book reviews / Born in a Treacherous Time / research

Book Review: In the Shadow Of Man

In the Shadow of ManIn the Shadow of Man

by Jane Goodall

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

View all my book reviews

I read Jane Goodall’s In the Shadow of Man (Houghton Mifflin 1971) years ago as research for a paleo-historic novel I was writing. I needed background on the great apes so I could show them acting appropriately in their primeval setting tens of thousands of years ago. While I did get a marvelous treatise from this book on their wild environ, I also got my first introduction to the concept that they are almost-human, maybe even human cousins.

But I digress. Back to Jane Goodall.

This is the memoir that began her career, that relays her start in the field of anthropology, how she conducted her early studies and the price she paid personally and professionally for her perseverance. She had no formal background in primatology or fieldwork when she began this study. She entered Tanzania with an open mind, a patient attitude and an interest in exploring the capers of wild chimpanzees. From there, she invented everything else that would allow her to investigate these fascinating primates. In the book, she shares every step with readers–how she followed the chimps until they finally accepted her presence without fleeing, how she learned to identify each animal and in that way track their lives, how she came to understand their verbal and body language, how she became a better mother by watching Flo’s parenting skills.

At the time she wrote this book, chimpanzees were not considered human–still aren’t. Goodall approached her fieldwork expecting to see them fail the tests of human-ness, things like using tools, caring for their families, working as a group, planning their actions. Each hurdle she put in front of them, they lept across, until her work destroyed all the rules about what made you and I human. She did for chimpanzees what Dian Fosse did for the gorillas and Birute Galdikas did for orangutans: she humanized them.

By the time I finished this book, I realized that chimpanzees have a good and fulfilling life. They have adapted to suit their environment. They lack man’s wanderlust, restricting themselves to smaller and smaller parts of Africa every year, but by Jane Goodall’s account, they enjoy their existence.

Can we say as much for ourselves?

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersCisco guest blog, IMS tech expert, and a monthly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculumK-8 keyboard curriculumK-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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11 thoughts on “Book Review: In the Shadow Of Man

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  6. Such an interesting question you ask. As my mom’s Alzheimer’s has taken a tighter hold of her, she asks less than she ever did. She tells me that she’s happy with herself and happy with her life. This despite that she’s lost so much. Her husband, my father, is deceased. She no longer lives in her million dollar home overlooking the ocean. She hasn’t driven or shopped or vacationed for years. The only one of her 3 children who visit is me, the only of her 7 adult grandchildren are my 2 sons. If my life were so reduced, I would be bitter and angry, yet she accepts the remains that she does have as sufficient and fulfilling. Possibly has to do with her faulty memory. She has also become much kinder and sweeter. Certainly shows that we can be content with far less stuff, though I admit that the disease may be an inaccurate indicator.


    • That is interesting, Shari. Which brings us back to the definition of ‘happiness’. Is it ‘contentness’? Is it different for everyone? When countries are measured on a ‘happiness’ scale––, America comes out nowhere near the top. I wonder what that means.


      • My true happiness quotient is highest when I’m with my family. My sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren are way at the top because I don’t get to see them often, especially the one who lives in Boulder. The older I get the more I appreciate my husband and my mom, both of whom I see in very different lights than when we were all younger. I find happiness in being with true friends, some of whom I “see” only on the phone or via email.

        After that I take much joy in doing something for another person. I want to spend more time finding and becoming committed to helping others. I’ve wanted to pursue becoming a chaplain (won’t happen though), teaching art to the seniors where my mom lives, and teaching art to children who have disabilities that prevent them from having opportunity

        I love to write. It isn’t therapy. It’s passion. It’s going to have to take a bit of a back seat with all the other new happenings in my life but i will continue to write and to pursue becoming published.

        Watching people around me get so hung up with stuff and stardom, I wonder how happy they really are. So many folks out there in front of the public lead such tawdry lives, full of adulation by strangers but also subject to terrible addictions and behaviors. All that money and fame can’t be the road to happiness. I’m not sure it’s cerebral heights that topples people off the happiness chart. I think it’s becoming trapped by what we think we want in terms of tangible stuff when what truly touches us is the moment we touch another person, with our hearts, our deeds.

        So I will live in my house that needs a lot of work and with the one and good man to whom I’ve been married 41 years, and count all my blessings. They can’t be bought or sold and are many. I suspect that Jane Goodall and her chimps knew all this a long time ago.


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