September 12, 1983 12:00 PM

Dian Fossey

Astonishing in many ways—including some of which the author is clearly unaware—this book details Fossey’s 13-year study of the gorillas who live in the rain forests of the Virunga Mountains of central Africa. During those years spent observing the animals, she became their friend and protector. She took orphaned babies to bed with her when they were sick and led police raids to capture poachers who preyed on the gorillas. Before she left Africa in 1980 to teach at Cornell University, Fossey and the student volunteers who shared her camp spent hours each day studying the animals, learning to mimic their sounds, even meticulously analyzing their dung. There are now only about 240 of these gorillas left. Fossey’s portrait of them—they are, despite their tremendous strength, unusually gentle creatures who exhibit clear traits of loyalty and affection—will be invaluable if they eventually become extinct. Equally as remarkable, though, is the story of this brilliant woman who immersed herself in such a bizarre life. Fossey writes that while working as an occupational therapist in Louisville, Ky., she developed an interest in Africa but offers few other personal details. Was she ever lonely? Did she ever question her own separation from humanity? Why did she leave and how did it feel when she did? Fossey has in this book performed an invaluable scientific service, but she cheats her readers of a crucial part of her story. She seems to assume, through either modesty or miscalculation, that people with the compassion and curiosity to be interested in her gorillas will not be interested in her own fascinating life. (Houghton Mifflin, $19.95)

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