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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.
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on 25 March 2014
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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on 11 July 2015
Born in the wilds of Africa, a young bull elephant was shipped to Europe and became an exhibit in paris. Sick and close to death he was sold to London Zoo and became Jumbo, a popular exhibit for Victorians. Finally sold and exported to the USA Jumbo joined Phineas T Barnum's circus before his controversial and shocking death. In this biography Sutherland tells the story of Jumbo and also of man's relationship with elephants.

Sutherland is an excellent writer, he has a verve and wit as exemplified in his literary analyses, this book is no exception. I admit to a penchant for these popular histories which mix biography, history and tangential musings and I loved this book. Sutherland obviously adores elephants and, whilst the story of Jumbo is the central core of the book, he explores lots of other examples of elephants historically, fictionally and biologically. A thoroughly entertaining book which educates as well.
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on 10 October 2015
It's all right; there is a lot of interest in Victoriana and has been for a number of years. Jumbo is a little bit sensationalist and there is a lot of baying mobs; but one suspects that is the subject matter creeping through and the ways elephants have been used over the centuries (and still are) to make a fast buck. Good politics on London Zoo and UCL.

Witty bits, and nonsense bits and it does add to knowledge about America, and some of the things that make people tick and how the elephant has been used to do this.
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on 20 January 2016
As described and arrived promptly. An interesting read, although as previously noted, could do with less use of info in brackets.
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on 28 December 2015
well history,animals,also humor a delightful read .
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