Skip to main content

Hope for Animals and Their World – Jane Goodall ****

Jane Goodall is one of those figures in science (or, at least, natural history) who is near mythical. I have to confess to a tendency to confuse her with Diane Fossey (not to be confused with Bob Fosse), so I was slightly surprised that she was English and lives in Bournemouth. However what is certainly not mythical is her enthusiasm for animals which in this book (co-written with Thane Maynard and Gail Hudson) she manages to put across in spades.
The idea is that we hear so much doom and gloom about animals being driven to extinction by climate change and human intervention, and this is a chance to hear the good news – the stories of animals we have managed to bring back from the brink. This works very well. It is heartening to hear. Also fascinating to see the in-fighting between those conservationists who believe animals should always be left in their natural habit and those who believe captive breeding is often essential. Goodall comes down on the side of the captive breeders, and it really does look like the other camp is putting philosophy ahead of the survival of animals.
The writing style is very light and personal. Some of it is almost as if it’s written by a very well-read ten-year-old. I don’t mean that to sound condescending – Goodall is certainly child-like in her joy in living creatures, but not childish. It’s just that this isn’t polished science writing, it’s more like reading a personal journal. I used to love Gerald Durrell’s books as a child, and I was reminded of that same personal enthusiasm and involvement.
I only had two small problems with this book. One was the sheer length of it. It’s 380 pages without the index, and to be honest, while there are obviously big differences between stories of black robins and of condors, there are just so many ‘bird being saved’ stories you can read without them getting a bit samey. I think there’s a bit of ‘famous author syndrome’ here – the editor didn’t dare suggest cutting down. I think the book would have been better with about half the case stories and a bit more depth to the science.
The other problem is that there was a touch of hypocrisy in the way we are encouraged not to destroy the world, yet Jane Goodall clearly flies thousands of miles each year, visiting many countries. This really isn’t justifiable, given the impact of that travel on the environment. (There’s even a section on the back that seems to encourage people to travel the world to see these creatures. No! Don’t! Just read about them, please.)
Despite those concerns, this is a really interesting book. I would have liked to see something about how we should make the decisions on which species to concentrate on. We see a lot of time, effort and money being spent on specific species – there’s no way we could afford to do this for (say) every insect in danger. How do we make those decisions? Even so it is good to know that some species have been hauled back from the brink – and good to see Goodall’s enthusiasm, shining through every page.

Paperback:  
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Grace Lindsay - Four Way Interview

Grace Lindsay is a computational neuroscientist currently based at University College, London. She completed her PhD at the Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience at Columbia University, where her research focused on building mathematical models of how the brain controls its own sensory processing. Before that, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience from the University of Pittsburgh and received a research fellowship to study at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Freiburg, Germany. She was awarded a Google PhD Fellowship in Computational Neuroscience in 2016 and has spoken at several international conferences. She is also the producer and co-host of Unsupervised Thinking , a podcast covering topics in neuroscience and artificial intelligence. Her first book is Models of the Mind . Why science? I started my undergraduate degree as a neuroscience and philosophy double major and I think what drew me to both topics was the idea that if we just think rigorously enou

A Citizen's Guide to Artificial Intelligence - John Zerilli et al ****

The cover of this book set off a couple of alarm bells. Not only does that 'Citizen's Guide' part of the title raise the spectre of a pompous book-length moan, the list of seven authors gives the feel of a thesis written by committee. It was a real pleasure, then, to discover that this is actually a very good book. I ought to say straight away what it isn't - despite that title, it isn't a book written in a style that's necessarily ideal for a general audience. Although the approach is often surprisingly warm and human, it is an academic piece of writing. As a result, in places it's a bit of a trudge to get through it. Despite this, though, the topic is important enough - and, to be fair, the way it is approached is good enough - that it deserves to be widely read. John Zerilli et al give an effective, very balanced exploration of artificial intelligence. Although not structured as such, it's a SWOT analysis, giving us the strengths, weaknesses, opportun

The Science of Can and Can't - Chiara Marletto *****

Without doubt, Chiara Marletto has achieved something remarkable here, though the nature of the topic does not make for an easy read. The book is an attempt to popularise constructor theory - a very different approach to physics, which Oxford quantum physicist David Deutsch has developed with Marletto. Somewhat oddly, the book doesn't use the term constructor theory, but rather the distinctly clumsier 'science of can and can't'. The idea is that physics is formulated in a way that is inherently limited because it depends on using mechanisms that follows the progress of dynamic systems using the laws of physics. This method isn't applicable in circumstances where either something may happen, but won't necessarily, nor where something isn't allowed to happen (hence the science of can and can't, which probably should be the science of could and can't if we are going to be picky). Deutsch and Marletto have proposed a way of using 'counterfactuals'