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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Depression Era Success Story
In the 1930's America was much in need of heroes. The Great Depression had settled over the United States, and poor out-of-work people were everywhere. The election of President Franklin Roosevelt boosted the nation's collective morale, along with Seabiscuit, the champion racehorse, with his owner, trainer and jockey Red Pollard of course. Then came the now...
Published on August 8, 2005 by H. F. Corbin

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Story vs. Moral
This is a difficult book for me to rate, because the story is at odds with ethical treatment of animals. I found the story of who Ruth Harkness was, the era she lived in, and what she did, interesting. Not riveting, but definitely interesting. The writing is okay, but not really gripping. However, as I read this I felt as if the author had put aside any thoughts of...
Published on October 21, 2012 by Ohioan


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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Depression Era Success Story, August 8, 2005
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In the 1930's America was much in need of heroes. The Great Depression had settled over the United States, and poor out-of-work people were everywhere. The election of President Franklin Roosevelt boosted the nation's collective morale, along with Seabiscuit, the champion racehorse, with his owner, trainer and jockey Red Pollard of course. Then came the now all-but-forgotten Ruth Hardness, who is 1936, accomplished the impossible by bringing back to the United States the first ever live panda from the dangerous territry where China borders Tibet.

Vickie Constantine Croke in THE LADY AND THE PANDA recounts this wonderful saga of a determined New York socialite, who after the death of her young husband on a similar mission in China, takes up where he left off, invests her entire inheritance on her quest and surprises practically everyone when she brings back Su-Lin for all the world to see and adore. The panda takes up residence in Chicago's Brookfield Zoo where, the author says in her "Preface" that he drew "more than 53,000 visitors when first displayed at the Brookfield--a single-day tally the zoo has never again matched." Such famous people as Helen Keller, Shirley Temple, Sophie Tucker and the Dionne quintuplets fell under Su-Lin's spell. He was insured by Lloyd's of London.

Ms. Harkness is a bigger than life character. The author tells us that though short in height, Harkness always appeared to be much taller than she was. She is quoted as saying that the two things she hated most were going to bed at night and getting up in the morning. In addition to her passion for pandas, she was besotted with beautiful clothes--she was a dressmaker by profession-- cigarettes, alcohol, fine food and late-night parties. More importantly, she showed no racial prejudice and treated the Chinese as equals-- a rare quality for Americans during this period-- fell in love with both China and its people and even had a brief affair with a young Quentin Young, her Chinese expedition partner. In this extremely well-written book that reads like a novel-- although the author assures the reader that every word is true-- Ms. Harkness meets other fascinating people in addition to Quentin Young: E. A. Cavalier, her good friend and helper Dan Reib of Standard Oil, Her nemesis and rival Floyd Tangier Smith and her cook and friend Wang.

Many of the passages here read like a travelogue, particularly the descriptions of Shanghai. Both Ms. Croke and Ms. Harkness are fine writers. Ms. Croke had access to hundreds of Harkness' letters as well as the 1938 book she wrote with the same title as this one. This book has extensive notes, along with many good photographs of Ms. Harkness and her beloved pandas. (In some of the photos she is wearing real furs, a no-no of course in these different times.)

This book should delight animals lovers as well as the rest of the world. A very, very fine read.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A woman adventurer, November 3, 2005
In the course of researching the genre of women adventurers and people who have worked with bears I found this book. This is only the second account I have come across of a woman dealing with bears in the wild and was thrilled that Ruth Harkness' adventure has been brought to light again for us all to enjoy and appreciate. Vickie Constantine Croke proves her worthiness as an author with her eloquent writing and her extensive research of Harkness' life and the current events of China in the 1930's. I was absorbed in the story and after finishing the book went on to read the original account written by Harkness, as well as her children's book "A Giant Baby Panda". Now I am into her South American adventure, "Pangoan Diary". If you are as piqued by the mysterious lady who did what no one had done before and who found pleasure and beauty in the primitive conditions of the wilds of China, then interlibrary loan her books. You will have a better understanding of the woman and some incredible remote areas of the 1930's world.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Tragic Tale of 1930s Exploration/Exploitation, November 21, 2005
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The West first learned of the existence of the panda when the French missionary Pere Armand David saw a panda skin while visiting remote western regions of China in 1869. For nearly fifty years after his report, European and American explorers sought the rare animal without success, only buying second-hand hides. As late as the 1920s the scientific community questioned whether pandas were extinct or mythical, according to Vicki Constantine Croke in her book The Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China's Most Exotic Animal.

By the time Ruth Harkness arrived in China to attend to the remains of her late husband's expedition in 1936, several big game hunters had sent panda skins to museums, but no one had succeeded in bringing a live panda out of the country. Her husband had gone to China to try, but died of cancer in a Shanghai hospital without ever seeing one. No one thought a former dress maker and New York socialite could succeed where seasoned hunters had failed. They did not know Ruth's idea. They never even thought of packing a baby bottle and formula.

In The Lady and the Panda, Croke tells the story of Harkness, her three expeditions, and the international acclaim that she received for bringing two pandas to the Brookfield Zoo. The journeys were difficult. When available, Harkness and her team traveled by boat, train, plane, auto, or rickshaw; often they hiked up steep paths to reach mountainous forest reserves. With supporters and rivals in the field, she dodged Chinese authorities and the invading Japanese army. In time she came to the conclusion that the expeditions were endangering the pandas and dishonored the land that she had come to love.

Readers who enjoy natural and political history and those who enjoy adventure stories will enjoy this book.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Animal Appeal and Human Intrigue, August 3, 2005
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I started to read this fantastic book with expectations of a great animal story, and ended up enjoying it just as much for the revealing biography of Ruth Harkness. The love, loss, friendship, despair and high adventure experienced by the woman explorer in the pages of this historically accurate book will likely grip any reader, animal lover or not. If you're a sucker for fuzzy baby animals, or an advocate for endangered species preservation, then you can have your cake and eat it too!

HIGHLY recommended reading.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Story about an Amazing Woman, October 18, 2005
I loved the story of Ruth Harkness, her beloved China, and those unforgettable pandas. I live in DC, which is currently caught up in panda fever as we're watching little Tai Shan grow, so I enjoyed reading this book and totally immersing myself in pandas.

The Lady and the Panda is the true story of a Manhattan socialite who carried on her beloved late husband's quest - to be the first to introduce the world to the giant panda. The young dress designer left NY and, over the course of several expeditions, she found adventure, beauty, love, meaning, and - yes - pandas in the wilds of China. Harkness did indeed bring the first panda to the West, and America fell in love with the baby Su-Lin. After making his new home at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, Su-Lin drew up to 53,000 people A DAY to see the adorable and exotic black-and-white bear.

The story could have ended there and been a fairly typical adventure/travelogue detailing yet another veiled story of America exploiting another culture. But Ruth Harkness lived an even more interesting life than that. In the midst of China's war with Japan - the outset of World War II - and "panda fever," with hundreds of explorers killing and trapping pandas across China's previously unspoiled wilderness, Harkness made a heart-breaking realization. Her quest and international popularity had in fact hurt the panda, threatening their very existence. She then did the unthinkable, returning a captured panda to the wild, and for the rest of her life became a leading voice for conservation.

Croke's book was a wild ride, as Harkenss herself was a larger-than-life character. I loved the glimpse of the hard-drinking, hard-living expatriate community in China, the poetic descriptions of both the beautiful land and people, and the insights into the relationships between zoos, money and "explorers" of the day.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars High Adventure, Forbidden Love and a Panda Thrown in for Good Measure, August 16, 2005
What a grand, old-fashioned story that author Vicki Constantine Croke tells of widowed socialite Ruth Harkness, who threw caution to the wind in 1936 and came back from the wilds of Tibet with a baby panda she dubbed Su-Lin. In what can be described as a hybrid of "Gorillas in the Mist" and "Lost Horizon", this would indeed make a great movie as Croke describes Harkness as quite the non-conformist, an environmentalist well ahead of her time. Her husband Bill set out to find a panda in the fall of 1934 only two weeks after they were married. He was gone for eighteen months and died in Shanghai. Harkness decides to carry on for her husband, teaming not with her husband's intrepid partner but with a 22-year old Chinese explorer named Quentin Young.

In romance novel fashion, they fall in love despite their age difference amid daunting mountain passes and dense bamboo forests, but their interracial relationship causes a scandal. Together they find the elusive panda, and Harkness focuses all her attention in getting the panda out of the country despite virulent opposition from the Chinese government and jealousy from Smith who later claims that Harkness had stolen it from him. However, she persevered and ultimately transformed the way wild animals were perceived around the world by presenting Su-Lin to Chicago's Brookfield Zoo and subsequently bringing record attendance numbers there. Croke tells Harkness' story with real flourish, especially in her vital descriptions of Shanghai and the Chinese wilderness, but also with an abiding respect for her now-forgotten subject. This is probably best reflected in the way she compassionately shows Harkness' post-expedition problems, primarily her increasing alcoholism and an inability to fit back into American society once she fulfilled her destiny. With a touch of Barbara Cartland and a heavy Hemingway sensibility, Croke's book provides a penetrating portrait of a fascinating woman, and it is also rather simply - one fun read.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Story vs. Moral, October 21, 2012
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This is a difficult book for me to rate, because the story is at odds with ethical treatment of animals. I found the story of who Ruth Harkness was, the era she lived in, and what she did, interesting. Not riveting, but definitely interesting. The writing is okay, but not really gripping. However, as I read this I felt as if the author had put aside any thoughts of ethical treatment of animals and did not want to address them in this book, in which Ruth Harkness is pictured as a hero for capturing the first panda to be brought to the U.S. When an author leaves out half of the story in this manner, I feel that something is being withheld from me, the reader.

I do think that the author had a difficult task in front of her in choosing this subject. How do you write a book about a person and subject that many people now consider unethical and reactionary? It's a difficult thing to do. I wonder, though, if there were, back in the 1930s, any groups who considered Harkness's actions wrong. If so, it would have been better, in my opinion, if the author included this side of the story as well, so that readers could consider Harkness's actions in another light.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Adventure with a conscience, August 24, 2005
God, what a book! I saved this great adventure for vacation and just couldn't put it down. Croke manages to incorporate what is clearly years of research into a breathtaking adventure. Shanghai, the wilds of China near the Tibetan border, the turmoil as war gathered over Asia... it's all there. She's got a compelling heroine in Harkness, a self-made woman who learned to put on a brave face and do what was necessary. And she manages to show Harkness's growth, as well, as she sees what her panda success is beginning to do to the species. Her response -- which I won't give away -- brought me to tears, and shows why Croke, a gifted writer and wildlife advocate, chose to tell her story. This is a thrilling book, with a flawed but admirable heroine. A wonderful adventure between the covers!!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I knew that Panda!, January 5, 2006
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Matrix (Wellesley, MA USA) - See all my reviews
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When a friend told me details about this book, I said, "I knew that Panda!" When I was a little girl growing up in Chicago, I heard about that Panda over and over, and my family took me to see it many times. The Panda was all the rage, and I can still remember the large stuffed Panda that my parents bought me at the Brookfield Zoo. Since that was over 60 years ago, you can see what an impression it made on me.

Of course, I had to read the book and loved reading the story of Ruth Harkness. I found her feats amazing; and reading about the Shanghai social set was truly fascinating.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars PAGE TURNING TRUE ADVENTURE, February 1, 2006
I am an avid reader of all types of books, fiction and non-fiction. This is by far, one of the best books I have read in a long time. The author did her research well and wasted not a word. This book is a bittersweet story of life. I didn't want it to end.
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