From Publishers Weekly
Kirk, who teaches creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania, offers a rollicking biography of Carl Akeley, an American taxidermist who preserved realistic-looking beasts complete with aura of "will," for 20th-century natural history museums. (His breakthrough was papiermaÌécheÌü.) But alive beats lifelike, so the author spends most of the book following Akeley's African safaris, where he hunts big game and touring tycoons who might fund his projects. These chapters combine epic adventure--Akeley endures waterless marches, fever, and bloody maulings by a leopard and an elephant--with the offbeat love story of Akeley and his crackshot wife, Mickie, who is forever rescuing and nursing her husband. (The marriage dissolves when Mickie essentially falls in love with a pet monkey who tears up their New York apartment.) A talented literary taxidermist, Kirk spruces up the story's anatomy with dramatic "inferences"-- imagined scenes and imputed streams of consciousness--and heroic cameos including a memorable turn by Akeley's safari companion, Theodore Roosevelt. The result is a beguiling, novelistic portrait of a man and an era straining to hear the call of the wild. Photos.
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Who has not stood in wonder before the beautiful dioramas of African animals in Chicago’s Field Museum or New York’s American Museum of Natural History? They are the legacy of the greatest taxidermist who ever lived. Carl Akeley lived in the golden age of the great safaris, in the early days of the twentieth century, when the bounty of nature was being discovered while at the same time exploited and destroyed. In this biography of Akeley and his era, we fully enter the tale of this larger-than-life man, inventor of methods that made taxidermied animals look not stuffed but alive, who more often than not went on extensive safaris to shoot the animals he later mounted, and who hobnobbed with the other adventurers of his day, the most famous being Theodore Roosevelt. Writing in an almost sensational style that harks back to period writing, Kirk barrels along with Akeley’s exploits, getting to the center of the man as he pushes himself to the limit in order to collect the perfect specimens. A genuinely rip-roaring read! --Nancy Bent