Dale Peterson - Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man

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Dr. Jane Goodall Revealed How Chimp Behavior & Society Reflects Our Own~

Feb 19, 2009 (Updated Feb 19, 2009)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:mostly fascinating in breadth of subject; Jane's an amazing person 

Cons:sometimes too detailed and I skimmed

The Bottom Line: Until Goodall discovered otherwise, chimps and apes suffered from our misunderstanding. MTV's Trippin' show in 2005 featured celebrities supporting her work. See janegoodall.org for more info.

Looking at her you wouldn't think that Englishwoman Jane Goodall would have braved the wilds of Africa when only nineteen to observe primate behavior for reputable anthropologist Louis Leakey. But not stopping there she went on to change how he and all other researchers of much more qualification viewed our nearest relatives in the animal realm. She didn't peer at the chimps and big apes from a great distance or from a hole in a cage. Rather she allowed them to ‘habituate' or get used to her by staying still or moving very slowly around them and in a year she was so well accepted that she could join their group and hand them bananas.

Soon she watched an ape fashion and use a tool to dig for termites. She noted the strong mother-child bond, the deference to the alpha male, the promiscuity of a female chimp in the pink (I'm not explaining that) with eager males in line. She saw many apes fight over some meat and messily eat it. It became obvious that they were intelligent, emotional and sometimes carnivorous animals, not like they had traditionally been viewed. One of the saddest passages in Dale Peterson's 2008 biography, which was ten years in the making, was the final one where Goodall visited a Chinese zoo and watched two emaciated, sad chimps forced to perform dangerous tricks for her and a bit of fruit. If you read Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man, you will never again think of primates as our mere playthings or treat them as slaves to imprison.

Excuse me, Jan. Did she ever get hurt by a chimp or ape?

Once that I noticed. It was a nervous chimp she visited in a zoo who bit the tip of her thumb off.

Thanks. That's amazing, but didn't she get malaria a lot?

She certainly did and I got tired of reading about it. (I clear my throat) You see, I'm not a fan of extremely long books and so had difficulty in getting started and sticking with this one pound book of 685 pages of forty lines per page average, making it more like over a thousand pages of small print. When I learned about the write-off sponsored by epinionator pestyside, honoring women who have greatly enriched the world (and Jane Goodall was specified), I finished the Harriet Jacobs' memoir of being a slave, then dug into the Goodall biography in earnest. As it's the only biography of her so far (she's still alive and lecturing) and much supported by Jane and every one of her living relatives and friends, it may be the most helpful one that'll be written for fans.

Peterson has written a book with Goodall called Visions of Caliban about his time spent observing primates with her, but interestingly doesn't even do more than mention it in his book. He details everything else, from her childhood, adolescence, young adulthood to being a jet-setting senior citizen at seventy, including her struggles to write her other books, but not that one. I've only read one of her books, The Ten Trusts, which is similar to the earlier Reason For Hope: A Spiritual Journey and was glad to be reminded of its inspiring message that she still gives talks on around the world. At janegoodall.org, the Jane Goodall Institute website, you may read more information on her schedule, the Gombe research site, the Roots & Shoots clubs for young environmentally-aware students in ninety-five countries, and other news. This is the mission statement for JGI:

The Jane Goodall Institute advances the power of individuals to take informed and compassionate action to improve the environment for all living things.

Sounds good, Jan. What was the book like?

There are three sections to Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man. They are 1) The Naturalist, 2) The Scientist, and 3) The Activist (much shorter). In the forty-three, titled chapters I learned everything from how her father raced an Aston-Martin straight from the shop and gave Jane a stuffed monkey for her first birthday to her love of reading Dr. Doolittle and Tarzan the Apeman books to her brief romance with unemployed actor Robert Young and her subsequent love life with one son as a result to her growing acclaim as a scientist, author and humanitarian who became the UN Messenger of Peace in 2002 and has received knighthood as well as countless awards for her contributions.

It was sometimes just too much information that Peterson culled from her exuberant diary entries, her books, other peoples' diaries like her mother's (she helped Jane in research) and his interviews. I did skim things that weighed it down, such as problems with finding funding nearly all the time and background stuff that involved history of her Cambridge University professors and lots of things not essential to understanding Goodall. The book didn't become that interesting until a fourth of the way in. Yes, Peterson knows Jane as a friend and obviously admires her, but he seems fairly obsessed about trivial detail and unable to edit for greater clarity. He has also published Goodall's letters and commentaries in Africa In My Blood and Beyond Innocence. A most thorough, ambitious chap. Reading his biography is like reading a daily diary until he moves along more quickly towards the end of the second section.

Gosh, it sounds like a trial to read, Jan. Was it worth reading?

Yes, it definitely was, especially if you're a great fan of Jane. I think I'm the kind of fan who would prefer to read her books instead and get her perspective of her life. This biography ended with her in 2004 and having irritated eyes that caused her to wear shades while on tour in the States, I believe. I felt cheated to not know how she's been doing in the last five years. She did publish a book on vegetarianism.

So do you recommend it?

I do if you don't mind a reading challenge and have patience, especially if you don't know much about her and want to. Peterson includes her perspective as well as many others', which gives it a more critical, helpful aspect that most people can appreciate. Also, I didn't know anything about primate research before Jane turned it on its head and his book reveals her struggle as well as acceptance as a scientist. Maybe some of it had to be skimmed, but I‘m an impatient sort with such long books.

Do you have a closing statement, Jan?

Yes, I'll end with some of Peterson's summary of the second section:

...She introduced the idea of chimpanzees as actors in their own drama, as individuals operating with complex intent, and thus she helped establish the scientific appreciation of animal will and intelligence. She propagated the idea that wild chimpanzees have emotions similar to those of humans, and that their emotional inheritance, their ordinary map of desire, helps account for the many ways in which chimpanzee behavior echoes and elucidates human behavior...And she was the first or among the first proponents of the idea that chimpanzee behavior exists in a cultural context....


You might enjoy my review of another biography of two feminist anthropologists, Intertwined Lives
http://www0.epinions.com/review/Intertwined_Lives_Margaret_ Mead_Ruth

The Ten Trusts review:
_Must_Do_to_Care_for_the _Animals_We_Love_Jane_Goodall_Marc_Bekoff/content_93580660356

This is an entry in epinionator pestyside's write-off. More entries can  be found from her profile at http://www.epinions.com/user-pestyside . 

Recommend this product? Yes

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