Top positive review
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Why have elephants got big ears...?
on 5 March 2014
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.