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American Hippopotamus [Kindle Edition]

Jon Mooallem , The Atavist
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)

Kindle Price: $2.99

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Book Description

In 1910, the United States—its population exploding, its frontier all but exhausted—was in the throes of a serious meat shortage. But a small and industrious group of thinkers stepped forward with an answer, a bold idea being endorsed by the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and The New York Times. Their plan: to import hippopotamuses to the swamps of Louisiana and convince Americans to eat them.

The only thing stranger than the hippo idea itself was the partnership promoting it. At its center were two hard-bitten spies: Frederick Russell Burnham, a superhumanly competent frontiersman, freelance adventurer, and fervent optimist about America’s future—Burnham would be the inspiration for the Boy Scouts—and Fritz Duquesne, a.k.a. the Black Panther, a virtuoso con man and cynical saboteur who believed only in his own glorification and revenge. Burnham and Duquesne had very recently been sworn enemies under orders to assassinate each other. They’d soon be enemies again. But for one brief and shining moment they joined behind a common cause: transforming America into a nation of hippopotamus ranchers.

In American Hippopotamus, Jon Mooallem brings to life a historical saga too preposterous to be fiction—a bracing and eccentric epic of espionage and hippos, but also of a conflicted nation on the threshold of a bewildering new century, deciding what kind of country it would be, and what beasts it would eat.

Product Details

  • File Size: 697 KB
  • Print Length: 71 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: The Atavist (December 12, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #89,007 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Proof that real-life is often stranger than fiction December 23, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Who would believe that two larger than life men, one a celebrated American scout and conservationist and the other a South African-German spy, each with orders kill the other in wartime, would meet for the first time while testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives in 1910 with a solution to the nation's much anticipated food crisis. And their solution? Import hippos and other African wildlife into America's underutilized national parks. Even back then the idea of America importing hippos and letting them loose in federal lands sounded loony, and yet editorials by respected American journalists embraced the concept. Although the bill ultimately failed, these extraordinary men nearly found the votes in Congress to make it happen.

This well-researched story is extraordinary and thoroughly entertaining. Mooallem gives the reader a good snapshot of both Major Frederick Russell Burnham, the "American scout" who was the model for the birth of the Boy Scout movement, and the "Black Panther," Captain Fritz Duquesne, a cunning psychopath who earlier in life had been sentenced to life in prison by the British and later was arrested by the FBI in what J. Edgar Hoover called "the greatest spy roundup in U.S. history." Interspersed are stories of Senator "Cousin Bob" Broussard of Louisiana, Theodore Roosevelt's African safari in 1909 and his almost successful attempt in 1917 to lead a U.S. Army Division of American Rough Riders into France, and the great quest of the New Food Supply Society to bring hippos to the bayou.

The one complaint I have with this story is that it lacks any photographs. Historical issues of Field and Stream include some great pictures of both Duquesne and Roosevelt on safari in Africa, and photos of Burnham and Broussard too are readily available. Given how easy it would be to add some of these to this ebook, the oversight is surprising.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating on many levels January 7, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
Given my screen name, I almost felt I had to buy this book- and it was well worth the money and the time. There are indeed hippopotamuses in the book, but there is also a well-told biography of a fascinating man and history of events that are rarely covered in American history classes. I can almost guarantee that you will learn something new from this book, and have fun doing so.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What wonderful characters! February 22, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I absolutely loved this book. Larger-than-life -- but real -- characters from a period in American history that makes everyone today look like thin paper cutouts. And I applaud the author for telling the story in less than 100 pages and being done with it, rather than trying to pad it into a 300-page book. Bravo!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dreaming Big February 13, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This gallop through American history gives s glimpse of a time when big dreams seemed possible. This is a snapshot biography of two remarkable men, one with drive, talent and a sense of duty to his nation and the world; the other with drive, talent and a hunger for fame. This is one day placed read with two fascinating men. What a time they lived in!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Of Hippos and Men February 10, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A brilliant telling of an unlikely sub-plot in American history. The author manages to take a very complicated true story and make it clear and compelling.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting February 3, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A quick, good read. I would recommend to those who like offbeat histories. It seems to be a very well-researched text.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Shaggy Hippopotamus Story June 2, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
An interesting joint biography of two fascinating individuals, but the hippopotamus-farming story that tied the two together turns out to be little more than a footnote. Worth reading to learn more about Frederick Russell Burnham and the heroes of an earlier age, but not so much for the supposed hook of the tale.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing subject March 25, 2014
By Wendy
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Well written and entertaining examination of a very weird subject in American history. Highly recommended. The strange just keeps on coming.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
An enjoyable look at a tidbit of American history.
Published 1 month ago by Michael Huston
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A great read
Published 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Hippos spawn intrigue.
Interesting and intriguing presentation of two fascinating individuals centered around the issue of bringing hippos to the U.S. for food and environmental help. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Lawrence Kurlandsky
4.0 out of 5 stars So much more than a fun fact
I heard about this book on NPR, and on a whim decided to buy it on kindle. What a happy surprise that this book not only recounted the reasoning behind, and rise and fall of a very... Read more
Published 6 months ago by flixNlitbuyer
3.0 out of 5 stars The synopsis is a better read than the book...
An interesting, if scattered, overview of a failed scheme involving several interesting, if sketchy, characters. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Emmett R. Furrow
4.0 out of 5 stars What an Unexpected Tidbit of American History
I bought this simply out of curiosity because it seemed absurd. Hippos in Louisiana? I was very surprised - but I shouldn't have been - that the plan to import hippos was so well... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Jeanith
3.0 out of 5 stars one can only wonder what repercussions there would have if the poor...
Very can only wonder what repercussions there would have if the poor old Hippo had fulfilled the proposition, but quite heavy going,( that's not a pun) a bit of a... Read more
Published 8 months ago by James Nichols
4.0 out of 5 stars Cool Story
This was a pretty interesting book overall, but it did tend to drag on in some spots. I was more interested in the Hippo parts of the story, and the author dove into more of the... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Reviewer
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing true life story.
Fascinating tale. Would love to see the life of Fritz Duquesne made into a film. Heard a truncated version of this story on NPR (This American Life.) Led me to the full book.
Published 8 months ago by dissenter
4.0 out of 5 stars This is a great story that sent me down several rabbit trails of ...
This is a great story that sent me down several rabbit trails of historical research. Reading further in "Scouting on Two Continents" about Frederick Russell Burnham was a... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Sleeper58
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More About the Author

JON MOOALLEM has been a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine since 2006 and is a writer at large for Pop-Up Magazine, the live magazine in San Francisco. He's also contributed to This American Life, The New Yorker, Harper's, Wired, and many other magazines. He is the author of WILD ONES and AMERICAN HIPPOPOTAMUS. He and his family live in San Francisco. Find him at or on Twitter, @jmooallem

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