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The Astonishing Elephant Hardcover – May 16, 2000


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (May 16, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679456600
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679456605
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,541,571 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The New York-bred journalist and television commentator Shana Alexander, who has written biographies of checkered-career socialites Bess Meyerson, Jean Harris, and Patty Hearst, may seem at first blush to be an unlikely student of Loxodonta africana and Elephas maximus. Yet she has been an attentive devotee of elephants since witnessing, on Easter Sunday 1962, the birth of a 225-pound elephant at the Portland Zoo, an event she covered for Life magazine--and one that captivated countless readers.

Elephant is an unabashed celebration of these mysterious creatures, whose closest living relatives are the dugong and the hyrax. "They have," Alexander writes, "essential nobility, grace, serenity, sagacity, loyalty and playfulness, a simple goodness, a lack of animosity--unless provoked." While, she admits, elephants can pose particular dangers to unwary humans (she recounts tales of circus trainers of her acquaintance, some of whom fell in action), they are too often the victims in any interaction with people. The elephant's fortunes have long been declining: where only a few thousand years ago several species roamed the earth, by 1980 the combined wild populations in Africa and Asia numbered fewer than 100,000 individuals.

Alexander writes with a light hand about the curiosities of elephantine biology and social life, among them the phenomena of musth, where young males challenge their elders; flehmen, that curious teeth-baring smile exhibited by so many mammals in the course of mating; and the uncanny ability of elephants to communicate with each other over great distances. Citing published reports and drawing on extensive interviews with scientists and conservationists over the last four decades, she champions the elephants' cause in an admirable and engrossing book. --Gregory McNamee

From Publishers Weekly

Set apart from other creatures in the animal kingdom by size, dexterity and emotional range, elephants have fascinated humankind for centuries. They've tantalized Alexander since 1962, when, on an assignment for Life magazine, she witnessed the first-ever elephant birth in an American zoo. This passionate book chronicles her three-decade obsession with the pachyderm. Following her curiosities down a seemingly random course, Alexander (whose previous books--Anyone's Daughter, for instance--were mostly biographies) explores humans' interest in the gentle monster, from cave paintings to ancient myths, from circus shows to scientific research. She tells of how 19th-century circus promoters regularly killed off the male elephants in their care, details the place of elephants in Hannibal's famous armies and profiles the scientists who have devoted their lives to learning about these creatures by, for example, analyzing gallons of their urine. Meanwhile, Alexander corrects common myths about elephants' character and culture--they have neither graveyards nor a fear of mice--and supplies in their place a series of equally astonishing truths (elephants communicate over miles at subaudible frequencies and resemble humans in their remarkable expressions of emotions, like grief and concern for others, and intelligence). Written in clear prose that mixes technical jargon with colloquialisms, this book is a stampede of emotion and information, and--though a bit disorderly--a gripping account of one species' obsession with another. 16-page photo insert not seen by PW. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Marilyn Dalrymple VINE VOICE on December 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Astonishing Elephant by Shana Alexander is educational, well researched and written, and an absorbing book. If you love animals, though, it is heartbreaking to learn how cruel and unfeeling the human animal can be toward our earthmates--the animals.
The very things that elephants are admired for--their strength, intelligence, sensitivity, the female's maternal instincts and the elephants' propensity to live as families--are the very reasons the abuse of such animals (or any animal) is so horrific.
This book will increase your knowledge of the astonishing elephant, but may break your heart.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By W. Hepburn on February 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Astonishingly good book by a gifted writer. Journalist Shana Alexander recounts her personal experiences with elephants beginning with 'Packy" born at Portland Zoo, and continuing into late 1990's.
She was privileged to meet and work with many well known elephant people like the Douglas-Hamiltons, Moss, Poole, Rasmussen and others and tells of these encounters while describing the work they do and some of the interesting findings they have made.
The book covers some unusual aspects of elephant lore including a history and causes of the demise of male elephants in captivity. Parts of the reporting are gruesome.
In the latter portions she devotes a great deal of material to breeding and artificial insemination efforts, giving details of procedures as she witnessed them.
While keeping her writing at a professional level she lets her love of elephants comes through. Preservation of the species is an underlying theme of this work but it is not an 'in your face' assault on the reader.
I read it slowly over a one month period and my experience was akin to having her come for a chat every other evening and spend an hour or two telling me about elephants and her experiences. A wonderful book.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By renee j macritchie on August 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Our family read this book while on vacation and all of us found it to be not only entertaining, but very educational. Too often the things that go on behind the scenes of the animal and entertainment world are unrevealed. Not only did we open our eyes to many truths, we enjoyed the tale and the journey. If you love elephants this is a must read book. Thank you Ms. Alexander for sharing your experiences and knowledge with all of us!
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