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Stolen World: A Tale of Reptiles, Smugglers, and Skulduggery Hardcover – January 4, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this very disturbing and very entertaining chronicle of reptile smugglers, the collectors and zoo keepers who trade with them, and the federal agents who try to catch them, the humans are as devious, dangerous, and creepily charming as the cold-blooded creatures they lust after. Science reporter Smith bases her book on extensive original interviews with two smugglers: Henry Molt Jr. is a reptile dealer who, in the 1960s, unable to get a job with a zoo, began a lifelong career of reptile collecting involving restless international travel, partner-stiffing, and jail time, with an undaunted enthusiasm that's survived into his 60s: "The reptile business ÿis a disease,' he said, and you can't retire from a disease." Equally outrageous is the volatile, knife-wielding Tommy Crutchfield, who expanded his childhood alligator-and-snake business into a million-dollar empire of reptile hunting and dealing. Even the curators of the Bronx and San Diego zoos let their obsession with the animals lure them into deals in order to obtain illegally imported rare breeds. Smith's affection for these unsavory people gives the book an intriguing moral ambiguity (which might make some environmentalists cringe), but the subculture's brazen shenanigans make for a convoluted, fascinating tale. (Jan.)
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Smith wades into the dark world of animal smuggling with this look at the decades-long careers of a couple of reptile enthusiasts and subsequent black market traders. Readers will make immediate comparisons to the The Orchid Thief (1999) as Hank Molt and Tommy Crutchfield share their experiences tracking animals all over the world and then selling them to willing buyers (including zoos) who were all too aware of the illegality of the transactions. Smith’s account is quite compelling and highly readable, but it should be approached with a degree of caution. Although she states that the content was “derived from interviews and court documents,” the absence of cited sources leaves one in doubt regarding the veracity of the details. Smith walks a fine line, telling a gripping story that provides a window onto a largely invisible subculture in the annals of collecting while raising questions as to the ratio of “creative“ versus “nonfiction“ in this nearly thriller-like chronicle. --Colleen Mondor
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Stolen World earns high marks from me, as it seems tailor-made for a reptile/Everglades/invasive species egghead like myself (I am the author of Snake in the Grass.) Smith does a masterful job of introducing in great detail many of the names and institutions that have long been well-recognized in Florida. But perhaps most importantly, the book provides a detailed glimpse into the psyche of both those with an insatiable lust for lizards, turtles, and snakes, and those willing to gamble all to satisfy their desire.
In the course of just over three hundred pages, it becomes readily apparent that the trade in the cold-blooded often hinges upon the personal faults of the cold-hearted. This is a conclusion drawn not by Smith--but rather--reflects the self-assessment of those entwined hopelessly in the reptile business. The desire for dominion over the world's rarest creatures--as well as the authorities that protect them--is not purely lucrative. Rather, it sometimes finds it origins as compensation for social shortcomings, is often fueled by uncontrolled compulsions, and is frequently reinforced by tragic character flaws. And though its usually dangerous to paint any group with so broad a brush, Smith's research fails to reveal many well-balanced exceptions.
That is both telling and troubling, considering she was on the case for ten long years.
I rate this as highly as "The Orchid Thief", "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil", "Stiff". Just so much fun to read. HIghly recommended!
The book is in my opinion well written,fast paced, very well rechearched and contains a lot of information on a few of the *big* names in the herp world.
The only downside is that it may not be so interesting for non herpers.
For all your herpers out there: A MUST read !