9781565122260 / 1565122267

A Dark Place in the Jungle: Science, Orangutans, and Human Nature


Publisher:Algonquin Books



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About the book:

Biruté Galdikas is one of Louis Leakey's "three angels": Jane Goodall dedicated her life to the study of chimpanzees; Dian Fossey, gorillas; and Galdikas, the orangutans of Borneo's rainforest. Dark Place's author, Linda Spalding, says that Goodall is usually described as the "good fairy" of the three, respected and adored by all. Fossey, she says, died a martyr and was even compared to Jesus Christ at her eulogy, despite being considered "mad, paranoid, alcoholic, delusional, enormously daring, and vastly insecure." The difficult path Galdikas followed in the shadow of these two has attracted similar scrutiny--and, more recently, controversy.

A Dark Place in the Jungle tells the story of Spalding's "follow" of Galdikas, her attempt to study the scientist as Leakey's angels studied the great apes, observing her at a distance and noting her behavior. She trails Galdikas in the States and travels to Borneo three times in pursuit of the naturalist in her element. Spalding's assessment of her is far from favorable or flattering: Galdikas is portrayed alternately as conflicted, abrupt, arrogant, deceitful, distant, and, ultimately, as having failed drastically in her mission to "save" the orangutan from the press of human greed and indifference in Borneo.

In this way, Dark Place is a troublesome read. As a travelogue, the book is magnificent. Spalding is an observant, perceptive writer; her descriptions are lush, even lyrical, and often insightful, especially the meditations on motherhood and her reunion with her two young daughters, who travel to Borneo with her. Passing judgment on Galdikas's alleged guilt and Spalding's interactions with her is difficult, but Galdikas must certainly address the issues Spalding has raised. --Paul Hughes

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