Dr. Jane Goodall's revolutionary study of chimpanzees in Tanzania's Gombe preserve forever altered the very definition of "humanity." Now, in a poignant and insightful memoir, Jane Goodall explores her extraordinary life and personal spiritual odyssey, with observations as profound as the knowledge she has brought back from the forest. As a toddler she was entranced by all living things, and over the years the little girl inspired by Tarzan and The Jungle Book became the woman who found herself working with famed paleontologist Dr. Louis Leakey; accomplished scientific breakthroughs in Gombe; and, ultimately, became a champion of the environment. It has been a life blessed with faith, resolve, and purpose, though not without its crises. Jane Goodall endured the horrors of the London blitz and World War II, postwar hardships, vicious rumors and "establishment" assaults on the integrity of her work, a terrorist attack and hostage taking in Africa, and her husband's slow, agonizing death. But throughout, her religious convictions, although tested, have helped her survive-and Jane Goodall's pursuit of science has enhanced, not eroded, her belief in God. In this book she candidly shares her lifetalking of the love and support of her mother, her son, her late husband, of friends and strangersas well as the Gombe chimpanzees she introduced to the world nearly forty years ago. And she gives us convincing reasons why we can and must open ourselves to the saints within each of us. At one with nature and challenged by the man-made dangers of environmental destruction, inequality, materialism, and genocide, Dr. Goodall offers insight into her perceptions of these threats and celebrates the people who are working for earth's renewal. Here, indeed, is Reason For Hope.
Who can hear the name Jane Goodall without remembering a PBS special or a National Geographic profile of her work? Even Apple Computer's "Think Different" ad campaign has capitalized on the image of that lanky woman with the gray ponytail, gently holding a chimpanzee like an infant, that is emblazoned on our collective memory. It was through that British-inflected voice that we first learned of the workaday life and intrinsic beauty of our nearest evolutionary neighbor, the chimpanzee, and of the similarities between our two species.
Goodall's role in radically altering our perception of human and animal life is presented clearly in Reason For Hope: A Spiritual Journey. Part memoir, part educational venture and part spiritual testimony, Goodall wrote the book to "answer the questions that people ask me, about my religious and spiritual beliefs, about my philosophy on life, about why I have hope for the future."
Easily, the most fascinating part of Reason for Hope is Goodall's retelling of the early years of her career. This section of the book is alive with scenes from Gombe, Tanganyika (now Tanzania after its merger with Zanzibar), where she was the first person to live with and study the chimpanzees, and of how her observation of these animals deeply impacted her life. It's thrilling to read about discoveries that today we take for granted. For instance, only in following this account does one remember that before her study of the chimpanzee in 1960, humans were thought to be the only species capable of making and using tools. "That ability set us apart, it was supposed, from the rest of the animal kingdom," Goodall writes. As Goodall narrates the first instance of discovery-when she watches the chimpanzee, David Greybeard, pick a small leafy twig, strip the stem of leaves and then lower this "tool" into a termite hole to collect insects to eat-the sense of excitement and breakthrough is palpable. When she telegraphed these findings to her mentor, the paleontologist/archeologist Louis Leakey, he responded with a now-famous remark, "Ah! We must now redefine man, redefine tool or accept chimpanzees as human!" Indeed, when she writes of how her observations at Gombe challenged human uniqueness, one has a sense of the "violent scientific and theological uproar" her findings engendered. Goodall chose to stay out of the controversy, continuing instead to live her simple life in Gombe, learning more about the chimpanzees and what their lives say about humans.
Somewhat disappointing to this reader, Goodall doesn't address the lack of respect she received as a woman and a scientist who was not traditionally trained. (Though she went on to receive a Ph.D., she held no degree when she made the famous 1960 discovery.) In Reason for Hope, she does touch on the topic obliquely: "There were some who tried to discredit my observations," she writes, but shies away from giving any details, either of her reaction to this lack of respect or how she believes her gender may have played a role. For example, when she was first selected by Leakey for the initial Gombe study, both the British protectorate and the government authorities of Tanganyika were horrified at the thought of a young white woman going off into the bush; they required that she take a European companion. In the narrative, she focuses on how she chose her indomitable mother, who became known among the local people as the "White Witchdoctor" for the simple medical care she provided. It's unfortunate that by drawing back at key personal points, Goodall undercuts her intention of showing her beliefs, relying instead on straightforward testimony. As a result, the portions on spirituality and religion, which are presented in a sentimentalized, didactic tone, are much less captivating than her visceral descriptions of life in the wild. Likewise, the most tedious part of this book is the reprimand to the human race for being selfish, greedy, environmentally stupid and generally cruel. It's not that her points aren't true and well-taken; it's just that the presentation of the material comes across as staid. Her prescription is to hasten our moral evolution in order to stem the tide of self-destruction: "We will have to evolve, all of us, from ordinary, everyday human beings-into saints!"
In the telling of Goodall's personal life, this book is imbued with her politics and the spiritual beliefs that are as much a part of her life as the air she breathes. When she goes out of her way to advance her tenets, however, the work strays and the narrative wanes. Still, it's only an activist's zeal, a flaw easily forgiven in the context of her life and mission. Reason for Hope grants a startling look backwards at where we, the chimpanzees and the whole "green movement" have come from. Looking forward, as we teeter on the brink of the new millennium, learning more each day about the damage our species is doing to our planet, who among us can't use some reason for hope?