by Jim Ottaviani, Maris Wicks (First Second, 2013)

The lives of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas might not seem like obvious fodder for a graphic novel.

In the hands of writer Jim Ottaviani, they are.

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey & Birute Galdikas tells the story of three remarkable women, each of whom was recruited by anthropologist Louis Leakey -- they were later called, in his honor, "Leakey's Angels" -- to conduct ground-breaking field research on primates in their natural habitats in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. A Brit, an American and a German, respectively, each had her specialty: Goodall studied chimpanzees in Tanzania, Fossey studied mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Galdikas focused on orangutans in Borneo.

The narrative for each woman is presented in a light, cheerful manner. The science seems exciting, and the apes they study -- as brought to life through Maris Wicks' colorful, cartoony illustrations -- have vivid personalities of their own. There is a great deal of data about each "angel" -- how she came to meet Leakey, the reasons for her passionate interest in apes, the manner in which she settled into her research and how she made various breakthroughs in the field -- as well as details about the primates they studied.

Some key events -- Fossey's murder, for example -- are sort of glossed over in the book, but it's remarkable just how much information is packed into these pages. Primates is fun to read, and it made me want to learn more about all three.

Leakey, too.

Primates is a fascinating read for adults, and it's suitable for children, too. I wouldn't be surprised if a few budding anthropologists found inspiration in its pages.

review by
Tom Knapp

1 June 2013

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