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Stolen World: A Tale of Reptiles, Smugglers, and Skulduggery Hardcover – January 4, 2011

4.3 out of 5 stars 56 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (January 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307381471
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307381477
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #382,232 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on February 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover
When you consider collecting as a hobby, say stamp collecting, you expect for some collectors to be informal about their collections and others to be obsessive, and you expect some collectors to be in it for love and others for money. Collecting and dealing in reptiles, however, seems to bring out the most reprehensible, venal, and (shall we say) cold-blooded traits of the participants. Those are the sorts of guys described in _Stolen World: A Tale of Reptiles, Smugglers, and Skulduggery_ (Crown Publishers) by Jennie Erin Smith. Among reptile enthusiasts, there may be some who share the attitude expressed by one character here, "I just want to play with my snakes," but such innocents are not Smith's subject. She is a freelance science reporter, and has befriended some of these smugglers, thus entering a dark world of scales, money, foolhardiness, and betrayal. She researched some of these stories for ten years, and delivers them with a deadpan humor that is just right for a bizarre and twisted subject.

There are two main characters that weave through the chapters of the book, although the supporting cast of snake geeks is colorful and distressingly antisocial. Hank Molt (what a name for a snake collector!) grew up reading tales of adventure and animal capture. Molt's usual modus operandi was to convince a gullible young snake fan (such as he himself had been, without the gullibility) to accompany him to distant lands. They would go on expeditions to, say, Madagascar or New Guinea, and hunt up specimens themselves or pay others to do so. The specimens went into crates with false bottoms, perhaps crates that otherwise contained legal imports; some specimens were put into socks or other hiding places.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It is amazing to me how the author was able to investigate and report so thoroughly on what amounts to the entire lives of several key figures in the exotic reptile trade of years past - Molt, Crutchfield and others. They are portrayed warts and all, and you kind of feel by the end of it that you know and have some admiration for these characters, much as you might for a crusty and unlikeable old uncle. Having been involved with exotic animals for most of my life, I have known some of these individuals and have visited the same facilities and reptile shows that the author talks about. I was never so deeply involved that I could imagine living and acting as do the stars of this book, who feel that the quest for the best and rarest makes up for extreme personal hardship, expense, and illegal acts. The net effect of these misadventures is less on conservation and more of the dark underbelly of 'pets' outside the normal companion animal area. This is a better book than Lizard King, because it focuses on only a few individuals and tells their stories as completely as anyone could. You will meet some of the same characters in 'Lizard King' but I would still give the nod to smith's book as the better treatment of this interesting area.
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I collected my first venomous snakes in 1962. Over the years our collection grew and now we have over 200 reptiles. All of them were purchased or collected legally. I personally know most of the major characters in this book and have been swindled by at least two of them. "Stolen World" is definitely nonfiction but is written in a style that is more like an interesting collection of short stories. My only regret is that the author had not contacted our facility prior to her final draft. We could put a thick layer of frosting on the horse manure cake baked by the scumbag swindling smugglers named in this book. As a matter of fact, one of these individuals pirated copyrighted photos from our website and posted the animals for sale on his own. They have defrauded several trusting individuals who they "befriended" out of their life savings with no remorse. I would like to thank the author for the exhausting research and motivation it must have taken to bring this subject into the light. Unfortunately, these individuals are still in the retail reptile market. I would recommend that anyone interested in purchasing reptiles buy and read this book. REPTILE BUYERS BEWARE!!!!
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Format: Hardcover
This book is certainly a fine read. The author displays Tom Crutchfields true colors. Nothing scares a guy like Crutchfield more then somebody that knows the truth.

Crutchfield claims he's upset because the book doesn't tell the history side of things well. BS. Crutchfield is slick enough to know the best way to attack this book..Is by making it seem as if this book is attacking the credibility of entire reptile community. Not only will this get people going he will make himself look good in the process. Right on cue Crutchfield started posting things to try and discredit the book as a way of protecting himself........NO ONE ELSE!

This book is the truth. But it isn't roid rage that fuels his temper...... its insecurity. Crutchfiled is so insecure and desperate to be "the man" that he will do anything to try and win that all to stupid I can top you game. Pathological lying is a big part of his game. When he gets confronted he then try's to bully his way out. Since coming back Crutchfield has figured out that he has to be much more careful about his "image." He says all the things he thinks people want to hear and plays the nice guy a caring ... concerned herper roll to his advantage. In the end he is still the same dirty little con-man that is willing to lie, cheat and screw anyone to get his way. Still trys to be a bully behind closed doors.
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