This book clearly deserves more than five stars.
Through a Window is the popular version of the first 30 years of Dr. Jane Goodall's pioneering primate research at the Gombe reserve in Africa. Arriving in Africa as a young woman who found she did not like office work, she looked for something to do. The legendary Dr. Louis Leakey became interested in the idea of doing parallel research on chimpanzees in the wild to shed light on the development of early man. He persuaded Dr. Goodall to trek into Gombe, and helped her raise money and respectability for the project. From the beginning, he knew it had to go on for at least 10 years. Overcoming great deprivations and dangers, Dr. Goodall turned this into one of the most important animal observation studies ever. In this book, you will get the highlights of what has been learned from that research.
The book emphasizes the closeness between humans and chimpanzees. The two species have 99 percent genetic similarity. Each can catch diseases that no other species can. In fact, Gombe was overwhelmed by a polio epidemic that affected the chimpanzees and the humans in the 1960s.
As you walk through the forest with Dr. Goodall, you will find behaviors that are very similar to what humans do. Is it any wonder that she supposes that chimpanzees feel many of the same emotions that humans do? The only major difference she finds is that chimpanzees never torture each other or other animals like humans do.
You will follow along with families of chimpanzees over three generations, and find out about what works well and what doesn't for them. There are even chapters about memorable individuals who had a large impact on the chimpanzee community.
Before Dr. Goodall did her work, people thought of chimpanzees as being insensate animals. She soon observed that they made and used tools, ate meat, and cooperated with one another in very sophisticated ways both for hunting and child rearing. They have very complicated social rituals designed to keep everyone in place, but feeling friendly towards one another. As Dr. Goodall says, there are some chimpanzees she has liked more than some people and vice versa, because each one is so different.
Having developed a better understanding of and sympathy for chimpanzees, Dr. Goodall then turns her attention to making the case for more preserves for wild living (and observation), eliminating the trade in chimpanzees (which lead to much death, suffering, and disaster for chimpanzees and humans), eliminating and improving the way research chimpanzees are "tortured" and "mistreated," and improving zoo conditions. Chimpanzees are very social creatures and are highly intelligent.
She likens the treatment of chimpanzes by animal researchers, trainers, and zoos to modern day concentration camps. I must admit that she more than convinced me. Clearly, much can and must be done to improve the lot of chimpanzees. If we cannot treat our nearest animal relative well, what does that say about us? Who are the brutes?
The book's title is a reference to the limited perspective we can get by only studying behavior. We do not know what goes on in a chimpanzee's mind. Perhaps someday we will because experiments are showing that chimpanzees rapidly learn to use sign language.
You will laugh a lot about the problems that Dr. Goodall has had in convincing scientists that chimpanzees are advanced and sensitive. It's as though psychologically our self-image depends a lot on making animals "dumber" than they are.
Since I will probably never get to see chimpanzees in the wild, I was delighted that this very interesting book was available to me. It will make you feel like you are on a long hike chatting with Dr. Goodall (but minus the danger and deprivation).
You will also come away vastly impressed by the dedication of Dr. Goodall and her colleagues at Gombe. They have done a marvelous piece of work here that will continue to pay important knowledge dividends in future years.
After you finish enjoying this superb book, I suggest you think about where else you assume that a person or animal is "dumb." For example, children have quite sophisticated ability to understand emotional situations at a young age, but cannot speak about them well. So adults often "talk down" to them, making the child lose respect for the adult.
Why not assume that everyone and every creature has vast reservoirs of understanding that you do not have? Then, you will start noticing what you can learn from them. The many ways that chimpanzees give solace and reassurance would improve the quality of life for almsot any human, for example.
Live more beautifully by grasping all of nature's intelligence, wherever it is!