- Gentlemen, start your drones: Judge’s ruling opens door for commercial use
- Soldier who hid, bragged about not saluting flag to be punished — in secret
- ‘Maverick’ of the seas: ‘Top Gun’ school for U.S. ship officers to launch
- Putin declares Sochi Paralympics open amid Ukrainian protest
- ‘In Jesus name, we pray’ sparks ire at Ohio council meeting
- Navy’s first laser weapon ready for prime time; drone killer to deploy this summer
- Billionaire backer: Rick Santorum ‘needs to be heard’ in 2016
- Obamacare fallout: 49 percent pessimistic; 45 percent ‘scared’
- DHS accused of holding U.S. citizen at airport, using emails to pry into her sex life
- Seattle socialist: Minimum-wage discussion skewed by ‘right-wing’ GAO analysis
Pandas and politics
THE MEDICI GIRAFFE: AND OTHER TALES OF EXOTIC ANIMALS AND POWER
By Marina Belozerskaya
Little, Brown, $24.95, 414 pages
Tai Shan, the panda cub at the National Zoo in Washington, celebrated his first birthday on July 9. It was a bash befitting a Hollywood star. As thousands of fans decked out in green party hats watched his every move, the cub enjoyed his presents: a pool filled with ice water and a fruitsicle shaped like a cake.
In “The Medici Giraffe,” Marina Belozerskaya reminds us that the worship of exotic creatures like pandas is nothing new. In a series of entertaining vignettes, she reveals how animals such as the giraffe and dodo bird influenced the lives of seven significant political leaders and public figures — and changed history.
Books about the historical importance of subjects such as coffee and screwdrivers — which at first glance deserve only a historical footnote — have proliferated of late. Notably, Mark Kurlansky gave us new appreciation for the importance of salt and cod.
But it can be difficult to avoid this genre’s looming pitfall: overstating one’s case. (Whether the plumber truly “saved civilization,” as one recent book’s subtitle claims, is certainly debatable.)
Ms. Belozerskaya, who has taught at Harvard, Tufts and Boston universities, avoids that trap. Her research is impeccable and her anecdotes convincing. We’ll never look at pandas the same way again.
Ms. Belozerskaya begins her book with Ptolemy Philadelphos, who became the ruler of Egypt in 282 B.C., and ends with William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper tycoon who died in 1951.
In ancient times, the author reveals, no exotic animal mattered more than the elephant. For centuries they were used as makeshift tanks in India and the Persian empire, capable of crushing enemy soldiers underfoot.
Ptolemy Philadelphos, caught up in a power struggle with a ruler named Antioches over the region of Coele-Syria, needed to enhance his military might. Elephants were the answer.
In fascinating detail, Ms. Belozerskaya describes how hunters captured and tamed wild elephants. The hunters first built a circular dirt wall around a ditch and constructed a bridge for access into the enclosure. Then they stocked the pen with tame female elephants. After wild bulls, enticed by the smell of the females, entered the enclosure, the hunters removed the bridge and left the captured animals to languish in the sun.
When the wild elephants were sufficiently tired, the hunters reinstalled the bridge and entered the enclosure aboard domesticated elephants. The hunters then ordered their mounts to attack the wild elephants, which eventually surrendered and allowed themselves to be trained.
As Ptolemy Philadelphos acquired elephants for war, he simultaneously “developed new trade centers and caravan routes, diplomatic links and territories, and wealth and learning.” As a result, writes Ms. Belozerskaya, the Egyptian capital of Alexandria became “the queen of the Mediterranean world.”
Taxpayers must pay the freight for over-budget train projects
- Kim Jong-un calls for execution of 33 Christians
- Rand Paul wins 2014 CPAC straw poll, Ted Cruz finishes a distant second
- Vietnam says it may have found door of missing Malaysian jet as intel look into stolen passports
- Bill Clinton poses for photo with Bunny Ranch prostitutes
- CARSON: Why did the founders give us the Second Amendment?
- Bill Clinton cashes in on struggling nonprofit hospital
- U.S. pilot scares off Iranians with 'Top Gun'-worthy stunt: 'You really ought to go home'
- Russias Putin nominated for Nobel Peace Prize
- CPAC 2014 straw poll results
- FIELDS: Oscars' fantasy on the Left Coast
Pope Francis meets his 'mini-me'
Celebrity deaths in 2014
Winter storm hits states — again