Book Review: In the Shadow of Man

In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall. Reviewed by Louise Hilton.

Let me start by saying that Jane Goodall is one of my personal heroes so I apologize in advance for any gushing that might occur in this review. In honor of Dr. Goodall’s recent birthday, I chose to review her most famous work, In the Shadow of Man, in which she chronicles her first years spent studying chimpanzees in the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve in Tanzania. Goodall was a young graduate when famed archaeologist Louis Leakey unexpectedly chose her to spearhead what would become a groundbreaking study of chimpanzees in their natural habitat. She would go on to become one of the world’s most respected and accomplished scientists – popular science writer Stephen Jay Gould deemed Goodall’s work with chimpanzees nothing less than “one of the Western world’s great scientific achievements.”

The straightforward and engaging, even humorous, tone makes this animal study read almost like a novel. As Goodall describes the exploits of the group of chimps she would end up studying for years, including the inseparable David Graybeard and Goliath, tough old Flo and her impish children Flint, Fifi, and Flame, to name a few, you find yourself growing attached to the animals along with her as you see their distinct personalities emerge. More importantly, Goodall makes a compelling case for the reader to recognize the need for protective measures to be taken to preserve the chimpanzees and their habitat.

As scientist David Hamburg writes in the forward to the book, “Once in a generation, there occurs a piece of research that changes man’s view of himself.  The reader of this book has the privilege of sharing such an experience.” Much more than just a study of animal behavior, In the Shadow of Man is the story of a young woman coming in to her own, despite some formidable obstacles, and discovering what was meant to be her life’s work. Not many people are equipped with the fortitude and conviction to leave the comforts of home behind and dedicate their lives to those that can not speak for themselves as Goodall did with her lifelong dedication to the protection of chimpanzees, and for that reason alone, In the Shadow of Man is worth a read.

If you’d like to learn more about Dr. Goodall, check out Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe (the sequel to In the Shadow of Man), and two volumes of her illuminating correspondence, Africa in My Blood: An Autobiography in Letters: The Early Years and Beyond Innocence: An Autobiography in Letters: The Later Years. I also highly recommend Dale Peterson’s biography Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man, which chronicles Goodall’s rise to fame in the scientific world and her remarkable achievements. And of course there is Patrick McDonnell’s delightful picture book Me…Jane, a Caldecott Honor book this year, that tells the true story of a young Jane Goodall who had a toy chimpanzee named Jubilee and whose fascination with Africa stemmed from her love of being outdoors and from reading the Tarzan books about another Jane who lived in the jungle.

For those interested in reading more about the study of primates, I recommend The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: A True Story of Resilience and Recovery by Andrew Westoll and Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human by Elizabeth Hess. Dian Fossey’s Gorillas in the Mist is not to be missed. Finally, check out Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are by Frans de Waal for an intriguing look at the behavior of chimps and bonobos and what it can teach us about human nature.

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