Timothy the tortoise is a splendid social critic, a keen-eyed anthropologist who sees far beyond his shell.

A dazzling riff on human beings and their weird ways “written” by an 18th-century tortoise that lived for years in the garden of English naturalist/curate Gilbert White and appeared in White’s The Natural History of Selborne (1789).

The shell of the actual Timothy now resides in a London museum and once covered a female, not a male (as White had mistakenly concluded). The Timothy that Klinkenborg (The Rural Life, 2002, etc.), a member of the editorial board of the New York Times, imagines is a fascinating creature with a brisk prose style (many short, sharp sentences and fragments) and significant observations about how we humans look, act and think. Timothy is troubled by the determination of the English to manicure and control the countryside (his single “escape” is prompted by his desire to find a place where he can “live in the ancient disorder of nature again”). He ponders our insistence on classifying the natural world, and he is puzzled by our gait, our failure to recognize that we are animals, our short lives, our burial practices, our clothing, our religion and our sex acts. On virtually every page is a phrase or sentence that entertains or amuses or informs. (“A tortoise,” he says, “lives even longer than a bishop.”) Timothy recognizes that we are a dangerous species: “The worst of their character,” he says of us, “so often prevails.” He expatiates upon chelonian sex and observes that reptiles present “no pretense of fidelity” the way humans do. He wonders about war, about our belief that the world exists for our use alone, about our fear of death—and our fear of life.

Timothy the tortoise is a splendid social critic, a keen-eyed anthropologist who sees far beyond his shell.

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2006

ISBN: 0-679-40728-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2005



This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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