Book Review: In the Shadow Of Man by Jane Goodall

Copyright © by Jessica Schneider, 1/3/08


  Jane Goodall is of course known for her observational work with chimpanzees. In the Shadow of Man is a highly interesting read for anyone who has ever wanted to know more about her work, and the nature of chimpanzees in general. While humans seem to take for granted the intelligence of the chimpanzee—our closest relative whose brain resembles ours more than the gorilla—this book will give you a new appreciation for the species as well as the individual chimps themselves. Written in 1971, the book still has an updated feel to it, and is accessible and not laced in scientific jargon.

  In the Shadow of Man tells the story of when Goodall began her research at the Gombe Stream Reserve in Africa, and how slowly she built a relationship with the chimps that likewise, began to build one with her. She discusses how she not only had to earn their trust, but also what she observed as far as their habits and behavior. After reading this book it came as no surprise to see how chimps really do have traits that are human like, in that they too undergo mood swings, jealous rages, laughter, caring for their young, and sexual promiscuity.

  Rife with photographs, readers will learn the stories behind Flo, an old female who is not only the object of every male chimpanzee’s desire when she is in estrus, but also her number of children. Readers will also learn about David Graybeard, the first chimp that allowed Goodall to approach him, as well as Mike, Goliath, Leakey, Mr. McGregor, Worzle, Goblin, among many others. While anyone reading that list would think they were mere names and that is all, Goodall actually manages to develop the chimps’ characters within the book, and reading about Mr. McGregor ultimately contacting polio and being shunned by the other chimps during his last days will no doubt affect you. And although chimps do not have as distinct facial characteristics as do humans, the book is filled with facial photographs of these chimps, and I continually found myself thumbing through to see the actual face of the chimp she was speaking about. Surprisingly, once you get to know their traits they really do start to look differently from one another.

  As I mentioned, I think that humans can easily take for granted the intelligence of this species, and just reading this book will allow anyone to see for themselves how witty these creatures are. Goodall discusses how she had to set up a feeding station for the chimps, and likewise, how she would have to lock up the bananas, as well as hide them from site. Thus it becomes only a matter of time before one of the chimps is able to figure out how to open the chest. As a result, Goodall is forced to fix the latch several times in several different ways, and again it becomes only a matter of time before they figure out how to open the chest. She and her husband Hugo would also have to come up with new hiding places for the food, because the chimps would easily remember where it was stashed.

  She also examines the behavior between mother and child, and just as with humans, although the mother chimp will express caution for her child—that does not mean that some won’t be neglectful. It was particularly interesting when she spoke about Flint, the son of Flo, the old female. When his baby sister Flame was born, Flint, who was still a “child” of only a few years, regressed back to his babyhood and demanded Flo carry him on her back. Goodall also noted how Flint was somewhat of a “brat” whenever Flo did not give him the attention he sought. Just as with a bratty human child, Flint would throw temper tantrums and old Flo would have to listen to it and eventually give in, just to appease him.

  Another aspect Goodall speaks about is animal testing. Although she does not state that she is completely against it, she views the ways in which labs (and even the occasional zoo) house the chimps as almost “criminal” in her opinion. Laboratories often like to keep chimps housed in small cages, leaving them with nothing to do all day except wait around for the next painful experiment. Chimps are at their best when they are free to climb and associate with other chimps. For example, just as with humans, male chimps need to have their “guy time” with other male chimps. If one plans to keep chimps at the zoo, then it would be best to try to recreate their natural environment as best as possible. Goodall speaks of one zoo in particular that caged a male and female together, leaving them with nothing to do all day except for grooming themselves or each other, and nor was there a place to shield themselves from the hot sun. Their water would also run out by late morning, and not be refilled till the next day. Because these are highly intelligent creatures, over time they can become depressed and lethargic—just as a human would if kept in a small prison cell. In fact, she believes that most of the chimps housed at zoos don’t even have as much freedom as human prisoners.

  Goodall poses all these questions, but she does not preach. Instead, she presents the material and allows readers to arrive at their own conclusions. Personally, after having read her book, I agree with what she says regarding the ways chimps are cruelly kept in captivity. This is not to imply that I think scientific experiments should all together be abandoned, but one is really forced to think twice about the poor ways in which the animals are treated. Hopefully there will come a time when experimenting on higher animals won’t be needed. The biggest difference between them and us is that they have not been able to learn speech, but they have shown they do have an awareness of self—probably far more than we realize. So this does pose some ethical questions as to whether we have the “right” to experiment on creatures that are well aware of themselves when so many are opposed to experiments done on objects without any sentience all together—human embryos.

  In the Shadow of Man is a terrific and informative book. Recommended for all humans.


[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on The Moderate Voice website.]


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