Book Review: My Life with the Chimpanzees

my-life-with-chimpanzeesJane Goodall, at least when I was growing up, was a household name. Because I am not what I term a “creature person” (although I married one and beget one), I didn’t have any special interest in Goodall’s story. My daughter read My Life with the Chimpazees for fifth grade, and so I—as always—followed suit.

Surprise! I really enjoyed it.

This book is an autobiography or memoir, meant for children and outlining her first 28 years at Gombe National Park, Tanzania, in what would become the Jane Goodall Institute. It starts when she was a child, and among other things, it shows on a personal level how a dream can become a reality when one is determined, persistent, and imaginative. It also contains an unabashed world view which includes activism for chimpanzees and other animals, and she presents these ideas without caveat to the children reading her book. In fact, there is something especially endearing about the way she innocently and emphatically says things so pointedly. It’s like, I made this book for you, so you could see how you can realize your dreams, but also that animals need our protection and the earth needs our support. Here are some things you can do.

Goodall has led a life of unlikely fame, dogged devotion, and many, many accomplishments and awards. She has devoted herself not just to science, but to teaching, and activism, and has been a part of many organizations and movements.

I found Jane to be great company. Her voice was gentle, and she had so many stories to tell and so many thoughts to share. And what a remarkable life. Different enough from mine that it took me to another world, which is way a book should read, fiction or not. It was also a quick and easy read, both for me as an adult and for my eleven-year-old, who was more of the targeted audience. I did sense a lot of walling off, though, when it came to personal stories, and I felt under-gratified by some of the tales of her personal life, which may have been that way because the book was intended for children (or because Goodall is English).

Not the best book I’ve ever read, but definitely worth the read. It would be a great recommend for a child doing a non-fiction book report.



If you are interested in Jane Goodall, there are many, many ways to find out more. Here are a few suggestions.

  • My Friends the Wild Chimpanzees, 1969 (book by Goodall)
  • Through a Window, 1990 (book by Goodall)
  • 40 Years at Gombe, 2000 (book by Goodall)
  • Africa in My Blood, 2000 (book by Goodall)
  • The Life and Legend of Jane Goodall, 1990 (movie)
  • Chimps, So Like Us, 2006 (movie)
  • Jane’s Journey, 2010 (movie)


I read My Life with the Chimpanzees, by Jane Goodall, by Aladdin Paperbacks, the 1996 version. It was originally published by Byron Preiss Visual Publications, 1988, and includes some helpful photos of the author and others, including the chimps.


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