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Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey    by Jane Goodall order for
Reason for Hope
by Jane Goodall
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2000 (1999)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Reason for Hope, Jane Goodall gives us a candid memoir (written with Phillip Berman) encompassing her famous experiences with the chimpanzees of Gombe; her personal life and how she coped with her husband's painful death and its aftermath of grief; and indeed her own lifelong spiritual journey. In the latter she addresses the large questions of our times - the nature of good and evil in light of events like the Holocaust; why we are here at all and how humanity is evolving - and shares her own philosophies and her (inclusive) religious convictions.

The author remembers a warm, sheltered childhood, surrounded by a loving family and with an early love of animals. As an impressionable eleven-year-old in 1945, she describes images of the Holocaust as having 'a profound impact on my life' that resulted in a lifelong questioning. Eleven years later, she received an invitation to visit a friend in Africa. This led to a meeting (and later a job) with Louis Leakey, digging for fossils at Olduvai and then the opportunity of a lifetime, to initiate a study of chimpanzees in the remote game reserve at Gombe. There Goodall documented a chimp's use of tools - grass stems to extract termites - which challenged the prevalent view of man as the unique tool user. She also developed her viewpoint that with man's highly developed intellect comes 'a responsibility toward the other life-forms of our planet', a concept expanded on through the book.

The author returns to her preoccupation with the 'Roots of Evil', when she observes it in chimpanzee behavior, whom she previously considered 'though very like us in behavior, were rather nicer.' Chimpanzee attacks on members of other communities and a brutal 'Four-Year War' amongst the Gombe chimpanzees put an end to that notion, and was one of the more significant results of the chimp studies. Goodall compares this primate behavior to pseudospeciation or 'cultural speciation' amongst humans, leading to different treatment of in-group and out-group members, and to the devastation of holy wars. She considers cultural speciation 'crippling to human moral and spiritual growth.'

However, observations of aggression in chimpanzees were balanced by much more frequent sightings of nurturing and peaceful interactions in the community, and the author concludes that though 'our aggressive tendencies are deeply embedded in our primate heritage ... so too are our caring and altruistic ones', many of which she documents in the book. I applaud her challenging of the reductionist arguments 'that denigrate all that is most truly noble in our species' and was greatly intrigued by the references to LeCompte DuNuoy's Human Destiny, arguing that we are in the process of a long moral evolution, which is our 'ultimate destiny, the raison d'etre for the human species.'

That idea indeed gives reason for hope, as do Dr. Goodall's continuing efforts in conservation, on behalf of orphaned chimpanzees, and against the use of animals in experiments. Her arguments on this topic are well thought out and rational, as is her passionate call for individuals to make the effort to make a difference. Reason for Hope is a wonderful book about an impressive individual who has herself made a very big difference, and continues to do so.

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