Kirkus Reviews QR Code


On Chimpanzees and People

by Dale Peterson & Jane Goodall

Pub Date: March 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-395-53760-6
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

 Peterson (English/Tufts), eloquent chronicler of nonhuman primates (The Deluge and the Ark, 1989), combines forces with chimp expert Goodall (Through a Window, 1990, etc.) to produce a Baedeker-cum-Declaration of Independence for the chimpanzee. Two unusual literary devices draw attention from the outset. One is Peterson's decision to use Caliban, the subhuman, suprabestial creature from The Tempest, as an archetype for the chimpanzee. This conceit works splendidly: Caliban and chimp have in common a tyrannical overlord (Prospero; all humans), a devastated environment, and a disturbing combination of animal and human traits. The other decision is to print Peterson's words in roman typeface and Goodall's in italic. The two voices differ markedly. Peterson--who contributes the bulk of the narrative- -explores, describes, confronts. He observes chimps frolic in the bush, and crisscrosses Africa and America to track down chimp hunters, owners, and protectors. He probes public understanding of apes, pits it against current ethological knowledge, and challenges animal trainers and laboratory scientists to change their ways accordingly. Appalling tales of abuse come forth: chimps in chains, or routinely beaten by their owners, or detoothed and fitted with electric-shock devices before appearing on TV. Goodall, by contrast, tends to mix memories of chimp study with emotional, even maudlin, reactions to chimp mistreatment (``I am still haunted by the memory of her eyes, and the eyes of the other chimpanzees I saw that day''). She calls for a total ban on private ownership of chimps, including their use in medical research; both authors emphasize the urgency of saving the dwindling African forests, the chimp's natural habitat. A powerful indictment of human cruelty; a convincing plea for animal rights--and altogether superior to the run-of-the-mill nature books crowding the market. (Photos.)