Ninja Books

a new home for readers on the web

            Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey
            Jane Goodall with Phillip Berman
            non-fiction; memoir
            Reviewed by: Carrie Byrd
            Review posted: 01/29/05

            Reason For Hope is an intriguing look at the life of famed scientist and “Chimpanzee Lady” Jane Goodall. A combination of biography, theology, philosophy and environmentalism, this is an intense and enthralling book. Once you start reading, the compelling style draws you in and makes it hard to look away. Goodall has not spared herself in this book, talking about the most painful moments in her life. She also does not spare the reader, exposing us to things that we might prefer not to think about, from our cruelty to each other to our cruelty to animals and how that combines both what we mimic in nature and what nature has adopted from us.

            A Reason for Hope first sparked my interest when it was mentioned as a scientist’s take on faith. The chimpanzees are our closest cousins on the evolutionary tree, with only a fractional difference between our DNA and theirs. It lies somewhere in the realm of 1%. With so many voices suggesting that science and religion are incompatible, to read the view of someone who has studied and lived among the animals that are so close to us is fascinating. Undoubtedly, both scientists and people of faith will reject much of what Goodall puts forth out of hand, but to the open-minded reader, Goodall provides interesting insight.

            Also interesting is the tale of how Jane Goodall came to study the chimpanzees. A combination of luck, determination and intelligence helped take her from Louis Leakey’s secretary to a respected scientist and one of the foremost authorities on chimpanzees. Her life story is as engaging as her thoughts on faith and life and science. As she moves from one topic to the next, the main conflict is frustration. Wishing that there was more of each, and more time for her to delve into each is likely to be your greatest problem with this well written book.

            The only flaw is that sometimes she ventures into the maudlin, and you can almost hear the world’s tiniest violin playing in the background. Granted, your mileage may vary on this particular subject, but as much as I enjoy reading about people overcoming their challenges, at some point, the illustrating stories begin to lose their impact. Goodall veers dangerous near this territory towards the conclusion of the book, but for the most part manages to avoid it.

            If you would prefer to avoid thinking about that which is unpleasant, that which might leave you thinking and perhaps even a bit disturbed, A Reason for Hope might not be your first choice for reading. You should read it though. You should read it and think about it. It probably won’t change your life. It probably won’t change the way you think. But it might make you think about something new, and that is worth the time.