August 16, 2011

Book Review: In the Shadow of Man

In the Shadow of ManIn the Shadow of Man

by Jane Goodall

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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 editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman. She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for, an ISTE article reviewer, an IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything and Technology in Education. Currently, she’s working on a techno-thriller that should be ready this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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