by Jane Goodall
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
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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 Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco 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 curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-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.