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The founding of a zoo in Georgian London is a story of jaw-dropping audacity in the Age of Empire. It is the story of diplomats, traders, scientists, and aristocratic amateur naturalists charged by Sir Stamford Raffles with collecting amazing creatures from all four corners of the globe. It is the story of the first zoo in history, a weird and wonderful oasis in the heart o The founding of a zoo in Georgian London is a story of jaw-dropping audacity in the Age of Empire. It is the story of diplomats, traders, scientists, and aristocratic amateur naturalists charged by Sir Stamford Raffles with collecting amazing creatures from all four corners of the globe. It is the story of the first zoo in history, a weird and wonderful oasis in the heart of the filthy, swirling city of Dickensian London, and of the incredible characters, both human and animal, that populated it—from Charles Darwin and Queen Victoria to Obaysch the celebrity hippo, the first that anyone in Britain had ever seen. This is a story of Victorian grandeur, of science and empire, and of adventurers and charlatans. And it is the story of a dizzying age of Empire and industrialization, a time of change unmatched before or since. This is the extraordinary story of London Zoo.


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The founding of a zoo in Georgian London is a story of jaw-dropping audacity in the Age of Empire. It is the story of diplomats, traders, scientists, and aristocratic amateur naturalists charged by Sir Stamford Raffles with collecting amazing creatures from all four corners of the globe. It is the story of the first zoo in history, a weird and wonderful oasis in the heart o The founding of a zoo in Georgian London is a story of jaw-dropping audacity in the Age of Empire. It is the story of diplomats, traders, scientists, and aristocratic amateur naturalists charged by Sir Stamford Raffles with collecting amazing creatures from all four corners of the globe. It is the story of the first zoo in history, a weird and wonderful oasis in the heart of the filthy, swirling city of Dickensian London, and of the incredible characters, both human and animal, that populated it—from Charles Darwin and Queen Victoria to Obaysch the celebrity hippo, the first that anyone in Britain had ever seen. This is a story of Victorian grandeur, of science and empire, and of adventurers and charlatans. And it is the story of a dizzying age of Empire and industrialization, a time of change unmatched before or since. This is the extraordinary story of London Zoo.

30 review for The Zoo: The Wild and Wonderful Tale of the Founding of London Zoo: 1826-1851

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    I have only myself to blame. You know when they say 'don't judge a book by it's cover' it is actually sound advice and not just one of those implausible sayings like 'two head are better than one' - really? How are you going to get your clothes on then? I looked at the back cover and read the description, a book about the founding of London Zoo, great! But oh, good grief. You know how books are made into films, but also how sometimes a novelisation is made from a film - this is not so much a non- I have only myself to blame. You know when they say 'don't judge a book by it's cover' it is actually sound advice and not just one of those implausible sayings like 'two head are better than one' - really? How are you going to get your clothes on then? I looked at the back cover and read the description, a book about the founding of London Zoo, great! But oh, good grief. You know how books are made into films, but also how sometimes a novelisation is made from a film - this is not so much a non-fiction or a history of the early years of London Zoo, more like a novelisation, except it is not a novel. Alternatively you could see it as an adult's version of a children's book - more words, no colourful pictures, but really, really simplistic, but for all the dead animals it would be ideal for TV. There are seven chapters each about a figure involved in the Zoo's story as Charman tells it: Stamford Raffles (back from founding Singapore and possible founder of the Zoo (view spoiler)[ or one of them (hide spoiler)] ), Decimus Burton (the original architect (view spoiler)[ who thought that Gothic was just the style for a Llama enclosure (hide spoiler)] , Charles Spooner, who might have been the first vet at the zoo (view spoiler)[or possibly not, since veterinary science wasn't very advanced at the time, but he did know a bit about dogs and horses (hide spoiler)] ), John Gould the taxidermist who had a lot to do with the zoo in its early days (view spoiler)[because veterinary science wasn't very advanced at the time (hide spoiler)] , Devereux Fuller, head keeper in the mid 1830s, Charles Darwin (who has to be in the book so the reader will recognise at least one person in the book), and the 13th Earl of Derby (why not). Each chapter is told from the point of view of each of those people in a demi-fictional style so how they felt, what they thought, blah, blah, blah, but none of it is referenced, so reading you don't know if they actually did think or feel what the author claims or if it is all a load of bollocks (as we say in the vernacular). You might say,that this sounds like the perfect book for the post truth, fake news, bite sized, multi-media focused world of today, and to be sure someone will love it, but not me. Aside from that I don't know what the author has just made up and what is trueish - though my sense from the Darwin chapter that Charman has liberally telescoped things together and grossly oversimplified in a patronising manner does not give me confidence for the rest. However the book has finally withered what ever sympathy I might have had for the idea of zoos open to the public which now strikes me as acceptable as tying small children to poles and using them to scrub chimneys clean, however I am not sure that was her intention. It was also a grating and frustrating book. Come the second chapter on Decimus Burton I thought was he given a brief or did he form a conception of what was required of purpose built enclosures for exotic (view spoiler)[ well exotic for London (hide spoiler)] animals? For example running water, drainage, heating, ventilation, appropriate light and so on? Well Charman wasn't interested in the business end like that but she does says that Burton looked at his watch and cleared his throat to signal to the foreman to tell the builders to get a move on. Hmm. Burton's experience was in designing villas for the wealthy and the occasional church, one of his brothers was one of the early Egyptologists, but if he visited a model diary or a cavalry barracks to see how they managed mucking out the animals I don't know. The Regents Park site was however damp and plagued by rats - which presumably pleased the carnivores who otherwise didn't get fresh meat. The original impetus was to promote the scientific study of animals, it quickly emerged that this was very necessary since the Zoological Society of London and its employees had no real idea how to feed or house or care for the animals which they bought. Many died. Particularly in winter. Visitors were restricted to members of the society or those willing to pay a shilling and bearing a letter from a member of society. They liked to poke at the animals with parasols and walking sticks and they could buy cakes from concession stalls to feed to the animals. They liked to watch the bears climb up and down a pole all day. It turns out that cake surprisingly is not the foundation for a good diet for lions, apes or kangeroos. Many died. The enclosures were quite small and with the diet of cake and being poked and prodded the animals were stressed and irritable. When they fought and hurt each other there was no where to remove them too for them to recover. Many died. The keepers did not like to be too busy and so preferred to feed the beasts a single mega meal each day. Animals suffered from constipation. They tried the same medicines on animals as on people, but with no idea how much to vary the doses: castor oil, chamomile, digitalis, laudanum and in extreme cases - holding the animal down and massaging its stomach. Many died. The taxidermist was kept busy. Visitor numbers were maintained by shipping in new exotic beasts which might be extensively advertised and promoted, and eventually by opening a concession stand to sell cake to human visitors (a novel idea apparently), and finally by allowing the general public to visit. The general impression is of when not abuse, neglect, no doubt some of the people involved were well meaning in a broad sense, but one feels that human entertainment was the main driver, it is certainly hard to see what science was achieved beyond slowly realising how many varied ways you can kill animals. It is a surprise that London Zoo has managed to continue as a going concern and tourist attraction to the present day, Charman doesn't manage to explain that, the implication is that getting a hippopotamus turned everything around which seems unlikely unless it was a very learned hippo able to doctor the other animals and advise on diet and lifestyle, perhaps that it neither a wild nor a wonderful enough tale?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Diana

    Book received from NetGalley. Prior to reading this book, I believed the London Zoo was started when the animals of the Tower of London were moved to a better living area. I had no clue just how wrong I was. This book goes into the founding of the Zoological Society of London and the aristocracy that fought to bring the zoo to life. So different from what I believed. I have to admit this book will not interest everyone, and I did skim a few areas that seemed to drag which is why I lowered the rat Book received from NetGalley. Prior to reading this book, I believed the London Zoo was started when the animals of the Tower of London were moved to a better living area. I had no clue just how wrong I was. This book goes into the founding of the Zoological Society of London and the aristocracy that fought to bring the zoo to life. So different from what I believed. I have to admit this book will not interest everyone, and I did skim a few areas that seemed to drag which is why I lowered the rating for this book. I think this would be a great book for someone who enjoys this era of history and I will likely buy a copy for my research shelves.

  3. 5 out of 5

    K.J. Charles

    A novelisation of history, in the "Queen Victoria fiddled with her rings and frowned as her gruff yet reliable Prime Minister, William Gladstone, entered the room" style throughout. Whether you find this a good approach to non-fiction, or indeed readable, is very much a matter of personal taste. DNF about three pages in. A novelisation of history, in the "Queen Victoria fiddled with her rings and frowned as her gruff yet reliable Prime Minister, William Gladstone, entered the room" style throughout. Whether you find this a good approach to non-fiction, or indeed readable, is very much a matter of personal taste. DNF about three pages in.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Gerry

    Isobel Charman has captured the first quarter century of the London Zoological Gardens in Regent's Park admirably, even the animals have a life of their own as well as the protagonists involved in the development of the project. She does admit to using some imagination to help bring the characters to life and even though, at times it is difficult to pick out fact from fiction, the overall effect is a spellbinding one. The author sets it all out in seven phases with the main character in each taki Isobel Charman has captured the first quarter century of the London Zoological Gardens in Regent's Park admirably, even the animals have a life of their own as well as the protagonists involved in the development of the project. She does admit to using some imagination to help bring the characters to life and even though, at times it is difficult to pick out fact from fiction, the overall effect is a spellbinding one. The author sets it all out in seven phases with the main character in each taking centre stage. It begins with the catalyst for the whole project Sir Stamford Raffles, with assistance from Lady Raffles. This is followed by chapters on the architect the young and upcoming Decimus Burton and how he achieved the overall effect, the medical attendant Charles Spooner, who worked under difficult conditions initially on a part-time basis, the introduction of birds to the Gardens by John Gould, who was also a supreme ornithological artist, how gifts from afar helped build the collection, particularly under head keeper Devereux Fuller, how Charles Darwin's origin theories fitted in with the plans and finally the Earl of Derby and his role as President of the Gardens plus his bringing in of a rare hippopotamus. Sir Stamford took charge of the first meeting of the Zoological Society on 29 April 1826 after the Commission of Woods and Forests had granted the society land in Regent's Park and £5,000 was set aside for the creation of the gardens. Sir Stamford had sadly died before it all came to fruition but under architect Decimus Burton the project blossomed. It did have a rival across town in Edward Cross's Surrey Zoological Gardens and the two organisations were always trying to outdo each other by the acquisition of the most interesting animals. Regent's Park had the first big success with the acquisition of Tommy the chimpanzee, who at one time lived at the house of his keeper and later died, causing much sorrow in zoological circles. And it was the responsibility of Charles Spooner to attend to the medical needs of the animals, a none too easy task but he spent four years attending them before he was dismissed with a month's salary and a gratuity of £200. A medical superintendent Mr Youatt took over in his place. As the bird population and accommodation was developed, John Gould became the main mover and shaker in the ornithological department while gifts from overseas enhanced the general collection as the Earl of Derby's presidency ensured that dignitaries abroad were regularly sending or exchanging animal gifts with the gardens. Giraffes, who were walked through London from the docks to their residency, orangutans, the first hippopotamus ever seen in Britain and many other exotic and exciting animals enhanced the reputation of the gardens. Much of the arrangements for these acquisitions were dealt with by Derby from his home as Knowsley Park. All this activity took place with the backdrop of Charles Darwin's origins of species theory being analysed and discussed and Isobel Charman works in the background to that with the overall development of the zoo, as it became to be known, quite successfully. The detailed history and plenty of anecdotes, some real some imagined but still engrossing, all give 'The Zoo' a feeling of authenticity as we switch between animals and humans of which there is a wide variety of both.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    This is either a three or a four, depending on how much you love learning about the first zoo in the world. Or rather, how much you love learning about what Lord someone said to Lord someone else, as they tried to found the first zoo. Yes, it started out quite slowly, but after the first chapter, it started to move on to more interesting things, such as the first veterinarian, and how Edward Lear and Charles Darwin became involved in the zoo. It is a sad book, at times, as we see animal after ani This is either a three or a four, depending on how much you love learning about the first zoo in the world. Or rather, how much you love learning about what Lord someone said to Lord someone else, as they tried to found the first zoo. Yes, it started out quite slowly, but after the first chapter, it started to move on to more interesting things, such as the first veterinarian, and how Edward Lear and Charles Darwin became involved in the zoo. It is a sad book, at times, as we see animal after animal die from the air pollution of London, as well as the cold. The visitors liked to poke at the bears, and feed the animals with sticky buns. And then, of course, the animals dying all over the place. It is sort of hard, so may years later, to realize that they were doing this all by the seat of their pants, it was all such a new concept. I have been to the London Zoo, though it is not the same as it was in Victorian times. In fact, going there, I have my favorite overheard quote: A man and his toddler child are walking, and the child stops to look at some pigeons. "Pigeons?" the father shouts, "we didn't come here to look at no pigeons." So, if you want to find out more than you ever though you possibly could about the London Zoo, then this is the place for you. If you have a mild curiosity, and no more, you will find that although there are some interesting bits, you might finding yourself saying "who cares", far too often. Thanks to Netgalley for making this book available for an honest review.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    Reader, I skimmed this book. Isobel Charman’s The Zoo: The Wild and Wonderful Tale of the Founding of London Zoo, 1826-1851 is the kind of historical writing that I loathe, unfortunately. While Charman did her homework by digging through the archives of the Zoological Society of London, she writes this history as though it’s a novel, full of little vignettes of city life and the thoughts and emotions of the men who created London Zoo. The Zoo’s history is, on its own, interesting enough to susta Reader, I skimmed this book. Isobel Charman’s The Zoo: The Wild and Wonderful Tale of the Founding of London Zoo, 1826-1851 is the kind of historical writing that I loathe, unfortunately. While Charman did her homework by digging through the archives of the Zoological Society of London, she writes this history as though it’s a novel, full of little vignettes of city life and the thoughts and emotions of the men who created London Zoo. The Zoo’s history is, on its own, interesting enough to sustain my interest. That’s what I wanted. So I skimmed to get the historical details and ignored what I saw as filler... Read the rest of my review at A Bookish Type. I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley for review consideration.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    Charman does a wonderful job in describing the beginnings of the London Zoo. Each chapter highlights a different time period and a individual or individuals who were involved with the zoo during that time period including, a zoo keeper, a founder, gardener and an animal doctor. Even Charles Darwin gets a chapter for he was a corresponding member of the zoo and used the resources of the zoo in his work and research. I think I was most shocked at the deaths of a lot of the animals that came to liv Charman does a wonderful job in describing the beginnings of the London Zoo. Each chapter highlights a different time period and a individual or individuals who were involved with the zoo during that time period including, a zoo keeper, a founder, gardener and an animal doctor. Even Charles Darwin gets a chapter for he was a corresponding member of the zoo and used the resources of the zoo in his work and research. I think I was most shocked at the deaths of a lot of the animals that came to live in the zoo and how the zoo personal tried everything they could think of to prevent the loss of the exotic animals.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nicky

    Reviewed for The Bibliophibian. The cover promises the “wild and wonderful” tale of the founding of the London Zoo, but it isn’t really very wild, though you might decide it’s still wonderful in its way. It certainly was a heck of a task, and the fact that the London Zoo still exists is amazing considering some of the difficulties they had. The style is rather fictionalised — mentioning exactly what Charman imagines the protagonists of the story think and feel — and it doesn’t always stick very c Reviewed for The Bibliophibian. The cover promises the “wild and wonderful” tale of the founding of the London Zoo, but it isn’t really very wild, though you might decide it’s still wonderful in its way. It certainly was a heck of a task, and the fact that the London Zoo still exists is amazing considering some of the difficulties they had. The style is rather fictionalised — mentioning exactly what Charman imagines the protagonists of the story think and feel — and it doesn’t always stick very closely to the founding of the zoo itself. For example, there’s a whole chapter on Darwin, at least as long as the others, and yet of all of them he has almost nothing to do with the actual business of the zoo. It’s not all about the zoo, then, but the story it tells is an interesting one, and I did enjoy the stories of men that might have been left out of the story in another time — the first vet, the keepers, etc. The people who did the day to day work on the ground, not just the people who designed the buildings or paid for things. A little slow, really; it was a bit too fictional to give me the sort of details I want in my non-fiction, but too dry for my tastes as a work of fiction.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Steef

    I enjoyed reading this book, although I do have mixed feelings about the effectiveness of mixing historical facts with a fleshed out novelisation of occurrences presumably found in correspondence and other sources. I think it only works occasionally here. My biggest qualm with this book is about the chapter on Darwin, which seems like an attempt by the author to shoehorn a famous person into the story. But I felt like that had nothing to do with the origins of the London Zoo, or only casually at I enjoyed reading this book, although I do have mixed feelings about the effectiveness of mixing historical facts with a fleshed out novelisation of occurrences presumably found in correspondence and other sources. I think it only works occasionally here. My biggest qualm with this book is about the chapter on Darwin, which seems like an attempt by the author to shoehorn a famous person into the story. But I felt like that had nothing to do with the origins of the London Zoo, or only casually at most. Besides, his story has been told many times before. Still, I did enjoy reading it, most of the time.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    I throughly enjoyed this book and so it’s really 4.5 stars. I liked the way each chapter was from a different person who had been involved with the zoo in some way over its peaks and troughs over those early years of its life. There is some sad points to the book in regards how by any means necessary to make it a success but it if we don’t sometimes push the boundaries things that have now become better would not happen. I know some feel zoos are unnecessary and might take from this book an even I throughly enjoyed this book and so it’s really 4.5 stars. I liked the way each chapter was from a different person who had been involved with the zoo in some way over its peaks and troughs over those early years of its life. There is some sad points to the book in regards how by any means necessary to make it a success but it if we don’t sometimes push the boundaries things that have now become better would not happen. I know some feel zoos are unnecessary and might take from this book an even bigger stick to beat that drum with but I think that’s missing the point. The zoo in its origin was for scientific purposes but as we move now into the ever change habitats we live in some of those animals for whatever reason wouldn’t exist if we didn’t have conservation and I think there are some really good zoos and parks that do this really well. This book is definitely worth the read the only thing I wished had been included was some of the pictures and articles the author refers to in the historical section at the end of her book on how she came to her sources of information as I think this would’ve added just a little more depth.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Freya

    Review to come :)

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rena Sherwood

    You think that at my age (48) I would stay away from any book that has a subtitle that goes something like, "The Wild and Wonderful Tale of ..." because the resulting book will be anything BUT wild and wonderful. And yet, idiot that I am, I read this anyway. The second warning sign that I ignored was that the chapters were devoted to PEOPLE and not animals. This is supposed to be the story of a zoo. I want to read about ANIMALS. If I wanted to read about people, I'd pick up some other book. The t You think that at my age (48) I would stay away from any book that has a subtitle that goes something like, "The Wild and Wonderful Tale of ..." because the resulting book will be anything BUT wild and wonderful. And yet, idiot that I am, I read this anyway. The second warning sign that I ignored was that the chapters were devoted to PEOPLE and not animals. This is supposed to be the story of a zoo. I want to read about ANIMALS. If I wanted to read about people, I'd pick up some other book. The third warning that I ignored was the first sentence, "They couldn't save the animals." And the book went on to mostly chronicle dead and dying beasts. There's also long sections on animal dissection. Isobel Charman never reveals why these animals died. Kangaroos commit suicide, others develop diseased lungs -- why? Your guess is as good as anyone's. There are occasionally some interesting bits (like the time a rhino got loose) but mostly this is a nightmare of dead and dying animals, one after the other. The Notes shows all of the places where the author did research. She sure did a lot. I wonder why hardly any of it made it into the book. She also reveals that she made conjectures about certain events and personalities. I think that's called "fiction".

  13. 5 out of 5

    Adam Stevenson

    If this book were an animal, it would be a duck-billed-platypus. When the first (stuffed) specimen was brought to Britain, some people thought it was a hoax - a strange, unlikely creature created from parts of different animals and botched together. Yet, the duck-billed-platypus works in its environment and I guess this book does too. It tells the story of The Zoological Society of London and of London Zoo through a group biography, each one focused on a slightly later date than the others. Thes If this book were an animal, it would be a duck-billed-platypus. When the first (stuffed) specimen was brought to Britain, some people thought it was a hoax - a strange, unlikely creature created from parts of different animals and botched together. Yet, the duck-billed-platypus works in its environment and I guess this book does too. It tells the story of The Zoological Society of London and of London Zoo through a group biography, each one focused on a slightly later date than the others. These include; Charles Darwin, a corresponding member whose experiences with the society shaped his theories; Stamford Raffles, the first president; Decimus Buton, the architect, John Gould, a taxidermist and ornithologist, as well as the first head-keeper and medical attendant. I thought the subjects were really well chosen, highlighted different aspects of the early zoo and built very well on each other. I also liked how the chapters segued into each other - one chapter ends with the society needing an architect, the next chapter was about the architect - things like that. However, the strange element of the book, and the one that had me comparing it to a platypus, is the style in which it is written. Each biography is written like a little short story, taking us into the head of the subject and giving fictional details. For example, in the Decimus Burton chapter, the reader learns of his preferred speed of walk, and we have a scene with a monkey trying to steal his hat. If anything, the book reminded me of those documentaries where actors ‘enact’ the history with some narration or talking heads around it. The book thus landed in a strange place where the style was too full of the obviously invented to feel like a reliable history, and too tied to history to be an engaging novel. This is not helped by the chapter notes. This would seem to be the place to attribute all the facts of the chapter and re-enforce their accuracy but in these, the author admits to making things up. People’s relationships (even some rivalries that shape the narrative) are admitted to being things that ‘felt right’. The scene with the monkey stealing Burton’s hat was inspired by the fact there was a hat stealing monkey but there’s no evidence the two of them ever met. So in the end, I feel I read a history book which was more authorial impression than anything else. On the flip side, the research often drags the fiction writing in the book down. Because the most solid records of the time are lists of animals being kept, bought, stuffed or collected - many of the chapters were weighed down by huge lists of animal names. Gould, the head taxidermist, kept a notebook where he recorded his process, so his story is interrupted by interminable lists of animals he is stuffing. Yet - despite all that, I found myself getting engaged and I began to read the book almost as a mystery novel. When a zoo has one part time vet without a surgery, yet a whole team of taxidermists, you know they aren’t expecting the animals to thrive. This is a book full of animal death. Kangaroos grow brain tumours and throw themselves at fences, almost all the big carnivores get lung disease, chimpanzees and orang-utans which have crossed continents in cramped ships find themselves wasting away within months of settling into London. The mystery to me was, why do they animals keep dying and what improvements did they make to stop them? Unfortunately, although this was a running theme throughout the book, it wasn’t followed up. I presume the air quality, poor exercise and inappropriate diets did for the animals, not to mention a nice, wet, English winter. The theme that was most followed was one of class. The entry policy of the zoo which hampered its success by being unavailable to the working classes, the way men like Gould could climb social hierarchy through zoology and (often vague) mentions of the Chartists all pointed to this. Not completely sure what it was saying about it though. Once I meshed with the weird choices this book made, I began to quite enjoy it but I would still have preferred either a novel about the Zoo, or a history - not this odd mashup.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Reilly

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This book is set in London in the early 1800s and advocates the significance of using animals for scientific study rather than for pleasure. Charman received her university degree in history and is an award-winning factual documentary producer. In writing, Charman utilized the extensive archives of the London Zoo that have rarely been investigated. The book follows the points of view of seven different people involved with the London Zoo, one for each chapter. First was Stamford Raffles, whose s This book is set in London in the early 1800s and advocates the significance of using animals for scientific study rather than for pleasure. Charman received her university degree in history and is an award-winning factual documentary producer. In writing, Charman utilized the extensive archives of the London Zoo that have rarely been investigated. The book follows the points of view of seven different people involved with the London Zoo, one for each chapter. First was Stamford Raffles, whose section described the struggle of founding the zoo. Then Decimus Burton, who designed the architecture, Charles Spooner, the first veterinarian, John Gould, a taxidermist, Devereux Fuller, the head zookeeper in the 1830s, Charles Darwin, and the 13th Earl of Derby. Charman seems to specialize in this writing style as her other book, The Great War: The People’s Story. Each chapter explains their experiences in depth in a narrative style that makes the book seem more like historical fiction than nonfiction and raises the question of whether or not all of this information is completely credible. For instance, in the first part, Charman goes in-depth about the personal feelings of both Raffles and his wife. Unless the two kept diaries that she had access to, while reading it seems as though most of this information is fictional because none of these sources are referenced. Overall, the book asserted through the perspective of the narrators that animals should be used for scientific research in a culture that believed animals should be used for entertainment. This was built by describing a type of circus in London in which an elephant was killed, and hundreds of Londoners flocked to watch it killed and scrambled to take some meat home. Then, while the zoo was being built, a newspaper headline compared it to the circus, and Raffles, the narrator at that point, was determined to prove them wrong. In this way, Charman used narration as a tool to build the theme she was asserting. The narrative writing style was very helpful in building the exploratory nature of the zoo. Right off the bat, Charman included stories about animals dying because of a fire on a boat and inadequate accommodations in the zoo, allowing the people whose perspectives were being described to overcome these challenges. Since this was the first scientific zoo of this type in London, many such challenges were overcome by the different characters. In the veterinarian’s and taxidermist’s sections, the zoo learned that cakes from concession stalls weren’t the correct food to feed animals because many died. They found that constant prodding of the animals with canes and parasols made the animals angry. Many animals were killed accidentally when treated with human doses of human medicines like chamomile and laudanum. The use of Charles Darwin’s narration in this book seemed unnecessary, like the author was attempting to engage the reader by including a familiar name. Although the section did connect the book to a wider context outside of mid-1800s London, the only main significance from that section was that Darwin used to zoo for work and research. To be completely honest, this book is reminiscent of a children’s book with no pictures and a lot more words. A purely factual book about the London Zoo would have achieved the same purpose in much fewer words. While reading, I found myself skimming for factual parts, then realizing that all of the important parts to understanding the writing style were in the narration parts and having to go back to re-read. Because of this, it took much longer to get through the book than it should have. Although the book is beautifully written with all of the personal vignettes of Dickensian London, and the mixture of perspectives from Dukes and Earls to scientists to groundskeepers of the zoo, the book’s purpose was a bit blurred with the choice of writing style.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Alex Howard

    I think I understand what the author was trying to do with this book, to try and put some empathy into the main players involved in the founding of London Zoo. But the problem with this as a way of retelling real events is that too much of the story is concerned with wondering and imagining what a particular person was thinking or feeling at any given moment. The problem with having a non-fiction story that weaves fact with what 'probably happened' means that you spend the whole read wondering w I think I understand what the author was trying to do with this book, to try and put some empathy into the main players involved in the founding of London Zoo. But the problem with this as a way of retelling real events is that too much of the story is concerned with wondering and imagining what a particular person was thinking or feeling at any given moment. The problem with having a non-fiction story that weaves fact with what 'probably happened' means that you spend the whole read wondering what is true and what the author made up. Also I have a problem with just a retelling of a story like the founding of London Zoo, which was both ambitious and important, but also dark and upsetting, just through the lens of the people who were around at the time and not in any wider context of how zoos have improved since then. A lot of animals died in the name of science and showing off exotic animals, and it feels very strange to not mention explicitly the mistakes that were being made. For example, at one point there's a mention of feeding the big cats milk to try and improve their health. I feel like this would be a good moment to mention that adult animals (except some humans) can't digest lactose? This is when it becomes very obvious that the book was not written by someone involved in Zoology, and I think it suffers for that. In addition to this, there are also several times where the story deviates quite widely from any actual important events at the zoo. The most egregious of this is the chapter about Darwin, which basically amounts to 'Darwin went to the zoo and saw some orangutans'. It felt very pointless. All in all it's not like this was a bad book, just left me feeling frustrated because this is a subject I am very interested in. 3 stars because I did learn some new things about the Zoo's founding, and the bibliography will be a useful way to continue reading about this story. In the end, it was the writing style that let this book down.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    I liked the approach that led me into the history that felt like I was reading a novel. It was exciting that the founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, had the idea to create a Zoo for England that would improve on the one in France. He had begun collecting specimens to be brought back from his stint working for the East India Company but they burned aboard ship and he had to begin again. Like any start-up now, he had to interest rich people who would be ardent Zoological amateurs or professionals in gi I liked the approach that led me into the history that felt like I was reading a novel. It was exciting that the founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, had the idea to create a Zoo for England that would improve on the one in France. He had begun collecting specimens to be brought back from his stint working for the East India Company but they burned aboard ship and he had to begin again. Like any start-up now, he had to interest rich people who would be ardent Zoological amateurs or professionals in giving money, find a place to keep the animals, hire an architect to build buildings to house the animals, talk the authorities into letting him go ahead with project, then hire keepers and fledgling veternarians and finally, generate sufficient income to feed the animals and pay the help. No wonder he, who had been in bad health died early in life. The story continues with those who think a museum of stuffed birds and animals would make easier study than live ones. So many died from not understanding that their original habitat had to be replicated to keep them in good health. I did skip the segment about Darwin's travels because I have read of them elsewhere, but I do recommend trying the first third of the book.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn Thomas

    Ms. Charman takes the unusual approach of writing about the founding of the London zoo from the perspective of various people connected with it, from Sir Stamford Raffles (1824 - 1826) whose vision it was to create London's very own "Jardin des Plantes" like the one in Paris, a place where animals could be observed and studied and not just enjoyed by the rich, to the Earl of Derby, President of the Zoological Society of London from 1847 - 1851. In between are chapters on: architect; medical atten Ms. Charman takes the unusual approach of writing about the founding of the London zoo from the perspective of various people connected with it, from Sir Stamford Raffles (1824 - 1826) whose vision it was to create London's very own "Jardin des Plantes" like the one in Paris, a place where animals could be observed and studied and not just enjoyed by the rich, to the Earl of Derby, President of the Zoological Society of London from 1847 - 1851. In between are chapters on: architect; medical attendant (my personal favorite); animal preserver; head keeper; "corresponding member" - Charles Darwin, a chapter I found long and tedious. It's actually a very sad story because no-one had any idea how to care for the exotic animals entrusted to the society and large numbers of them died, not just in captivity but in misery. The time period has been thoroughly researched using sources such as newspaper articles, weather reports, personal correspondence and diaries, but in order to recreate atmosphere and emotions Ms. Charman has also imagined scenarios, thoughts and reactions. The overall result is interesting, if a little dry.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jenn Morgans

    As a warning: I wouldn’t read this if you really LOVE animals - as is typical for the first half of the 19th century, there’s a lot of mistreatment of them, and even when they have the best of intentions, the keepers have no idea how to look after them, and so many animals die, many of them in tragic, easily preventable ways. Charman’s way of approaching this subject - by writing seven chapters, each from an almost novelised perspective of people important to the zoological society - has been co As a warning: I wouldn’t read this if you really LOVE animals - as is typical for the first half of the 19th century, there’s a lot of mistreatment of them, and even when they have the best of intentions, the keepers have no idea how to look after them, and so many animals die, many of them in tragic, easily preventable ways. Charman’s way of approaching this subject - by writing seven chapters, each from an almost novelised perspective of people important to the zoological society - has been contentious, and there were places where the necessary delivery of exposition was awkward and a little clumsy. But I will also say that I wasn’t completely sure if I was going to be interested in this subject or would want to read the whole book, and I’ve ended up being completely sucked in, and chewed through it in a few days. It’s left me with some unanswered questions and a probably skewed perspective of some historical scientific figures, but overall I really enjoyed reading it and would definitely recommend it.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Fran Johnson

    The London Zoo is the first of its kind. Before its founding only very wealthy people, Kings, Queens, and aristocrats had private collections of animals and beautiful but private gardens. Nothing was available to the general public. It was a time of change when Sir Stamford Raffles charged diplomats, scientists, aristocratic lovers of nature to seek out and bring collections of animals together in a place where all could enjoy them. However, admittance for the general public was still limited to The London Zoo is the first of its kind. Before its founding only very wealthy people, Kings, Queens, and aristocrats had private collections of animals and beautiful but private gardens. Nothing was available to the general public. It was a time of change when Sir Stamford Raffles charged diplomats, scientists, aristocratic lovers of nature to seek out and bring collections of animals together in a place where all could enjoy them. However, admittance for the general public was still limited to certain days. Located in the dirty, smog filled city of London, it was an oasis of beauty and wonder. So much had to be learned by these pioneers. How do you keep wild animals who have never survived in cold climates alive, in a total alien climate? What do you feed them? How do you display them to keep both the public safe from them and them safe from the public? A dazzling group of people and animals, ranging from Queen Victoria and Charles Darwin, to animals never seen before such as a celebrity hippo, made up the history of this endeavor.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Georgy Wilband

    I enjoyed reading what are basically mini biographies of the people involved in the first few years of the London Zoo. It made me want to know more about the people themselves and about the Zoo. An 'industry' which I have worked in and have my own personal experiences of what it is like to work in a zoo (all be it a rather small one). At it's depths is the fundamental idea that the London Zoological Society was set up to educate and inform and NOT as entertainment. Although without the draw of t I enjoyed reading what are basically mini biographies of the people involved in the first few years of the London Zoo. It made me want to know more about the people themselves and about the Zoo. An 'industry' which I have worked in and have my own personal experiences of what it is like to work in a zoo (all be it a rather small one). At it's depths is the fundamental idea that the London Zoological Society was set up to educate and inform and NOT as entertainment. Although without the draw of the unusual and the bizarre ironically it would not have survived. Charman has a lovely writing style although I am informed that at the Hay festival last year her session on her book was rather boring and she did not have much enthusiasm. I am glad I was not there to be put off. A must read for anyone interested in London Zoo and the History of Conservation and Zoology.

  21. 5 out of 5

    John Newcomb

    I really enjoyed this book. Seven very different people, all involved in the founding and development of London Zoo, are considered in a semi fictional account but intricately researched consideration of this unmatched institution. You have famous figures like Sir Stamford Raffles ( the founder), Decimus Burton (the architect) and Charles Darwin (the scientist) along side the head keeper with his alcohol problems, an animal doctor (before vets were a thing) and a skin preserver (whose work is st I really enjoyed this book. Seven very different people, all involved in the founding and development of London Zoo, are considered in a semi fictional account but intricately researched consideration of this unmatched institution. You have famous figures like Sir Stamford Raffles ( the founder), Decimus Burton (the architect) and Charles Darwin (the scientist) along side the head keeper with his alcohol problems, an animal doctor (before vets were a thing) and a skin preserver (whose work is still on show in the Natural History Museum). Finally we explore The Earl of Stanley, the aristocratic president and Naturalist whose legacy to the nation is the zoo we have today. It is a wonderful insight to Victorian science, art and life. Highly recommended.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lydia

    A very interesting account of the early days of London Zoo. As an animal lover, I found there were more sad stories than happy ones; but it's interesting to see how attitudes towards animals have changed over the years. Despite its initial difficulties however, I find myself more in favour of the zoo than before. I'm not an anti-zoo person anyway but this is a tale of real effort to observe and learn about animals rather than simply entrap them for human pleasure. The fact that, to this day, the A very interesting account of the early days of London Zoo. As an animal lover, I found there were more sad stories than happy ones; but it's interesting to see how attitudes towards animals have changed over the years. Despite its initial difficulties however, I find myself more in favour of the zoo than before. I'm not an anti-zoo person anyway but this is a tale of real effort to observe and learn about animals rather than simply entrap them for human pleasure. The fact that, to this day, the gardens remain a place for scientific study and the advancement of animal welfare is a testament to the fact that zoos can be a force for good. I liked this book and its on a topic I had no prior knowledge about. Very informative, factual and piques your interest to read more.

  23. 5 out of 5

    James Butcher

    The Zoo is a well written and researched book, following the formative years of the Zoological Society of London and its collection in Regents Park, now known as London Zoo. Charman cleverly writes each chapter from a different character's perspective, including that of the great Charles Darwin. The narrative follows the ups and downs of the collection, facing difficulties of illness, fatalities and shipping animals across the globe. The novel is excellently researched with Charman accessing a w The Zoo is a well written and researched book, following the formative years of the Zoological Society of London and its collection in Regents Park, now known as London Zoo. Charman cleverly writes each chapter from a different character's perspective, including that of the great Charles Darwin. The narrative follows the ups and downs of the collection, facing difficulties of illness, fatalities and shipping animals across the globe. The novel is excellently researched with Charman accessing a wide range of sources. The author has made every attempt to portray the era truthly, including the limited scientific knowledge of the time and the many discoveries that soon followed. My only criticism would be that in certain chapters it does slightly lose the story of the zoo and stray off on other plots, such as Darwin's own theories. The story is definitely a roller coaster, I would love to see the author write more on the following eras of the zoo.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jennybeast

    Very enjoyable story of the founding of the London Zoo, told through mini-biographies of many of its founders. The book flows right along, with fascinating (and frequently appalling) detail -- very well written, very well researched, with a believable presentation of some interesting people. It's a hard read -- I think that zoos perform a critical part in the chain of conservation, but when you're taking a look at the behavior of early naturalists, the loss of life they casually deemed acceptabl Very enjoyable story of the founding of the London Zoo, told through mini-biographies of many of its founders. The book flows right along, with fascinating (and frequently appalling) detail -- very well written, very well researched, with a believable presentation of some interesting people. It's a hard read -- I think that zoos perform a critical part in the chain of conservation, but when you're taking a look at the behavior of early naturalists, the loss of life they casually deemed acceptable was truly astounding. Not surprising, perhaps, and paving the way for better and more humane things, but still a potent reminder of the callousness of our species.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Clayton

    The history of the London Zoo has some intriguing elements to it, but this novel fails to inspire excitement. Sectioning the timeline into individual characters allows for a focus on little-known names, but it also detracted from a cohesive narrative with payoff. For example, Darwin’s story fades away, as does the mystery of why the big cats keep dying. If one wants to understand sentence fragments, there are plenty to study here. Odd switches between verb tense also kept drawing me out of the n The history of the London Zoo has some intriguing elements to it, but this novel fails to inspire excitement. Sectioning the timeline into individual characters allows for a focus on little-known names, but it also detracted from a cohesive narrative with payoff. For example, Darwin’s story fades away, as does the mystery of why the big cats keep dying. If one wants to understand sentence fragments, there are plenty to study here. Odd switches between verb tense also kept drawing me out of the narrative. The level of research and history present moves this up for me, as I did learn something, but it was somewhat of a chore to work through.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Margo Kaestner

    The story of the birth and early years of the London Zoo, started by the Zoological Society of London, walks the reader through the multiple perspectives of impactful intellects who played a role in developing this menagerie. The reader receives insight from Charles Spooner (the Zoo/s first vet), Charles Darwin, Burton (whose architecture built the infrastructure of the Zoo), the zoo's first head keeper, Earl of Derby who led the society as its president and ultimately secured a hippopotamus to The story of the birth and early years of the London Zoo, started by the Zoological Society of London, walks the reader through the multiple perspectives of impactful intellects who played a role in developing this menagerie. The reader receives insight from Charles Spooner (the Zoo/s first vet), Charles Darwin, Burton (whose architecture built the infrastructure of the Zoo), the zoo's first head keeper, Earl of Derby who led the society as its president and ultimately secured a hippopotamus to revive the zoo. Insightful reading on how naturalists strived to bring the wonders of the animal world to the heart of society in 19th century London.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Colleen

    an early history of the London zoo, which focuses on the various people who " built " it. There is the architect, the veterinarian, the zookeeper, the animal preservers and illustrators and many more. This is a very hard book for an animal lover to read. The author does not sugarcoat anything. These people knew very little about the animals they were trying to collect and display and it is brutal. Still, they were trying to move from a menagerie mentality to a focus on science , education and e an early history of the London zoo, which focuses on the various people who " built " it. There is the architect, the veterinarian, the zookeeper, the animal preservers and illustrators and many more. This is a very hard book for an animal lover to read. The author does not sugarcoat anything. These people knew very little about the animals they were trying to collect and display and it is brutal. Still, they were trying to move from a menagerie mentality to a focus on science , education and even, ultimately conservation. Particularly enjoyed the Darwin and Edward Lear mentions

  28. 5 out of 5

    Cat

    Well researched and interesting book about the beginning of the modern zoos. I have not been a fan of zoo since I was about 4 or 5. I remember the sad, bored animals cooped up in small enclosures behind bars. They really hadn't changed much over the century at that point. Tho' I hear they have improved through the years, I guess, but not nearly enough for me to visit... And their new function in helping species survive, I'm not sure I buy it yet.... Zoo's just break my heart. Well researched and interesting book about the beginning of the modern zoos. I have not been a fan of zoo since I was about 4 or 5. I remember the sad, bored animals cooped up in small enclosures behind bars. They really hadn't changed much over the century at that point. Tho' I hear they have improved through the years, I guess, but not nearly enough for me to visit... And their new function in helping species survive, I'm not sure I buy it yet.... Zoo's just break my heart.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Phoebe

    I like the way this was written and the different identities and their stories. However it made me so sad to hear about the hundreds of animal deaths. I understand especially at that time man's curiosity and also complete ignorance to the needs of wild animals and I know the world learnt a lot from this organisation, it was just not nice hearing about the visitors behaviour and the greed. I thought this would be a positive and inspiring story but it made me a little depressed. I like the way this was written and the different identities and their stories. However it made me so sad to hear about the hundreds of animal deaths. I understand especially at that time man's curiosity and also complete ignorance to the needs of wild animals and I know the world learnt a lot from this organisation, it was just not nice hearing about the visitors behaviour and the greed. I thought this would be a positive and inspiring story but it made me a little depressed.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jo Bullen

    This wasn't quite what I expected, being several short stories covering a range of different people involved in the early set up of London Zoo. It was interesting for the most part, though the writing style was odd in places, and it would have benefited enormously from some illustrations of the architecture, layout in London, etc. I do want to find out more about the Zoo now from a more rigorous source. This wasn't quite what I expected, being several short stories covering a range of different people involved in the early set up of London Zoo. It was interesting for the most part, though the writing style was odd in places, and it would have benefited enormously from some illustrations of the architecture, layout in London, etc. I do want to find out more about the Zoo now from a more rigorous source.

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