Lost in the wilder­ness

Goodall’s lat­est fails to come to­gether like pre­vi­ous works

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS -

IN 1960, 24-year-old Jane Goodall ar­rived in Tan­za­nia to study chim­panzees. Sent by Bri­tish sci­en­tist Louis Leakey, the for­mer sec­re­tary ini­tially had to be chap­er­oned by her mother. Goodall later ob­tained a PhD from Cam­bridge Univer­sity in ethol­ogy, a branch of zo­ol­ogy that stud­ies an­i­mal be­hav­iour, based on the her work at the Gombe Stream Na­tional Park. Goodall be­gan by study­ing our clos­estc rel­a­tives, dis­cov­er­ing their propen­sity for us­ing tools and hunt­ing small mam­mals for meat. These were star­tling rev­e­la­tions in their day, since it was be­lieved that us­ing tools was a hu­man trait and that chim­panzees were veg­e­tar­ian. More than five decades later, Goodall is still far from home, and still part of the con­ver­sa­tion about what it meansm to be hu­man. The oc­to­ge­nar­ian spends 300 days a year on the road, lec­tur­ing on con­ser­va­tions and rais­ing funds for both the Jane Goodall In­sti­tute, which funds on­go­ing re­search at Gombe, as well as Roots and Shoots, a global youth-ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram. This spring sees the pub­li­ca­tion of her 25th book, Seeds of Hope: Wis­dom and Won­der from the World of Plants, the third book she’s cowrit­ten with jour­nal­ist and for­mer spir­i­tu­al­ity edi­tor for Ama­zon.com, Gail Hud­son. Re­fresh­ingly, Goodall is up­front about her cre­den­tials: “Of course I am best known... for the study of the Gombe chim­panzees... But there would be no chim­panzees with­out plants — not hu­man be­ings ei­ther, for that mat­ter. And the chim­panzee might never have ma­te­ri­al­ized for me had I not been ob­sessed, as a child, with sto­ries of the wilder­ness ar­eas of the planet and, most es­pe­cially, the forests of Africa.” And so, in Seeds of Hope Goodall (and her co-writer) de­scribes her spe­cific his­tory while also pre­sent­ing a brief his­tory of the dif­fer­ent kinds of plants and trees, and how they have been cul­ti­vated over time. Goodall re­lies heav­ily on sto­ries from the en­vi­ron­men­tal and com­mu­nity groups she works with. She also de­liv­ers a hand­ful of big ideas with her anec­dotes: Or­ganic food is health­i­est, the ef­fects of GMOs on hu­mans aren’t fully known, mono-cul­tures aren’t sus­tain­able over the long term, we need our forests to be fully hu­man. All these big ideas bear re­peat­ing; the prob­lem with Goodall’s ap­proach to these is­sues, how­ever, is that read­ers aren’t left with a big pic­ture. The ma­te­rial hop­scotches ge­o­graph­i­cally be­tween Eng­land and Africa, the two poles of Goodall’s life, with stops nearly every­where her tour bus has paused in be­tween — but there’s very lit­tle co­he­sion. Also, al­though Goodall is re­li­ably charm­ing, the sec­tions that in­clude ma­te­rial out­side of her first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence and/or limited ar­eas of ex­per­tise feel like they were writ­ten by an in­ex­pe­ri­enced speech­writer. It should come as no sur­prise, then, that Goodall and her col­lab­o­ra­tors were ac­cused of pla­gia­rism last year by the Wash­ing­ton Post af­ter the Amer­i­can edi­tion was re­leased. Goodall sub­se­quently apol­o­gized and pledged to work with ed­i­tors to cor­rect fu­ture edi­tions. Po­ten­tial read­ers will be glad to hear the Cana­dian edi­tion has re­ceived a rel­a­tively thor­ough go­ing-over. But even that last-minute tin­ker­ing wasn’t enough to save Seeds of Hope; though its au­thors are earnest, the book isn’t half as com­pelling as it should be. Those look­ing for a lo­cal equiv­a­lent should dip into The Global For­est by On­tario-based botanist Diana Beres­fordKroeger, who is also in­ter­ested in work­ing with sto­ry­telling and en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cacy. J.B. MacK­in­non’s The Once and Fu­ture World: Na­ture As It Was, As It Is, As It Could Be, short­listed for this year’s Charles Tay­lor Prize for non-fic­tion, is also worth a read as it digs into the arche­o­log­i­cal record and chal­lenges some of the as­sump­tions un­der­ly­ing the main tenets of con­ser­va­tion. Ariel Gor­don is a Win­nipeg writer who once con­sid­ered a

ca­reer in sci­ence jour­nal­ism.

Seeds of Hope: Wis­dom and Won­der from the World of

Plants

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