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The Medici Giraffe: And Other Tales of Exotic Animals and Power Kindle Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Length: 433 pages Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The title of this masterful and beguiling book is misleading. In Belozersakya's adept hands, exotic animals are mere jumping off points for marvelous adventures through worlds ranging from bustling, heroic Alexandria, Egypt, circa 300 B.C., to the creepy confines of William Randolph Hearst's San Simeon in the mid-20th century. While each of the seven sections revolves around exotic animals—a giraffe in Medici Florence, menageries in 16th-century Prague and Napoleonic France—it's the story that Belozersakya weaves around these beasts that draws the reader on. A common thread is the obsession caused by these fanciful beasts. Rudolf II, spent so much of his kingdom's fortune on collecting animals that there wasn't always enough money to feed his voracious lions. . "This might explain why on several occasions the Emperor had to recompense servants and subjects mauled by his felines." A meticulous researcher, the Russian-born Belozersakya, an art historian who has taught at Harvard and Tufts, uses these tales to consider how exotic animals have served as diplomatic gifts, as "symbols of power and learning," as mirrors of the cultures that prized them. This is a sumptuous read—smart, funny and utterly compelling. 8 illus. not seen by PW. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Exotic animals have always been symbols of power, and the gift of exotic animals was a common way for rulers to cement alliances. Belozerskaya focuses on the rich and powerful whose interest in the animals, and what they later did with them, was a good mirror of the philosophy of their eras. The early Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt, in the aftermath of the breakup of Alexander the Great's empire, needed elephants for their armies. The Roman Empire used the exotic animals sent as tribute to Rome, or captured from conquered territories, pitted against each other or against humans in the famous circuses. The Medici prince Lorenzo the Magnificent consolidated his power in Florence by working behind the scenes, but proof of his power came in the form of the gift of a giraffe from an Egyptian sultan. And in the final tale, pandas are given to Richard Nixon after his wife commented to Mao Zedong on how much she liked them. Although academically wordy, this look at the role of animals in international politics will interest both history and animal lovers. Nancy Bent
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • File Size: 2372 KB
  • Print Length: 433 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0316525650
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (June 27, 2009)
  • Publication Date: June 27, 2009
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000SF4EFO
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,336,127 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

I've always read books to travel to other places. Growing up in Moscow, in the Brezhnev era, I dove into books to escape the drabness and oppression of Soviet life. After emigrating to America and enrolling in high school in Boston, I read novels during math classes because I never like that subject, could get away with avoiding it in the more lenient American school, and sought greater excitement of the written word. Dispirited by academic politics as a graduate student and an aspiring professor, I found in reading and writing safe harbors of refuge and joy.

A Bunting Fellowship (administered by the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard) gave me an idea to devote myself to these forms of indulgence full-time. I did not think of myself as a born writer, not like people who begin constructing stories at age 5 and never stop. I was astonished when one day, chancing upon a tattered notebook I had brought with me from Russia, I opened its cover and read on its opening page: "Chapter 1 - How I began to write." My best friend and I spent countless afternoons creating an elaborate fictional world in which we were captains of a pirate ship, sailing across stormy seas and lording it over a motley crew that included Dumas' Three Musketeers, popular Russian bards, and other heroes of our youth. We embarked on these adventures first with the help of dolls, then paper cut-outs, then notebooks in which we feverishly scribbled our stories, inspired by all sorts of books we read, but especially those set in the past. I guess the desire to read and write about history has been with me since my childhood after all.

History remains the subject of endless fascination for me, a driving motor behind my books, a lens through which I view the world around me. It might be my Russian roots, my emigrant's deracination, or just innate curiosity that always makes me wonder how things came about, and why.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Animals have played critical roles throughout history. Especially intriguing have been exotic fauna from distant lands. Ancient rulers saw the value of possessing everything from lions, tigers and bears, to tapirs, kangaroos and giraffes. Obtaining such specimens was--and still is--proof of a ruler's or government's power. This in-depth history chronicles seven major points in history, which could not have taken place without the animals.

Elephants in ancient Egypt helped influence a precarious rule. Exotic animal fighters in Rome both helped and hindered a war hero's determination to maintain the trust of the people. A Medici merchant used a giraffe to secure a princedom. New World animals and deformed and albino people from Montezuma's menagerie became Cortés's symbol of triumph in Europe. A seventeenth-century ruler/recluse marveled in his study of exotic flora and fauna. Napoleon Bonaparte's wife created her menagerie to prove her worth and power in a society that saw her as too silly for her position. Finally, meet the media magnate who, known for his strange ways, created a private zoo that both entertained and terrorized the rich and famous.

Marina Belozerskaya introduces readers to an ancient phenomenon that continues to this day. In each tale of power and loss, she fuses painstaking research with a gift for storytelling, giving life to each of the chronicled leaders. In order to provide context for each tale, she delivers in-depth details of the socio-political climate at the time. Then she blended what she could learn of the leader's personality, allowing the reader as complete a picture as possible.

For anyone interested in political history, animals, or history in general, I highly recommend this for your library.
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Format: Hardcover
This beautifully produced, well-written and well edited book would make a perfect Christmas present for those in search of stimulation as well as entertainment. The chapters are introduced by interesting illustrations as well as by amusing and provocative quotations. Although the book is based on thorough research and wide reading, the author carries her scholarship lightly. Sources are listed for each chapter rather than as single bibliography, which makes tracking down the information used relatively easy. Superscripts would, however, have made this even easier and the work more useful as a reference source.

However, The Medici Giraffe does not set out to be a comprehensive history of private zoos. The author's vision of linking the acquisition of great and extraordinary animals to human power frames the book in an interesting way and she brings it right up to date with some interesting reflections on pandas, and on conservation.

An excellent book for the general reader. Strongly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
Exotic animals have long inspired humans who marvel at them, and THE MEDICI GIRAFFE: AND OTHER TALES OF EXOTIC ANIMALS AND POWER explores this fascination throughout history, from Roman times on up. How did the introduction of such animals and knowledge of their existence change empires and perceptions? THE MEDICI GIRAFFE follows these accompanying changes, bringing to life stories from around the world and blending natural and human history. A fine, lively pick any library should have.

Diane C. Donovan

California Bookwatch
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Format: Hardcover
Don't be fooled by the title, this book is not filled with cute stories featuring fluffy animals. Instead it is a scholarly treatise in which the author explores the role of exotic animals in international politics from ancient times to the modern day. The animals appear in the stories but more as backdrops than as main characters, even the titular Medici giraffe receives only a few paragraphs.

Marina Belozerskaya has chosen seven such instances and devoted a chapter to each. Beginning in Alexandria, Egypt we learn about elephants as war machines. From there, Ancient Rome where exotic animals are used for entertainment in the arenas. The more exotic the animal the better it is received by the crowds. Then comes the Medicis and their giraffe, and how it (and other animals) turned their family from merchants into nobility. Next stop, the New World and the Aztecs where the kings kept extensive private zoos - that included albinos and other exotic humans among the exhibits. The next chapter details the menagerie of Rudolf II, a strange and eccentric king who often ran out of money to feed his wild cats, yet still gave them free run of the palace grounds. There is also the story of Malmaison, where Empress Josephine (wife of Napoleon) kept her collection, including her favorite black swans, the descendants of which can still be seen today. Next up, Animal welfare advocate William Randolph Hearst's ranch at San Simeon where he kept herds of exotic hoofed stock roaming freely to the delight of the guests. And the final chapter details the giant pandas given to First Lady Pat Nixon by Chairman Mao Zedong as a diplomatic gift.
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