Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey. Jane Goodall. 282 pp. Warner Books, 1999. $26.95.
I must admit that I began Jane Goodall's new book, Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey, with the eyes of a skeptic. Clearly, Goodall's work with the chimpanzees of the Gombe Reserve is already considered a classic, but did I really need a world-class scientist putting on her philosopher's hat and preaching to me about hope? I certainly didn't, or so I thought. When I started working through Reason for Hope, I was looking for the sort of mushy text that some well-known scientists take as their inherent right to produce. I was not only surprised at what I found, I was floored. Inside 50 pages Goodall had convinced me to stop worrying, by the middle of the book I was hooked, and by the time I finished I believed I had just read one of the best books that I would come across for a very long while.
Reason for Hope accomplishes so many different things, it is hard to know where to begin praising it. A good starting point is where Goodall discusses the apparently never-ending battle between scientists and so-called creationists. Rather than rehash that battle at all in the book, Goodall, with the pen of a poet, shows how one of the great evolutionary biologists of the century can also be a deeply spiritual and religious person. If every creationist read Reason for Hope, the whole debate might melt away.
One danger of becoming a household name (and Goodall is one of the few scientists in the world who holds such a distinction) is that you begin to believe that the normal rules of the game don't apply to you. One thing scientists are taught early on is that you shouldn't mesh your philosophy of life with the science you do. This tends to be a good rule, and when it is violated, it often causes trouble for science in general. And yet somehow in Reason for Hope the scientific work on the chimpan zees of Gombe is tied back to Goodall's thoughts on love, hope, solitude, despair, war, healing and moralityand it is done eloquently. Goodall makes the reader think that such intermeshing is both easy and absolutely critical. I have not read another book that pulls this off, and it has made me rethink the relationship between science and philosophy.
I may disagree with some of Goodall's politics, but such disagreements hardly stand in the way of accepting the message of Reason for Hope. For example, as a die-hard capitalist I object to Goodall's notion that greed in the industrialized countries is somehow a major cause of poverty and misery in the world. That said, the reasons that Goodall outlines for hope in the face of potential environmental disaster are solid: the almost unlimited power of the human brain; the resilience of nature to the havoc wrought upon it; "the energy and enthusiasm that is found or can be kindled among young people worldwide"; and, last but certainly not least, the indomitable human spirit. I find it hard to argue with that and still take an optimistic view of the future.
Reason for Hope takes the reader from Goodall's difficult but enviable childhood in war-torn England to her current crusade to educate the world about environmental issues (which keeps her on the road about 300 days a year). After reading how her very being is intertwined with the chimps of Gombe, one is almost saddened that Goodall now rarely spends time with her primate companions. The fact that she essentially surrendered this incredible part of her life to live out of a suitcase in order to make the world a better place makes Goodall all the more admirable.—Lee Alan Dugatkin, Biology, University of Louisville