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The Snakebite Survivors' Club: Travels among Serpents Hardcover – 1999

19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

Snakes occupy a peculiar position in the human psyche; in different cultures they have been associated with everything from birth to death, with liberal helpings of sex thrown in for good measure. Most of us are both fascinated and repelled by snakes, and Jeremy Seal is no exception. The Snakebite Survivors' Club begins with an account of how he can't bring himself to go into the reptile house at London Zoo. Being a travel writer, Seal is clearly both certifiable and able to spot good copy when he sees it, so he naturally concludes that the only solution is to set off round the world in search of as many lethal snakes and those who have survived their bites as possible. Seal's journeys through America, Africa, Australia, and India are every bit as engaging as you might expect from the man who wrote A Fez of the Heart--a book whose only failing was its badly punning title. Where Seal scores heavily is that he never becomes detached from his subject matter, unlike so many travel writers, who tend to waltz imperiously though foreign parts, affecting an intimacy they never achieve. Even when Seal is talking history, myth, or religion, he's never less than personal.

Seal's interest is more than curiosity, it's phobic--and that's what makes it so compelling. Whether he's meeting the American woman who survived her husband's attempt to murder her with a rattlesnake, or the Kilifi man who survived a black mamba, or the conveniently named Dundee--the Australian who shrugged off a taipan--you can sense his subtext: "What would I have done?" and "Could I have survived?" The same feelings permeate the historical. When he retraces the steps of the first Australian to catch a taipan, you know that he's somehow expecting a snake to appear in the same place. And when it doesn't, like Seal, you are both relieved and disappointed. The Snakebite Survivors' Club is a rare mix of intelligence and whimsy, but don't for a minute think it will cure you of your fear of snakes. So if you're feeling faint-hearted, grab a copy and head for Ireland, where--legend has it--there isn't a snake in sight. --John Crace,

From Publishers Weekly

Equal parts exotic adventure, naturalist lore, soul-baring confessional and offbeat history, this elegant travelogue focuses on serpentsAin the wild, in diverse cultures and in myth, religion and the popular imagination. Determined to overcome his lifelong fear of snakesAand to probe his obsession with themAEnglish journalist Seal sought out and interviewed snake-bite survivors and snake experts on four continents. His maverick odyssey opens with a Southern gothic horror tale in Alabama, where a wife-beating, hard-drinking, snake-handling preacher tries to murder his wife by getting his church's diamondback rattlesnakes to bite her. In both Alabama and Tennessee, Seal attends rapturous congregations where handling of venomous snakes is part of Christian ritual (literally following the biblical injunction, "They shall take up serpents"). In Australia, he meets a Stetson-wearing outbacker (named Dundee, of course) who survived a lethal snake bite. Through tales of snake lore, Seal charts Australia's metamorphosis from dumping-ground for convicts to independent frontier nation. In south India, he found that the traditional Hindu reverence for snakes persists, in sharp contrast to the West, where the serpent is usually associated with sin or evil. In Kenya, Seal visits a snake park and meets mchowis (witch doctors) who dispatch snakes to bite wrongdoers. In 1776, a rattlesnake with 13 rattles adorned the American flag, symbol of the rebellious colonists' fierce independence. Seal's delightful book may forever change the way readers think about snakes; his serpentine forays into human folly, superstition, courage, fear, cruelty and benevolence verge on the Monty Pythonesque, and his footloose, open-minded spirit recalls Bruce Chatwin. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt, Inc.; 1st edition (1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151005354
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151005352
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,116,214 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Brian D. Rubendall HALL OF FAME on August 9, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Those who either love snakes or are scared to death of them will be enthralled by Jeremy Seal's travels in search of survivors who've been bitten by the world's deadliest snakes. Seal's adventures take him to Africa in search of survivors of the notorious Black Mamba, to India in search of the King Cobra, to Austrailia which has the world's deadliest snake in the Taipan and to Appalachian U.S., where Holiness Church members handle live rattlesnakes as part of their services. The most memorable sequences are the horrifying experience of a preacher's wife whose husband tried to murder her by forcing her to put her hands in a rattlesnake cage and the graphic descriptions of the effects of Taipan poison as recounted by a lucky survivor. The only knock on the book is that Seal chooses to break each segment up into about five parts which are interspersed throughout the book. This makes the stories sometimes hard to follow. Nevertheless, it is compelling reading that might have you checking under your bed before turning out the light at night.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Nathan Wolber on March 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I had expected to find the recollections of a naturalist; instead I found an engaging tour of one man's attempt to overcome his phobia of snakes. It was not really about his fear, though, rather, it was mankind's fear he was challenging. His attitude to down-home rattlesnake roundups put me off, the least he could have done would have been to criticize their brutality. Otherwise, a fantastic book. P.S. if you are looking for a naturalist book, read Erik Pianki's The Lizard Man Speaks.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Persephone on May 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
As a snake owner (albeit a non-venomous one) how could I not order this book? When it arrived, I was delighted to find it was beautifully written and taught me about many species of snakes I did not know about, as well as the mind-set of those who seem undaunted by hunting and handling poisonous snakes. I know (from various herpetology society newsletters as well as regular news items) that the lure of breeding and keeping 'hot' snakes (as they are called in the trade) exerts a strong fascination for many. Jeremy Seal captures this psychology very well, as well as the attitude of most of us: we want to look at the deadly creatures, but not too closely.

The book also gives fine background about the natural history of Australia and Africa, introduces a set of human 'characters' that you will never forget, and keeps the reader in suspense about many of the stories by shifting locales, like the old matinee cliff-hangers.

Like another reader, my only suggestion for improvement would be that he would have come out against the rattlesnake roundups, which will soon be making an impact on the population of the rattlesnakes and sending them the way of the passenger pigeon or the dodo. Such elegant and beautiful creatures (who are only trying to eat and survive, after all) deserve better.

Great book, great job, Mr. Seal! Thanks for writing it for snake and non-snake people alike.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Eric M Segal on June 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I enjoy thoughtful rambles as much as the next person, but Snakebite Survivors has too little burger, and way too much bun. Furthermore, Seal divides each story into four or five sections and then sprinkles them around the book. So to actually follow one of his narratives, the reader must wade through not only his constant musings about his cabbie's driving style, what Australia looks like from the air, and just about everything else --not only that -- but also the bits and pieces of all the other narratives that he mixes in. On the other hand, the basic stories and information are interesting and enjoyable reading. If they weren't so jumbled up and mixed with irrelevancies, I would have really enjoyed the book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By P A Brown on April 22, 2002
Format: Paperback
Much like the author of "Snakebite Survivors' Club," I am both fascinated and repelled by snakes. Seal cleverly combines tall tales with stories of the hard facts of living in parts of the world where venomous vipers are thick on the ground. Seal travels between Australia, America, India and Africa, relating the experiences (quite graphically) of people who have been bitten by everything from rattlesnakes to cobras to the deadly black mamba. Some of these are professional herpetologists, some are religious "snake handlers" (one with murderous intent), some are just unlucky locals. He jumps from one part of the world to another in a cliff hanger fashion, leaving us breathless and off center, much the way one feels when encountering a snake in real life. I love the author's frank admission that he is an admirer of snakes but a major coward when they get up close and personal. A wonderful combination of travel book, natural history, great story-telling and medical manual, "The Snakebite Survivors' Club" has only one major flaw -- the author is not a member of this club, and I kept expecting him to be. But like Seal, I enjoy snakes vicariously. Let Steve Erwin wrestle with pythons and taipans, and I will watch happily with horror and awe. The same pleasant chills are to be found in this fascinating book.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Brian on January 6, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book could have probably been half as long as it is if he'd stick to snakes and things pertaining to them. There was much "historical" information setting up a chapter that just went on and on for pages with little-if any-mention of snakes. The stories that actually DID involve serpents were usually quite interesting, but the format mentioned in other reviews about each story being broken up and scattered around the book was really annoying. This one took me a longer time to finish than I wanted. I hoped for venomous snakes, but it fell far short of my expectaion. See if a library has it before spending money on it.
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