Jim Ottaviani’s ‘Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas’

July 2, 2013

Like his best-selling biography “Feynman,” Jim Ottaviani’s new book presents scientific inquiry in a comic-book format. The three primatologists described by Ottaviani and drawn by Maris Wicks come across as semi-superheroes, enduring human isolation and illness (“GROAN,” “HORK!”) to achieve amazing feats of patience and discovery. Introduced on the cover, the trio is simply smiling and walking in a line with favorite species: Jane Goodall with a chimpanzee, Dian Fossey with a mountain gorilla and Biruté Galdikas with an orangutan. The leisurely stroll is a bit of artistic license, but that sense of ease is what made these women such exceptional observers: They watched and listened, then watched and listened some more. All were protégées of Louis Leakey, who believed female primatologists were more effective in the field, partly because they didn’t threaten male primates. Necessarily compressed, the book nevertheless highlights significant contributions each woman made, beyond bringing attention to the species’ plights. Ottaviani and Wicks also provide intriguing glimpses of African landscapes and delve into the intermingled personal and professional lives of these very different scientists. Fossey’s death in 1985 is addressed in an epilogue, suggesting that her “fierce and unrelenting” side made her a target of poachers. Disturbing as it is, Fossey’s still-unsolved murder seems a crucial fact in this vibrant account of often-heroic women and the great apes they loved.

— Abby McGanney Nolan

PRIMATES

The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas

By Jim Ottaviani

Illustrated by Maris Wicks

First Second. $19.99. Ages 12 and up

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