A moving and informative account of the plight of trained elephants in the U.S. and the efforts of those who have created an...

LAST CHAIN ON BILLIE

HOW ONE EXTRAORDINARY ELEPHANT ESCAPED THE BIG TOP

A behind-the-scenes look at the life of circus and zoo elephants.

While centered on the story of one performance elephant, Billie, Bradley (Saving Gracie: How One Dog Escaped the Shadowy World of American Puppy Mills, 2010) exposes the seedy, harsh world that all circus and zoo elephants endure in order to learn the unnatural tricks that entertain the public. Vivid descriptions of the history and evolution of the performing elephant world, where brutality by human trainers, substandard living conditions and isolation have forced elephants into submission, merge with the personal storyline of Billie, who was captured as an infant. First used to provide rides to children, Billie soon entered the circus world, where she was trained to do tricks along with four other elephants. "For five months,” writes the author, “Billie had divided her time between the back of a truck, a makeshift yard outside the circus arena and, for a few minutes a day, performing." As the years passed and Billie was trundled back and forth across the United States, she became testy or "snappy." Bradley identifies other elephants that also became angry and turned on the bullhook-wielding trainers, who were badly injured and sometimes killed. During the 1990s, animal rights activists and a few elephant trainers became angry at the cramped and unhealthy living conditions of elephants across the country, and Bradley enlightens readers on the development of the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, a nonprofit reserve that harbors aging elephants. With the sanction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Billie and many other “retired” elephants were moved to the sanctuary, which provides them with a safe and peaceful place to live their remaining years. Graphic details of animal abuse may offend some readers, but the overall story is worth enduring those passages.

A moving and informative account of the plight of trained elephants in the U.S. and the efforts of those who have created an asylum for them.

Pub Date: July 22, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-250-02569-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

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Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a...

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  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist

H IS FOR HAWK

An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.

Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald (History and Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Falcon, 2006, etc.) tried staving off deep depression with a unique form of personal therapy: the purchase and training of an English goshawk, which she named Mabel. Although a trained falconer, the author chose a raptor both unfamiliar and unpredictable, a creature of mad confidence that became a means of working against madness. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life,” she writes. As a devotee of birds of prey since girlhood, Macdonald knew the legends and the literature, particularly the cautionary example of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his own painful battle to master his title subject. Macdonald dramatically parallels her own story with White’s, achieving a remarkable imaginative sympathy with the writer, a lonely, tormented homosexual fighting his own sadomasochistic demons. Even as she was learning from White’s mistakes, she found herself very much in his shoes, watching her life fall apart as the painfully slow bonding process with Mabel took over. Just how much do animals and humans have in common? The more Macdonald got to know her, the more Mabel confounded her notions about what the species was supposed to represent. Is a hawk a symbol of might or independence, or is that just our attempt to remake the animal world in our own image? Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0802123411

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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