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Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II Hardcover – July 15, 2014

4.7 out of 5 stars 705 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“I have to confess—my love of elephants made me apprehensive to review a book about their role in World War II. But as soon as I began to read Elephant Company, I realized that not only was my heart safe, but that this book is about far more than just the war, or even elephants. This is the story of friendship, loyalty and breathtaking bravery that transcends species. . . . [Vicki] Croke is a natural storyteller. . . . Elephant Company is nothing less than a sweeping tale, masterfully written.”—Sara Gruen, The New York Times Book Review

“Splendid . . . Blending biography, history, and wildlife biology, [Vicki Constantine] Croke’s story is an often moving account of [Billy] Williams, who earned the sobriquet ‘Elephant Bill,’ and his unusual bond with the largest land mammals on earth.”—The Boston Globe
 
“Some of the biggest heroes of World War II were even bigger than you thought. . . . You may never call the lion the king of the jungle again.”—New York Post

Elephant Company is as powerful and big-hearted as the animals of its title. Billy Williams is an extraordinary character, a real-life reverse Tarzan raised in civilization who finds wisdom and his true self living among jungle beasts. Vicki Constantine Croke delivers an exciting tale of this elephant whisperer–cum–war hero, while beautifully reminding us of the enduring bonds between animals and humans.”—Mitchell Zuckoff, author of Lost in Shangri-La and Frozen in Time
 
“The true-life heroics of Elephant Company during World War II  highlight how animals and humans together can achieve extraordinary things. Croke’s evocative writing and deep understanding of the animal-human bond bring vividly to life Elephant Bill’s great passion and almost mystical connection with his magnificent beasts. This is a wonderful read.”—Elizabeth Letts, author of The Eighty-Dollar Champion
 
 “A spellbinding, true story of elephantine and human courage, set in one of the Earth’s most exotic jungles during the Second World War, Elephant Company is a triumph that will make you cheer!”—Sy Montgomery, author of The Good Good Pig and Journey of the Pink Dolphins

About the Author

Vicki Constantine Croke has been chronicling animal life for more than two decades—tracking polar bears, Tasmanian devils, and Madagascar’s top predator, the fossa. She now covers animal issues for WBUR-FM, Boston’s NPR news station, on air (Here and Now) and on WBUR’s The Wild Life online. Her work there earned a 2013 regional Edward R. Murrow Award. She is the author of The Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China’s Most Exotic Animal,and The Modern Ark: The Story of Zoos—Past, Present and Future. Croke has worked on nature documentaries for Disney and for the A&E channel and anchored The Secret Life of Animals on NECN-TV. She also wrote The Boston Globe’s “Animal Beat” column for thirteen years, and has contributed to The New York Times, The Washington Post, The London Sunday Telegraph, Time, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, Gourmet, National Wildlife, and Discover magazine, among others. She lives in the Boston area.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1St Edition edition (July 15, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400069335
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400069330
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (705 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #24,140 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
WW II seems to have a never ending stream of stories to tell. This is rather unique In not being just an interesting true war history on a part of the CBI (China/Burma/India) front, as well as a love story, but also a moving and eduational tale of humans interacting with another animal species (elephants!) at the highest emotional and social levels. The lessons are legion, not least of which is a sense that the elephants are kinder, gentler and more sensitive than we are. You come away with a better understanding of what constitutes leadership among humans and/or animals. It makes reading about the decimation of elephants for their ivory in the current news ever so much more painful.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Born in 1897, during the declining years of the British colonial empire, J.H. “Elephant Bill” Williams was a veteran of both World Wars. After World War I, he went to Burma and made a career of overseeing the captive elephants which helped to move teak wood from the jungles of Burma to the markets of the world.

Williams had an innate love for the Burmese elephants and they loved him back. Whereas the traditional training of elephants had tended to be unkind or even brutal, Elephant Bill revolutionized their care. He treated the animals with kindness and respect, and even started elephant training schools so they could gradually learn the skills they needed, instead of breaking their spirits to bring them into submission.

Williams’ knowledge of elephants assumed dramatic importance during World War II when Burma was invaded by Japan. The Japanese would have captured the Burmese elephants to build roads and bridges for their advancing army. Williams, however, was able to employ his skills and experience to help the British Army and the Allies retain the valuable animals for their own military needs.

The historic long trek of the elephants with fleeing British refugees, over incredibly difficult terrain into India, was breathtaking. Author Vicki Constantine Croke has done a remarkable job of finding original materials about J.H. Williams and his family, and especially about his work in WWII.

I highly recommend “Elephant Company,” which I read in a Kindle version.
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Format: Hardcover
The thing I always love about Vicki Croke's writing is the richness and depth of the stories she shares with us. It only starts with the tales she finds. They are always about her specialty; the interaction of complex and interesting people with complex and interesting animals. She develops that with technical and historical detail and manages to use that relationship teach us important things about both. Bandoola is my favorite character. Vicki makes him live for us. I'm not much of an animal person. I don't generally look for animal books, But this book was an amazing read.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If you love elephants, you will love this book. It's the story of a man who went to Burma in 1920 to work for the teak industry and ended up fighting to improve life for working elephants. He said he became a better man by learning from elephants. The elephant characters, including the tusker Bandoola, his courageous mother Ma Shwe, and the miraculous "Guide Man," are unforgettable. The last section, on how the elephants helped the Allies in Burma in World War II, is a page-turning adventure! I love this book!
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Format: Hardcover
Sometimes you get the feeling that the publisher is playing a game with a reader; in this case guilty of a 'bait and switch'. This book's promoted on the jacket, in the title, in the subtitle as a book that centers on World War Two. That's pretty misleading since the war doesn't touch on the story until after page 200 of a book that runs under three hundred pages. The story of 'Elephant Bill' is strong enough without the war. In fact, I'd argue the real strength and beauty of this book was in the first half which centers on the relationship between the young British apprentice, his seemingly wary superior and a young male elephant. Croke extracts real pathos from this isolated group working together in the jungles of Burma. By the time Croke arrives at the Japanese invasion of Burma it's as if she's in a rush. While she took her time building characters the first 200 pages, she then switches gear and rushes through the war years in the last 80 pages of the book. It makes for an unsettling change of speed which tested the firm foundations she'd already laid.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Billy Williams returned from the Great War and desired nothing more than adventure in the company of elephants. Traveling to Burma and signing on with a British teak lumber concern, he got his chance.

This is such a charming story! I'm usually not a reader of "charming stories" and the military history aspect of the book initially triggered the purchase. Actually, there's very little military history and absolutely no combat in the book. Having said that, I am glad I bought it and it really is an excellent read.

James Howard "Billy" Williams entered Burma at what would be the end of the colonial era in which Great Britain ruled large patches of the globe. In Burma, Williams becomes an employee of the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation and is immediately in contact with elephants and the experience affects him greatly. For a man who loves animals, working with these intelligent giants is a fascination and a joy. Williams becomes a "wallah" - an elephant expert who can treat elephant injuries, direct their work and comes to understand their thinking together with his Burmese workers. It's a window into a long-gone world and how British lived in the colonies.

The book chronicles his adventures with the elephants, his Burmese workers, falling in love and marrying, being involved in the Allied war effort in the CBI (China-Burma-India) theater. Although his elephants did good work building bridges and leading refugees to India, barely escaping the clutches of the brutal Japanese, "Elephant Bill's" elephants were not vital or even important. But, it adds to the story itself.

This is a tale of the jungle, of a man's joy in the wilds and among animals who always had the best interests of his elephants at heart.
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