Animal lore and history have rarely been treated so delightfully.



A lively account of how exotic animals have helped further the political ends of princes and potentates, from the Ptolemys to Chairman Mao.

“In our world of easy travel and global media,” writes Belozerskaya (Luxury Arts of the Renaissance, not reviewed), “we tend to take [exotic animals] for granted.” It was not always thus. Alexandria’s Ptolemy Philadelphus sponsored arduous and costly expeditions to capture war elephants, camels, bears, giraffes, even a two-horned white rhinoceros, to demonstrate his resourcefulness and intimidate rivals. Pompey the Great personally financed stupendous death matches in the Roman arena featuring leopards, baboons and rhinos, seeking to wow the crowd. (Politically tone deaf, he approved the slaughter of a group of terrified, howling elephants that had unexpectedly won the spectators’ sympathy.) Lorenzo the Magnificent brought honor to his Florentine family by arranging a trade agreement with Egypt, from whose sultan he received a giraffe that inspired a sensation throughout Renaissance Italy and further enhanced Medici prestige. Almost contemporaneously, Montezuma demonstrated his power by maintaining a menagerie comprising creatures drawn from the far reaches of the vast Aztec empire. Later, Cortés would use these same jaguars, ocelots, monkeys, parrots and armadillos to dazzle the Spanish court and shore up his tottering position as governor of New Spain. With his aviaries, menagerie and cabinet of natural-history specimens, Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II turned 16th-century Prague into an intellectual capital. The Empress Josephine achieved the same for Paris under Napoleon, filling the grounds of her chateau in Malmaison with plants, birds and animals from all over the world. Media mogul William Randolph Hearst channeled his emotional neediness, political disappointment and genuine love of animals into his San Simeon estate, creating the most extensive private zoo of the 20th century. Belozerskaya acknowledges that her perspective on long-ago events could be viewed as overly precious, but these intriguing and little-known stories easily justify themselves.

Animal lore and history have rarely been treated so delightfully.

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2006

ISBN: 0-316-52565-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2006

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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The book is not entirely negative; final chapters indicate roads of reversal, before it is too late!


It should come as no surprise that the gifted author of The Sea Around Us and its successors can take another branch of science—that phase of biology indicated by the term ecology—and bring it so sharply into focus that any intelligent layman can understand what she is talking about.

Understand, yes, and shudder, for she has drawn a living portrait of what is happening to this balance nature has decreed in the science of life—and what man is doing (and has done) to destroy it and create a science of death. Death to our birds, to fish, to wild creatures of the woods—and, to a degree as yet undetermined, to man himself. World War II hastened the program by releasing lethal chemicals for destruction of insects that threatened man’s health and comfort, vegetation that needed quick disposal. The war against insects had been under way before, but the methods were relatively harmless to other than the insects under attack; the products non-chemical, sometimes even introduction of other insects, enemies of the ones under attack. But with chemicals—increasingly stronger, more potent, more varied, more dangerous—new chain reactions have set in. And ironically, the insects are winning the war, setting up immunities, and re-emerging, their natural enemies destroyed. The peril does not stop here. Waters, even to the underground water tables, are contaminated; soils are poisoned. The birds consume the poisons in their insect and earthworm diet; the cattle, in their fodder; the fish, in the waters and the food those waters provide. And humans? They drink the milk, eat the vegetables, the fish, the poultry. There is enough evidence to point to the far-reaching effects; but this is only the beginning,—in cancer, in liver disorders, in radiation perils…This is the horrifying story. It needed to be told—and by a scientist with a rare gift of communication and an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Already the articles taken from the book for publication in The New Yorker are being widely discussed. Book-of-the-Month distribution in October will spread the message yet more widely.

The book is not entirely negative; final chapters indicate roads of reversal, before it is too late!  

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 1962

ISBN: 061825305X

Page Count: 378

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1962

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