I remember watching Jane Goodall specials from National Geographic when I was a kid. So, when I saw her 2000 book Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey at a book sale, I grabbed it right up. This is a memoir, but it’s also a treatise on how nature connects us to the bigger essence of spirituality around us. And it’s a discussion of how learning more about nature connects us to our own humanity.
Despite watching all those TV specials, I didn’t remember much about Goodall’s back story. And her discussion of growing up in rural England during World War II was interesting. The best parts of the story were her indomitable mother and grandmother, Vanne and Danny. Yes, she couldn’t say Grammy, but she could say Danny. Goodall carries those frugal values throughout her life, noting often that today’s younger generation doesn’t understand even slight deprivations.
Still, the best part of the book is hearing about the chimpanzees of the Gombe forest in Tanzania. She talks about learning to track them, and how they ultimately accepted her. Over and over, she compares the chimps to humans in terms of tasks, socialization, and emotion. Because we have much to learn about what makes the two species both the same and vastly different.
As the book progresses, Goodall switches gears and talks about her advocacy work. It started with a visit to a research lab using chimpanzees and now extends to broader issues like climate change. She effectively connects lessons learned during her time in Gombe and Africa with everything.
For me, the best parts of this book were the stories of Goodall’s life and her advocacy. The spiritual aspects of her thought process were interesting but not as compelling. As a child, she attended traditional Congregational church. But in her adulthood, her spirituality connects more to nature, including Native American and Eastern spiritual practices.
As she discusses man’s inhumanity, Goodall refers often to Nazi Germany. I suppose this is because that happened during such a formative time in her life. On the other hand, I was stunned to find only two or three references to the slave trade. Especially considering her long-standing relationships with Tanzanian staff and researchers in Gombe. She just never mentions how unspeakably cruel it was for the English and other white people to forcibly remove Africans from their home villages. Not to mention all the cruelties inflicted on them once they were sold into slavery.
Still, if you’re curious to know more about Goodall’s life and decades of work on behalf of chimpanzees around the world, read this book. It’s well written and interesting, if a little dated.
Pair with Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, another groundbreaking woman studying nature and science. Or try Other People’s Pets by R. L. Maizes for a fictional look at a woman with a unique connection to animals.