LEAKEY'S LUCK: The Life of Louis Seymour Bazett Leakey, 1903-1972 by Sonia Cole

LEAKEY'S LUCK: The Life of Louis Seymour Bazett Leakey, 1903-1972

Email this review


Informal and affectionate in tone, this biography of the great pioneer of the human past effectively combines the warmth and tact of a friend's memoir with a valuable chronology of Leakey's triumphs and intellectual battles and a balanced assessment of his difficult but lovable character. Born in Kenya, the son of good-natured missionaries, he was brought up among the Kikuyu who remained his lifelong friends, and early manifested his life's mission for collecting ""stones and bones""; Cole follows him through his brilliant and unorthodox Cambridge years and his unsuccessful first marriage into the meteoric, controversial and multifaceted career which typically he fouled up by jumping to rash conclusions about the age and importance of a hominid skull fragment. In 1931 he had already found Olduvai Gorge, the site which he, second wife Maw, and their sons were to explore and make famous over the next forty years, with long interruptions--intelligence work during WW II, the Mau Mau rebellion, and a stint as the curator of the National Museum of Kenya. Leakey's passions ranged from conservation, Kikuyu ethnography, primate research (he launched Jane Goodall), to bread baking and guppy breeding. But always we see him return to digging--and later, digging for funds with an anxious egotistical zeal that damaged his health. Cole, herself an Olduvai veteran, puts Leakey's flaws in a kindly, impartial perspective that highlights the real value of the man and his work. If her book has the fault of its virtues, it's her paradoxical, tactful distance from its subject born of personal closeness and respect: no dramatic, unexpected probing here. But since Leakey himself stirred up enough drama for ten, Cole's British restraint and fairness provide a fine corrective record.

Pub Date: Sept. 5th, 1975
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich