The books that inspired Dr. Jane Goodall

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Last year I completed an incredible Masterclass with Dr. Jane Goodall. Over the course of 29 online lessons, Dr. Jane took me through her life and work, sharing intimate stories and personal insights. She talked about conservation, advocacy strategies, and how to create change in the world. I’m a pretty jaded person (hard not to be if you’re paying attention to what’s going on in the world), but by the end of this class, I felt something I haven’t felt in a long time: hope.

Dr. Jane is such an incredible person and a source of inspiration for so many. During the class, I found it particularly interesting to hear her talk about some of the books that inspired her as a child. What would have happened if she hadn’t been exposed to those books at a young age? Would she have still gone on to become THE Jane Goodall? Or would she have taken another path that led her in a completely different direction? From what I know of this amazing woman, she likely would have still ended up changing the world somehow. But isn’t it interesting to think that the books and ideas that we take in as children can end up having such a profound effect on our lives? Definitely something to think about the next time you’re out shopping for a children’s gift.

And with that in mind, here are just a few books that inspired Dr. Jane Goodall:

The Story of Dr. Dolitle by Hugh Lofting
Lucky for all of us, Jane got a copy of this book from the library when she was 8 years old. “…it really is a grounding in ethology, the study of behaviour.” In the book, Dr. Dolittle releases a bunch of circus animals back into the wild, and that became the beginning of Jane’s love of Africa.

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Jane still has the used copy of this book that she saved her pennies to buy as a child. She fell in love with the story. “It was reading that book that really got my dream focused.” She told everybody that she was going to grow up and live with the animals in Africa and write books about them. They, of course, laughed at her for having such a silly dream.

The Mentality of Apes by Wolfgang Köhler
When Jane was starting out in her studies of chimpanzees, not much was written about them because not many people had studied chimps at that point. Then she got a copy of The Mentality of Apes, a book that was first published in 1917 and was largely ignored. “I think reading that book helped me a great deal in subsequently analyzing chimpanzee behaviour.”


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