were usually kept in when captive- whether in the pet trade, zoos, or research facilities, and it became her life work to fight for their cause. She does express regrets and not being able to spend time in direct contact with the apes she had grown to know so well, in the peaceful natural surroundings of the forest. Now her work is about environmentalism and educating the public, especially those living in poor areas near threatened wildlife. Throughout the book she also discusses her own spirituality, her faith in mankind despite the awful things she has seen and pondered over (particularly the Holocaust), how she has overcome personal trials, and various small stories about changing attitudes of individuals regarding the need to care for the environment and wildlife. Such an inspiring woman.

And yet I feel a bit disappointed in the book. It doesn't have quite the depth I recall from earlier books that were solely about the chimpanzee research. Sincerity and a good cause, yes. Interesting writing- not really. Overall it is rather bland. I also felt this way about her book on mindful food consumption, but wasn't brave enough to mention it then. I do still think I'd like the read The Chimpanzees of Gombe, but after that I'm afraid I'm loosing interest in her books.

Rating: 3/5       282 pages, 1999


Stefanie said...

What a shame it is a disappointing book. I really do admire her and her work. Maybe memoir is just not one of her strengths.

Cath said...

I have a book of letters by her, entitled Africa in My Blood. Not sure if it's the best place to start reading about her life and work though.

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

What is your favorite of her books? I'm a little ashamed to say it, but I've never read one single thing by her!

Jeane said...

The ones she wrote about her initial research work on chimpanzees: In the Shadow of Man and Through a Window. I also like Innocent Killers (about hyenas, golden jackals and african wild dogs) which she co-wrote with Hugo Van Lawick.