by Julie AndersonSeptember, 1999
The greatest pleasures of Reason for Hope are found in the passages about the chimpanzees of Gombe, Africa, to which Goodall is passionately devoted, and in her insights into spirituality and human moral evolution. Her stories are so brimming with emotion and her philosophical views so unpretentious and calming that one has the impression of sitting cozily with a friend.
Dr. Goodall portrays the events of her life as building upon each other and pointing her directly toward Africa, chimpanzees, and her work in environmental preservation. Early on she felt a deep empathy for animals and a desire to study them unobtrusively in their natural habitats. She relates a delightful memory of hiding out in the straw of a henhouse at the age of four to experience first-hand how a chicken lays an egg.
When Dr. Louis Leakey offered her a job studying the chimpanzees of Gombe, she began her life's work. Her chimpanzee observations are captivating, as are the comparisons between them and humans. The chimpanzees have tender, caring relationships, but can also be ruthless toward members of the outgroup. She sees human precursors to both altruism and savage brutality in the chimpanzees.
Religion and spirituality factor greatly in Goodall's life. She feels God (the same God all religions share) all around her, but especially in the jungles of Africa. What makes her book such a delight is her unbridled, intelligent optimism.
Although deeply affected by the genocide, terrorism, animal cruelty, deforestation, and other horrors of our age, she has faith in the potential goodness of the human race, and in the benevolence of God. Her strong views are delivered so rationally, and in such a serene way, that not a trace of condescension or bitterness shows through. She is a beautiful role model for these sometimes ugly days.
Julie Anderson writes and stays home with her two sons.