Review: Jane Goodall – In The Shadow Of Man


In The Shadow Of Man, 1971 ... Photo by me

In The Shadow Of Man, 1971 … Photo by me

In The Shadow Of Man tells the story of the beginnings of Jane Goodall’s primate passion, when she was asked to take part in a study in the Gombe Stream region of the Congo. With no prior knowledge of biological theories or systems, Goodall’s note taking and observations would be novel and original, allowing a new light to be shone onto the chimpanzee communities living in the valley.

This very lucky break gave Goodall the opportunity of a lifetime, and she travelled with her mum for 7 months studying the chimps. Upon her return, she was offered a PhD at Cambridge in ethology (the study of animal behaviour), as well as further funding to return to the valley and continue her studies. She fell in love with, and married, a photographer who lived with her in the Congo, in what seemed like the most perfect start to life that any biologist could dream of. Slowly the project grew and she acquired student research associates from the UK.

By USAID Africa Bureau (Chimpanzees in Uganda  Uploaded by Elitre) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By USAID Africa Bureau (Chimpanzees in Uganda Uploaded by Elitre) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In The Shadow Of Man personifies each Chimpanzee with names,  behaviours, and experiences that all too easily evoke emotion in the reader as if they were a human character. Goodall’s relationships with the individual chimpanzees provide unique angles with which we look at our ancestral species. Through the chapters, the families experience heartbreak and loss, when events including polio epidemics, orphans developing depression, and the death of newborns, strike the community. Behaviours such as making nests to sleep in at bed time, wiping their bottoms with leaves, and ‘celebrating with joy’ at the discovery of a new box of bananas, enable us to visualise the evolutionary origins of some of the seemingly bizarre things we as humans do. Goodall comments (in a rather serious and very honest interview earlier this year) that writing the book she believes was her greatest achievement in life, enabling the public to change the way they thought about nature.

Click here to read more on Jane Goodall.

Advertisements