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Clara's Grand Tour: Travels with a Rhinoceros in Eighteenth-Century Europe Paperback – 14 Jul 2005

4.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books; Main edition (14 July 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843541475
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843541479
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 1.8 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 610,822 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"'The enchanting story of a rhinoceros taken on a tour of eighteenth-century Europe... Entertaining.' John Mullan, Guardian 'A jewel of a story' New Scientist; 'Wonderful' Conde Nast Traveller; 'Clara's Grand Tour is a little book with big ideas. A beautifully produced volume... Glynis Ridley approaches her whimsical subject matter with wit, affection and enjoyment, but this is also a serious work that sheds interesting light on a number of cultural and historical ideas.' Samuel Blake, Times Literary Supplement; 'Glynis Ridley's perfectly turned-out book... doesn't deal in questions, offering only an open invitation to watch, wonder and admire... No so much a biography as a jewel box of glimpses into the eighteenth-century mindset...Beautifully told.' Scotsman"

About the Author

GLYNIS RIDLEY was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, studied in Edinburgh and Oxford, and has worked for the Open University, the University of Huddersfield, and Queen's University, Belfast. She now teaches eighteenth century studies in the departments of English and Humanities at the University of Louisville, Kentucky. Clara's Grand Tour is her first book and was shortlisted for the Longman-History Today Award and the Duff Cooper Prize and is the winner of the Institute of Historical Research Prize.

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Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
It's easy to forget how much we take for granted. My eight-year old can confidently tell me about a host of animals he's never actually seen because he has watched them on tv or read about them - but what if there were no images or information available? Reading this wonderful book, I was taken back to a world in which no one in living memory had seen a rhinoceros and no one had an accurate image of one. So when a canny Dutchman got his hands on a tame rhino calf - the only rhinoceros in Europe at the time - and started displaying her, it was no wonder that everyone wanted to pay the admission charge to see her (whatever they thought she was - a unicorn? the biblical Behemoth?). This isn't a children's book, though once I'd told my kids the basic premise and some of the more colourful adventures - rafting Clara down the Rhine on a log barge - faking her death in Venice during Carnival to make more money - they were, like me, hooked on knowing her fate. Starting out this book, I didn't think my history was strong and worried that I'd be lost in places, but Glynis Ridley does a great job of explaining things in a really easy and interesting way, so the detail is fun and relevant. Got this book to give as a present and ended up keeping it myself. Totally recommended either way.
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Format: Hardcover
Very enjoyable and incredibly well-researched story about Clara the rhinoceros. Informs you how gentle and victimised rhinoceroses are - please let's all help keep their habitat and stop the evil poaching. Rhino horns do not make a man more sexy - for goodness sakes! Get real, China.
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Format: Paperback
Glynis Ridley has prodcued one of those rare books that impresses with its intelligent and scholarly exquisite insights, while telling a story one really wants to hear. Once begun, it is difficult to put down. Anyone wanting to get an insight into the eighteenth-century mind should read this book.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am using this book for A level research.It has been a good read and very useful. Thank you.
Malindi Austin
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.1 out of 5 stars 10 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The rhinoceros and the unicorn 12 Mar. 2005
By John Gerard - Published on
Format: Hardcover
It didn't matter who you were in mid-18th century Europe - peasants and princes alike paid a travelling Dutch sea captain just so they could see his long-term female companion - a 6ft high, 12ft long, 12ft round Indian rhinoceros called Clara. What was the big deal? Well, from the third century onwards, no one had managed to bring a rhinoceros alive to Europe, so no one knew if they even existed. Writers guessed that rhinoceroses and unicorns might be one and the same thing. But no one had seen one so no one knew. Maybe ancient writers just made them up? (Incidentally, as we didn't get a rhinoceros in a US zoo until the 1880s, we can't say early Americans were any better informed.) Enter Captain Van der Meer in 1741 with Clara - the only rhino in Europe. He gets fabulously rich displaying her - she becomes the model of artists and sculptors. Scientists study her and princes feed her oranges. Style gurus accessorise hair and clothes for men and women to look like her!! The book is full of amazing stories, like Clara being rafted down the river Rhine, but there's a serious point to it too - showing how we learn about the natural world and how man's attitude to the natural world has changed across time. This is a prize-winning history that's full of information as well as being a really good read. I recommend it.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Introducing the Rhinoceros to Europe 18 April 2005
By Rob Hardy - Published on
Format: Hardcover
If you can't get to the zoo, you can at least turn on the Discovery Channel, or a lot of others, and see scary, huge, exotic beasts that have no chance of showing up in your home town. In the eighteenth century, however, the options were quite a bit less, and so an enterprising fellow with a rhinoceros might be able to make an impression. In the case of Douwemout Van der Meer, and his rhinoceros Clara, he not only made an impression all over Europe, he substantially changed the science and art of the time, and he made a fortune. A curious book, _Clara's Grand Tour: Travels with a Rhinoceros in Eighteenth Century Europe_ (Atlantic Monthly Press) by Glynis Ridley now tells the story, an odd one about a strange and distant time, and about a strange endeavor. There are gaps in the story, because Van der Meer did not keep a journal, but Ridley has also included diverting details about the cities Clara visits and the people she meets. The result is an engaging history, and one more valuable look at how humans get along with animals.

Clara's mother was shot when Clara was but a few months old in India, and the sea captain Van der Meer purchased her, thinking that she would make his fortune. He sailed with her back to his home in Holland, and with Clara safely transported, he left the Dutch East India Company to get on with what would be his real career. He was an ingenious showman, who used many techniques that would be familiar in modern spectacles. He had posters printed up beforehand to announce Clara's arrival, and would sell copies of the poster to anyone who paid to see her. There were also more elaborate or detailed pictures for the better-off to buy, ranging from woodcuts to engravings to commemorative medals in tin or silver. Clara seems to have been cared for with genuine affection. She lived on hay and grass (150 pounds a day), with bread and beer being special treats. She was attracted to the smell of tobacco, and could be easily led by the temptation of an orange.

Clara toured throughout Europe starting in 1741, with various home visits to Leiden, and died on tour in London in 1758. At her death, she probably became the subject of anatomists, and Van der Meer went back home. Significantly, there are no written records of him after Clara's death. It is to be assumed that he retired on his profits. He and Clara had accomplished a good deal more than just making money, however, as this happy and enthralling narrative make clear. They were making an appeal to popular curiosity, which is an amiable enough trait, and they satisfied it, but they also satisfied the artists and naturalists who came to check her out. They had expanded human knowledge, making the rhinoceros so well known that Boswell could report in agreement that someone had said that Dr. Johnson "laughs like a rhinoceros," and could count on people being amused at the simile. Ridley's book happily lets us rejoin in the enlightenment which Clara brought.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Clara's Grand Tour" - A Good Read 15 Jun. 2005
By James - Published on
Format: Hardcover
As an endangered species program manager, "Clara's Grand Tour" provided me with intriguing insights into the historical captive maintenance and display of a species now considered to be endangered. Ridley, using historical references and subsequent narratives on Clara's travels, does a fair job of synthesizing the information. (I applaud her on her efforts to appreciate the difficulities inherent in rhino captive maintenance; her visit(s) to the Cincinnati Zoo rhino collection was admirable!) Ridley attempts to fill in the blanks where the record is incomplete; her discussions of similar period ventures with other rhinos are particularly insightful. I also enjoyed the portions of the book that describe early animal collections, efforts to describe the species, early natural history writers, etc. Ridley's writing style/technique at times left me wondering, though. For example, in Chapter 1, Ridley describes a "renaissance of interest" in classical Graeco-Roman texts describing various species. She goes on to describe the unavailability of specimens to validate these textual descriptions, stating that African animals brought from the interior were generally unavailable for viewing because they were single specimens "conspicuously lacking in the sort of bulk and ferocity that made transportation overland both time-consuming and complex." I don't get this. While there are a few other places containing similarly garbled trains of thought, perhaps one of the most egregious oversights in this book is the failure of the author to include illustrations of Van de Meer's original souvenir posters and coins. With this being said, I did enjoy the book, plan to re-read it, and look forward to reading some of the additional cited references. I believe that this book rates three or four stars, and give it four largely for content.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars In a word - BORING 1 Aug. 2011
By sblevine - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I expected something along the lines of "Zarafa: A Giraffe's True Story, from Deep in Africa to the Heart of Paris" which I really enjoyed. Instead what I got was a list of cities through which Clara was shown over her 20 years in Europe, with a few side stories about the who and what of the city thrown in for filler. Many of the pictures cited and analyzed are not included in the book and I had to constantly refer to Google Images so that I could follow the writing.

This might have been a good story for Smithsonian magazine if it had been seriously edited. It's 200 small pages, with wide margins and few lines per page. I was bored and felt gypped.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but a bit slow in places 23 Oct. 2005
By B. S. Kimerer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed reading this book. It provides an insight into an age long ago when life was more limited geographically, and something as simple as seeing what a rhinocerous looks like was a special event.

The book moved a bit slowly in places since the author described the entire tour in a fair amount of detail. However, in the end I appreciated the thoroughness of the description.

The only real weak point was that it left me wishing that there had been more photographs of the playbills, medallions, and etchings which are mentioned in the text. But other than that, it is definitely worth reading.
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