ONE LIFE: An Autobiography by Richard E. Leakey

ONE LIFE: An Autobiography

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One Life is Richard Leakey's way of paying homage to the fact that he is alive today and well into a second life that began following a kidney transplant in 1979. In that year, end-stage renal failure brought him and his paleontologist second wife Maeve (Epps) to London, where he began dialysis treatments. Bored with the routine of hours-long blood-filtering, he began to write the autobiography. Such behavior is typical: Richard Leakey is as peripatetic, restless, and ambitious as his father, ready to take risks, talk his way out of tight situations, and generally take over. The results have not always been felicitous, he admits. On the other hand, his record of selecting fossil-rich sites carries on the family tradition and has made him as world-renowned as his parents. Richard was the second of the three sons of Mary and Louis Leakey. Elder brother Jonathan runs a snake farm and younger brother Philip is a member of the Kenya parliament. Richard was not particularly close to his brothers, especially Philip, and some of the more poignant passages reveal the soul-searching Richard underwent when he learned that Philip gladly volunteered to donate a kidney that turned out to be a perfect match. (Leakey's descriptions of kidney failure, dialysis, and the followup of the transplant, are an incidental plus.) The prospects of mortality take up only a few pages, however, in a story that reads like an adventure-serial. Richard early rebelled against his parents and paleontology, failed to qualify for university, and never did earn a degree. (Shades of mother.) Instead he learned how to fly, went into the safari business, and tried his hand at other enterprises before coming around to prehistory. His early ventures, interestingly, were less for the sake of scholarship, and more for the challenge of organization and logistics. There are wonderful accounts of near-disasters involving trucks and boats, supplies and campsites; there are hilarious descriptions of coping with camels in Kenya--as well as passages that capture the beauty of African sunrises and sunsets. Throughout the narrative Richard elaborates the theme of father-son conflict. It was clear that the two, temperamentally so much alike, were bound to clash and almost inevitable that, in age, Louis would feel resentful and threatened. There appears to have been a touching reconciliation on the eve of Louis' death in 1972. Like his mother (see above), Richard does not use the volume to argue who is right or wrong in naming species. His book, too, is abundant in details of African life and landscape, and bespeaks his love for the continent.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1984
Publisher: Salem House--dist. by Merrimack