THE KING OF THE WORLD IN THE LAND OF THE PYGMIES by Joan Mark

THE KING OF THE WORLD IN THE LAND OF THE PYGMIES

Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

 An intelligent biography of a quixotic American who spent his life among the villagers and pygmies of the Ituri Forest in the Belgian Congo (now Zaire). Scion of a long line of Boston Brahmins, Patrick Tracy Lowell Putnam (19041953) first became attracted to Africa during his undergraduate days at Harvard; the spell lasted through 25 years, one world war, three American wives, and a handful of African ones. Heedless of the dangers posed by his adopted country, repeatedly bailed out by his father, Putnam was an odd combination of dilettante and expert. His knowledge of pygmy culture and lifestyle was encyclopedic, but he never managed to publish anything more substantial than a New Yorker article. After stints as an explorer and agent sanitaire for the Congo Red Cross, he settled on the Epulu River and established Camp Putnam with his first American wife. He imagined an African ``dude- plantation,'' where visitors could enjoy the luxuries of civilization while hunting, observing pygmy demonstrations, and photographing exotic wildlife in the middle of the jungle. Eventually the camp, including a medical clinic, became a small village of workers and two pygmy bands, a peculiar hybrid utopia under Putnam's benevolent dictatorship. His specialized knowledge was sought by many, but he never found the discipline to become a leader in his field. A degenerative lung disease tied him to a wheelchair, and in the last years of his life he became a frightening tyrant in his little kingdom. Mark (History of Anthropology/Peabody Museum, Harvard Univ.; A Stranger in Her Native Land, 1989) illuminates the bizarre life of a man whose career stretched from the days of gentleman ethnographers to the eve of independence in colonial Africa. One of those rare books that may send you to the library for more on the subject.

Pub Date: March 10th, 1995
ISBN: 0-8032-3182-2
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1995




SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

NonfictionSPECTACLE by Pamela Newkirk
by Pamela Newkirk