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Kingdom Under Glass: A Tale of Obsession, Adventure, and One Man's Quest to Preserve the World's Great Animals Hardcover – October 26, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1St Edition edition (October 26, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080509282X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805092820
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #414,662 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Bryan Newman VINE VOICE on October 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The author delivers this biography like a Victorian Romance set against a rich, historic backdrop. Unlike typical biographies, the author rarely, if ever, steps in as narrator, but rather lets the story flow like a work of fiction. This made the story flow wonderfully, but after a while I worried that he might be taking too much artistic license with the story. So, I checked his end notes and was happy to read that he consciously decided to pick a novelistic style but then backs up each of his scenes and dialogues with sources. By the time I finished the first 8-10 chapters of endnotes, I no longer doubted the veracity of this story.

Perhaps the strongest point of this book is the brilliant way it captures the spirit and culture of the era Carl Akely was born into. The book uses scenes like the Chicago World's Fair with its fascination with industrialization and innovation and its zeal for the strength and promise of a rising United States to paint a vivid illustration of the times. It enhances this with the cast of characters that surround Carl Akely, such as George Eastman, PT Barnum, and Theodore Roosevelt who anchor the place and time in history. Also, the book weaves in the issues of the late nineteenth - early twentieth century natural history, from the millinery trade to the acquisitive nature of Victorian Natural History to the spread of Darwinism to a rising awareness of extinction to Eugenics to the budding conservation movement. Especially startling is the era's perception of the dominance and supremecy of Victorian Gentleman over the primitive cultures of Asian and Africa, and even Eastern Europe.

Against this vibrant backdrop, the author places the story Carl Akely, an amazingly driven and focused man.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By R. A. Barricklow VINE VOICE on October 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I started reading with Tarzan and have never quite gotten it out of my reading DNA. I enjoy historical literature. I want to be challenged with my perspectives when it comes to what are the causes & effects. Thus, when I came across this fine work, I just couldn't wait.
The story of Carl Akeley(THE taxidermist) is truly a gem. It not only takes place in the guilded age, but keenly focuses on the African safaris of the time, as that age nearly brings them, their big game, and native ways of life, & other entities toward extinction. The author has crafted, not only a wonderfully sensational gem of a story, but one that, unfortunately rhymes too well with today's guilded age, where there are no Carl Akely's, Theodore Roosevelts, and others(that grace these pages), who valiantly try to curb a growing & unsatiable form of destructive capitalism(that would be casino capitalism, in today's vernacular).
The evolution of the museums during this time is expressed in detail through the life span of Carl/But by the mid-1880s not only was the frontier conquered, it was closed. The world had become smaller. Yet inside the smaller world everything was in a fragile union.This ecumenical philosophy would ultimately become the model for all museums. The people of the time were well aware that the bison and passenger pigeon were not coming back.
There are so many stories within this book that are just amazing. For instance, there is the biggest animal of the time, the world famous Jumbo The Elephant. He is killed on railroad tracks by a locomtive! When they opened his stomach they found hatfuls of british pennies, nails, keys, rivets, metal screws, gold and siver coins, pebbles, gravel and one very well masticated police whistle.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By The Mountain on December 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I'm on my second read of Kingdom as it was impossible to put down the first time through. With so much detail and insight, Kingdom Under Glass reads like the best movie never filmed. It must have been amazing for Kirk to come across this treasure trove of truth (stranger than fiction) that has never really been told. Jay Kirk's style is truly gonzo, taking you on a journey through Akeley's soul, mind and body; almost as if Carl possessed Mr. Kirk for a time to complete his final epic work.

(After reading this book you'll realize that possession may have been another of Carl Akeley's superpowers).

Even though in his own right Carl was a bit of a superhero, I feel I need to comment on his struggle with being an artist or at least not being recognized as one. In my opinion a true artist would have realized much earlier on that there is no "perfect specimen" that can be caught, as perfection is subjective. His relentless pursuit of the most perfectly aligned creature made me (as an artist) cringe. A true artist would have crafted the perfect specimen from a lesser one or sculpted one from scratch. I think the guilt of not being the artist (the creator), is what turned Carl into the conservationist later in life. My 2¢ only.

Kingdom Under Glass inspired me to write my first book review. What more can be said?
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Balbach on October 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
`Kingdom Under Glass` is about Carl Akeley (1864-1926), an American taxidermist who invented modern taxidermy and was famous for going on dangerous African safaris in the company of Teddy Roosevelt and George Eastman (Kodak) in search of specimens for the American Museum of Natural History, which can still been seen there displayed in diorama's. Killing the largest elephants and great apes was Akley's life-long single-minded obsession, his white whale.

It's tricky to present the mass slaughter of African wildlife by rich colonialists in a modern light without being judgmental. But like freedom-loving Thomas Jefferson who owned slaves, or Teddy Roosevelt who shot 8 endangered white rhino on a whim because he was bored, yet also created the National Park system to protect wildlife. Kirk doesn't directly make a judgment about Akeley, but the reader is left with the facts and can't help but see through the romanticism of the time for what it really was, the frivolous slaughter of wildlife as a passing fad and entertainment. Akeley's magnificent obsession to preserve animals by ironically killing them was not lost even on him, and he eventually became like a stuffed museum piece, cold and heartless and ultimately an extinct species of man.

Kingdom is Jay Kirk's first book and it's a winner, to say it "reads like a novel" is cliche in an era of creative non-fiction writing, but it really is true. It reminded me of works by Simon Winchester or David Grann, who also resurrect forgotten but interesting adventurer-scholar Indiana Jones types from the 19th century. Although 340 pages the reading is effortless and goes quickly, I found myself almost speed reading at times, which I attribute to Kirks delightfully smooth prose and compelling narrative.
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