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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Read -- Just Not for Those Afraid of Brackets (Like Me)
This is a most entertaining (but curious) book.

It tells the story of the first celebrity elephant -- the eponymous Jumbo. Abruptly, then, about half way through it stops his story with Jumbo's death and then goes on to provide a miscellany of elephant related stories and information. The chapter relating the various executions of criminal elements amongst the...
Published 4 months ago by Michael D. Peevey

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1.0 out of 5 stars How very droll!
The trouble with pop history is that it is being so well done these days. If you are going to try to compete with Joseph O’Connor, Simon’s Schama and Winchester, Jared Diamond, David McCullough and even the likes of Bill Bryson, you have to do a lot better than this... They are the standard expected from popular history. Alternately you can have a bash at...
Published 1 month ago by Kartowidjojo


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Read -- Just Not for Those Afraid of Brackets (Like Me), 25 Mar 2014
By 
Michael D. Peevey "peevey" (Singapore) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Jumbo: The Unauthorised Biography of a Victorian Sensation (Hardcover)
This is a most entertaining (but curious) book.

It tells the story of the first celebrity elephant -- the eponymous Jumbo. Abruptly, then, about half way through it stops his story with Jumbo's death and then goes on to provide a miscellany of elephant related stories and information. The chapter relating the various executions of criminal elements amongst the elephant world is morbidly interesting. Throughout the author intersperses the narrative with curious and seemingly more or less random facts about himself (I once lived in California; I was an alcoholic, etc.) and opinions about such things as the general opinions of Americans. Throughout he remains engaging and friendly -- in fact, just a little too informal for taste.

However, what (and you may agree) was a constant irritant (and I mean irritant) throughout was that the author (John Sutherland) interjected the text with a never ending plethora or comments in brackets (like this ()). I would say (but this is just a guess) that he related parenthetical comments about three (though it could have been more) times per page. Some comments were just general thoughts (and that is fair enough), some were there to provide elaboration (by which I mean real embellishment); some were seemingly connected to nothing (Rudolf Nureyev died in 1993) -- but all, as time progressed grated (as I am sure that you can imagine).

Notwithstanding, the material is so absorbing and the author is so good natured that I would recommend this book. One last comment -- the binding and cover are very attractive.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Why have elephants got big ears...?, 5 Mar 2014
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Mr. A. Weston (Chessington, Surrey) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Jumbo: The Unauthorised Biography of a Victorian Sensation (Hardcover)
Because Noddy won't pay the ransom money!

Feeble elephant jokes to one side, here's the actual review.

I bought this book as I'm interested in natural history, the nineteenth century, and in knowing what was so bad about it that the previous reviewer only gave it one star.

Obviously this whole thing is subjective, but I have to say I very much enjoyed "Jumbo", although at first I was a little confused by what it was about. Naturally an elephant, but an "unauthorised" biography that claims, inside, "this is not a biography of the world's most renowned elephant". How curious.

It is, instead, part biography, part scene-setting, and part observations on the broader topics of elephants. Sometimes the logic is a little strained (the link between Claudius' elephants in Britain, the watertower in Colchester, and the apparent collective belief of the inhabitants of that town that they were somehow cheated by not being named the capital city, is a good example of this) but some intriguing ideas and theories are put forward.

Jumbo himself is dealt with thoroughly, but is dead by half way through the book, after which it starts to look at lesser-known elephant-related subjects (the section on elephant electrocution, elephant hanging, and Jumbo's successor, are very well researched although frankly rather disturbing.) Given this, I would have to disagree with the description posted by the previous reviewer that this is "yet another book about a dead elephant" - it looks much more at the relationship between humans and elephants than it does any elephant in particular, including Jumbo. The context of Jumbo's life and the history of elephants as exhibits in the UK is well-researched, with the fate of other elephants from both London and Paris zoos examined.

Occasionally needlessly waspish, the majority of this book is well written and moves at a good pace. It reads in part more as a stream of consciousness on related elephant subjects, and strikes me as the kind of thing one could dip into and out of at will - the cover-to-cover approach not being strictly necessary. A small criticism of the style of the book is given that it's well stocked with photos and illustrations, some photo pages, rather than just reproductions onto the standard pages, would have been nice.

I have no particular issues with Sutherland though I had never read any of his books before. I'm not convinced I'd read another book by him, because his chosen topics don't interest me massively - but I'd read another book about Jumbo, as this book has confirmed to me that it's a topic that has a great deal that could be said about it.

It's not amazing, but it's certainly enjoyable and very readable. Recommended.
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1.0 out of 5 stars How very droll!, 3 Jun 2014
This review is from: Jumbo: The Unauthorised Biography of a Victorian Sensation (Hardcover)
The trouble with pop history is that it is being so well done these days. If you are going to try to compete with Joseph O’Connor, Simon’s Schama and Winchester, Jared Diamond, David McCullough and even the likes of Bill Bryson, you have to do a lot better than this... They are the standard expected from popular history. Alternately you can have a bash at Beevor or Shirer if you want to more historian then popular.

This book by Sutherland is neither a work of serious historical endeavor, not a populist romp. It’s just rambling about an elephant. In his introduction he says

"This is not a biography of the world’s most renowned elephant nor of its famed owners, the London Zoo and Phineas T. Barnum. Those things have been expertly done elsewhere, and I am grateful and indebted to them. What is offered here is, to borrow a term from the first time I ‘saw the elephant’ (on screen, that is), a kind of fantasia. Call it elephantasia."

I have no idea what he is talking about. All I see here is a dreary pompous mishmash of a ‘biography’, a social history and conceits. The subject matter has no independent inertia – it is not the Tudors or the Gnostics, Lincoln or the Peloponnesian War. To make a success of this kind of minority interest it has to sparkle like THE STAR OF THE SEA or be simply brilliant in its own right a la STALINGRAD.

There are numerous extracts directly lifted from historical sources, more or less on every page, which completely interrupt the flow. Sutherland’s own voice is straight out of a Cambridge lecture theater. He is a man who laughs at his own jokes in the SCR

The only market I can see for this is grandfathers at Christmas who once expressed an interest in elephants and who already own elephant ties, elephant sweaters, elephant slippers, etc., and visitors to London Zoo.
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Jumbo: The Unauthorised Biography of a Victorian Sensation
Jumbo: The Unauthorised Biography of a Victorian Sensation by John Sutherland (Hardcover - 6 Feb 2014)
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