November 2006

In the shadow of no man

By Dale Peterson
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Ten years in the making, Dale Peterson's definitive biography Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man finally shows us Goodall's life as a whole: her charmed childhood in the English countryside, her early career as a secretary, her association with renowned anthropologist Louis Leakey and her later role as animal rights activist. From Peterson, we learn that Goodall's defining scientific discovery that chimpanzees create and use tools to secure their termite lunches came in her first year of life among the chimps. Goodall's other landmark achievements her documentation of a chimp-enacted genocide, her many books and films and her advocacy for laboratory chimps all unfold with a satisfying wealth of detail. Goodall fans will be interested to learn the important role her mother, Vanne, played as a companion in Jane's earliest African sojourns and the occasional suffocation Goodall felt in both her marriages to domineering men. The chapter in which Goodall's student assistants are kidnapped and held for half a million dollars in ransom is also a serious page-turner.

Perhaps more importantly, Peterson captures the qualities of character and determination that have made Goodall a legend. We see the young scientist marching tirelessly ahead of her male escorts, none of whom were able to keep up with her and who threatened mutiny against Goodall's regimen of long hours, hard climbs and Spartan meals. We see her turning over nearly all her income to establish research foundations and tirelessly rescuing mistreated chimps. An epiphanic moment in Peterson's book shows us a cab driver recognizing Goodall in his rearview mirror. Soon he has pulled the car over to the side of the road; driver and celebrity have a long discussion about Goodall's work and what it means to the cabbie's children. In this small episode, we see that Goodall's importance is almost impossible to measure because she means so much to so many people, legions of whom live far from the ivory towers of academic science. The lessons of Goodall's life cheer spiritual seekers, rally animal rights activists, affirm wilderness conservationists, and walk alongside young women incubating their own hopes and dreams.

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Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall

By Dale Peterson
Houghton Mifflin
ISBN 9780395854051

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