This is a wonderful, well-written book about elephants and their role throughout history, as well as their present state in the world. I confess, I did not know much about elephants before reading this book. I now feel I know something about them, and what I have discovered is fascinating. I did not realize how complex and intelligent these magnificent creatures are, nor how dangerously close to extinction they have become. It would, indeed, be tragic were that to happen, for elephants are sociable, sentient, and intelligent.
The author takes the reader on a tour throughout history, describing the elephant's interaction with humanity and its role in the affairs of mankind and its impact on the environment. The book traces the influence of the elephant and the various uses to which mankind has put this great creature. From being used as a conveyance in times of war, to being paraded as an object of wonder and curiosity, to being hunted down mercilessly for its ivory tusks, the elephant has had a somewhat checkered history in terms of its interaction with human beings.
The author also carefully relates the elephant's own social structure, which is a sophisticated and complex one. Their mating rituals, their family life, and their handling of death are all addressed by the author, who paints a picture of a multi-faceted and remarkable society of elephants. It is only in the twentieth century that its complexity has begun to be understood by man. It is hoped that this is not a case of too little, too late.
Unfortunately for the elephant, however, its positive qualities have taken a backseat to its value as a commodity. Elephant tusks may eventually bring about the demise of the entire species, if the world does not take heed. A portion of this book is devoted to the ivory wars that have decimated the great elephant herds of Africa, turning elephants into an endangered species. Were elephants to be driven to extinction by pure, unadulterated greed, it truly would be tragic. This book effectively drives that point home.