Nature and Biodiversity

This is what's on Jane Goodall's bookcase

British primatologist, ethologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall poses for a portrait in New York, U.S., April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton - RC1F0150ED00

Jane Goodall has an eclectic collection of literature. Image: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Kate Whiting
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Arts and Culture

  • Jane Goodall’s appearance at the Sustainable Development Impact Summit gave us an insight into the primatologist’s reading habits.
  • From spy thrillers to sobering non-fiction, this is what’s on her bookcase.

Jane Goodall made a fervent plea at the World Economic Forum’s recent Sustainable Development Impact Summit that we take action on climate change before the “window of time” closes.

But the primatologist’s appearance on Zoom also offered her fans a unique window into her everyday life, because there on her bookcase, among the pictures of chimpanzees and dogs, was an eclectic collection of literature.

Have you read?

Here are five Goodall reads for this autumn...


1. The End of Food: The Coming Crisis in the World Food Industry by Paul Roberts


Published in 2008, long before COVID-19 was disrupting global supply chains and causing panic buying in supermarkets, Paul Roberts was telling us the food system was no longer capable of supporting billions of people.

He predicted the golden age of superabundance was over and said that the food production and distribution system was “so focused on cost reduction and rising volume that it makes a billion of us fat, lets another billion go hungry, and all but invites food-borne pathogens to become global epidemics.”

Soil degradation and erosion from hyper-intensive farming and rapidly depleting water supplies are also put under the microscope. His advice is to eat less meat, support regional food systems and sustainable farming methods.


What is the World Economic Forum's Book Club?

2. The Inheritors by William Golding

The Inheritors, by William Golding. Image: Faber

The second novel from the author best known for Lord of the Flies was published in 1955 – and set in prehistoric times.

It recreates the fearful last days of the Neanderthals, who have a close connection with each other, a wide knowledge of roots and vegetables and whose simple lives are shaped by the seasons.

We see their world through the character Lok, as slowly those around him die or are killed by “new people” – early modern humans. Gradually the perspective shifts away from Lok to the humans and we see the beginnings of recognizable social constructs from culture to war.

3. Forrest Gump by Winston Groom


Arguably better known in its 1994 movie form, with Tom Hanks as the ordinary man with an extraordinary life, Forrest Gump the novel was written in 1986.

Gump has a low IQ but a heart of gold and incredible mathematical abilities. He narrates his own life story, which includes stints as a college American football player, a soldier in the Viet Nam war, and a ping-pong champion. So far, so much the Hanks film.

But in the novel, he also becomes a professional wrestler, a chess grandmaster and an astronaut – and makes friends with an orangutan in New Guinea.

Winston Groom, who passed away on 17 September, aged 77, once said: “As I see it, it's a story about human dignity, and the fact that you don't have to be smart or rich to maintain your dignity even when some pretty undignified things are happening all around you.”

4. Mountolive by Lawrence Durrell

Mountolive by Lawrence Durrell. Image: Penguin Random House

Born in India in 1912, novelist and travel writer Durrell was the eldest brother of naturalist Gerald. He lived all over the world, and his masterpiece is widely considered to be The Alexandria Quartet, inspired by his time as a press attaché to the British embassy in the Egyptian city.

Mountolive is the third volume in the four-book series, which essentially all tell the same story of a romantic quadrangle from different viewpoints. David Mountolive is a British ambassador who, like Durrell, was born in India.

In what is considered to be the most politically charged of the Quartet, Mountolive is involved in an adulterous affair, which will have explosive consequences.

5. The Hidden Target by Helen MacInnes


Between 1941 when her first novel, Above Suspicion, was published and her death in New York in 1985, Glasgow-born MacInnes wrote more than 20 spy thrillers, set during World War II and the Cold War.

She studied French and German at university in the 1920s, before gaining a diploma in librarianship at University College, London. In the 1930s, she moved to the US with her historian husband and was considered a trailblazing female international affairs novelist.

The Hidden Target features her hero Robert Renwick, an ex-army major attached to NATO, who is on a hunt for two terrorists that will take him from the sunny streets of Amsterdam to Bombay and Washington.

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