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The Breathless Zoo: Taxidermy and the Cultures of Longing (Animalibus of Animals and Cultures) Hardcover – August 1, 2012

4.9 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

I have long been a fan of Rachel Poliquin's otherworldly online museum, ravishingbeast.com, but after reading The Breathless Zoo I know just what she means when she says that all taxidermy, like storytelling, is deeply marked by human longing. I am already longing to read The Breathless Zoo again. --Jay Kirk, University of Pennsylvania

With The Breathless Zoo, Rachel Poliquin has made a major contribution to the blossoming field of animal studies. This book is the new benchmark on the place of taxidermy in the social history of art, science, and popular culture. Marvelous, rigorous, and extensively well researched, the work is also refreshingly pleasurable to read. Throughout, Poliquin explores the complex questions around the rich cultural texture of taxidermy. And unlike other works on the topic, The Breathless Zoo examines not only what taxidermy is but also what it means. For those of us engaged in thinking about animals, this is the book on the culture of taxidermy we have long awaited a book of great innovation that slices through the history of science, blood sports, and art.
--Mark Dion


The Breathless Zoo is an intriguing and poetic meditation on an unlikely subject: stuffed animals in European museums that seem so familiar and so intellectually musty. Rachel Poliquin teases out of them not just a typological order but also a human longing for beauty and wonder, story and allegory. In the dead specimens she finds immortality; in their stasis, movement across the world. The result is a rich panorama of human ideas and desires.
--Marina Belozerskaya, author of The Medici Giraffe


The Breathless Zoo is the book that the subject of taxidermy has long deserved. Full of provocative opinions, beautifully expressed, it is a subtle and thoroughly engaging exploration of the difficult question posed by all present-day encounters with taxidermy: What is this animal-thing now?
--Steve Baker

What do Roy Rogers' horse, Trigger, Jumbo the Barnum and Bailey circus elephant, and Dolly the cloned sheep all have in common? They were all stuffed. Or, to be more precise, they have all been given life-after-death through the magic of taxidermy. They share this fate with cats dressed in crinolines, ice-skating hedgehogs and gophers doing, well, all manner of things. And with hummingbirds in nineteenth century glass cases at London's Natural History Museum and zebras on display at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. What is it that propels human beings to stuff the dead bodies of other animals or birds? According to [The Breathless Zoo], taxidermy is about longing -- it is a way of staving off the inevitable, of holding onto the past. Vancouver writer and curator Rachel Poliquin presents a delightfully thorough account of a practice that spans centuries. --Michael Enright, host of CBC Radio One Sunday Edition

A wealth of well-chosen illustrations, anecdotes, and deft readings of individual pieces of taxidermy make The Breathless Zoo a rich study that will appeal to a variety of readers. --Anjuli Raza Kolb, Los Angeles Review of Books

With The Breathless Zoo, Rachel Poliquin has made a major contribution to the blossoming field of animal studies. This book is the new benchmark on the place of taxidermy in the social history of art, science, and popular culture. Marvelous, rigorous, and extensively well researched, the work is also refreshingly pleasurable to read. Throughout, Poliquin explores the complex questions around the rich cultural texture of taxidermy. And unlike other works on the topic, The Breathless Zoo examines not only what taxidermy is but also what it means. For those of us engaged in thinking about animals, this is the book on the culture of taxidermy we have long awaited a book of great innovation that slices through the history of science, blood sports, and art.
--Mark Dion


The Breathless Zoo is an intriguing and poetic meditation on an unlikely subject: stuffed animals in European museums that seem so familiar and so intellectually musty. Rachel Poliquin teases out of them not just a typological order but also a human longing for beauty and wonder, story and allegory. In the dead specimens she finds immortality; in their stasis, movement across the world. The result is a rich panorama of human ideas and desires.
--Marina Belozerskaya, author of The Medici Giraffe


The Breathless Zoo is the book that the subject of taxidermy has long deserved. Full of provocative opinions, beautifully expressed, it is a subtle and thoroughly engaging exploration of the difficult question posed by all present-day encounters with taxidermy: What is this animal-thing now? --Steve Baker

About the Author

Rachel Poliquin is a writer and curator engaged with the cultural and poetic history of the natural world. She has curated taxidermy exhibits for the Museum of Vancouver and the Beaty Biodiversity Museum at the University of British Columbia. Poliquin is the author of ravishingbeasts.com, a website dedicated to exploring the cultural history of taxidermy.

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Product Details

  • Series: Animalibus (Book 1)
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Pennsylvania State Univ Pr (Trd) (August 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0271053720
  • ISBN-13: 978-0271053721
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 8.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,681,784 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Poliquin deftly details the cultural meanings of taxidermy in its many genres, from natural history museum artifact to hunting trophy to rogue art object. This richly illustrated book, first in Penn State Press's series Animalibus: Of Animals and Cultures, would appeal to art historians, cultural anthropologists, and those interested in animal representation. The "cultures of longing" in question here include the role taxidermy has played in creating wonder, spectacle, narratives, and memorials to the natural world. What Poliquin does best here is show how taxidermy, while contributing to these and other cultures of longing, cannot quite fulfill our longing to look at real animals, either dead or alive, because a taxidermied animal is, paradoxically, a bit of both, and at the same time, neither. My only complaint with Poliquin's work is that she doesn't sufficiently consider the distinct longing we experience in looking at taxidermies of extinct animals.
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Format: Paperback
This book covers far more than taxidermy; it's really about memory as much as anything. Taxidermy is the "breathless" zoo in the title, and you'll learn a lot about it, but Poliquin is as interested in the why of taxidermy as anything. Why do people want a dead thing in the house? Poliquin looks at a variety of these, including trophies (think moose heads on walls); extinct species (think of the last passenger pigeon stuffed, in Cincinnati); preserved pets from owners who can't let go; fraudulent creatures (think of the Fejee Mermaid); natural history specimens (species are described in part from the "type" specimen); parts used for fashion or display (think recycled taxidermy in a bar as a mascot). I decided to read the book on an impulse, and I wasn't expecting much, but this is an utterly absorbing read. Think of taxidermy as providing physical objects that form a connection to personal stories, memory and past, and recall things like souvenirs and photo albums and that will help give a sense of what this book is about.

Her writing may be rather theoretical for some readers, but it's a fine book despite a bit of academic orientation. Her writing is crisp, clear as a bell and witty. I have only found one other book by her (it's excellent). The photographs in the book are a book in themselves, in a sense. One is of an Austrian hunter lounging in his manse in a room full of trophy heads, specifically an enormous American wapiti. Another is of a sort of scene including a taxidermied camel, and two lions titled "Arab Courier Attacked by Two Lions," the courier presumably not being stuffed, by Jules Verraux in 1867, a haunting example of a form once much in fashion and seen as an art.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Absolutely beautiful book, replete with gorgeous pictures and gorgeous prose. Her thinking through of important cultural moments in western history using taxidermy is philosophically interesting and very convincing. She treats her subjects with ethical responsibility and opened up this reader's eyes to whole new ways of thinking about taxidermic specimens as cultural signifiers. Other reviews have recommended this book for taxidermy fans, and I agree, but I also think it's a great book for people who aren't "into" taxidermy but are interested in general history or museology or even just animal-human relationships.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Finally - a history of taxidermy that looks deep into meaning and contextualizes what these objects meant and mean now.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Short n' sweet-I LOVE taxidermy(in all of its MANY art forms), and this book is absolutely fascinating. A must have for everyone from the collector-to the artist.
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