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Behemoth: The History of the Elephant in America

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In the two hundred years since their arrival in America, elephants have worked on farms, mills, mines, and railroads, in Hollywood, and in professional baseball. They've contributed to the national discourse on civil rights, immigration, politics, and capitalism. They became so deeply ingrained in the American way that they were once accorded the rights of American citizenship, including the right to vote and the right to provide testimony under oath—and they have incurred ...

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Behemoth: The History of the Elephant in America

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In the two hundred years since their arrival in America, elephants have worked on farms, mills, mines, and railroads, in Hollywood, and in professional baseball. They've contributed to the national discourse on civil rights, immigration, politics, and capitalism. They became so deeply ingrained in the American way that they were once accorded the rights of American citizenship, including the right to vote and the right to provide testimony under oath—and they have incurred brutal punishments when convicted of human crimes.

In Behemoth, Ronald B. Tobias has written the first comprehensive history of the elephant in America. As tragic as it is comic, this enthralling chronicle traces this animal's indelible footprint on American culture.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

On April 13th, 1796, a frightened two-year-old female elephant lumbered down the plank in New York harbor, thus beginning the eventful history of her species in America. As Robert Tobias tells it, that behemoth story reveals as much about ourselves as it does about mighty pachyderms. He shows that our national interest in oddities extended even elephants to include "educated dogs, industrious fleas, automatons, jugglers, ventriloquists, living statuary, tableaux, gypsies, albinos, fat boys, giants, dwarfs, [and] rope dancers." Behemoth is a large-sized story told well.

Publishers Weekly
Documentarian and professor of filmmaking Tobias traces the history of the captive elephant in the U.S. and its development as a symbol of a young rebellious nation. He includes examples of late-19th-century political cartoons by Thomas Nast that established the elephant as a symbol of the Republican Party, resulting in the 1911 race between an actual donkey and an elephant from New York to Washington, D.C., to represent the presidential race of Wilson vs. Taft. He tells the often-tragic stories of elephants in the glory days of the circus. Jumbo, procured from England by P.T. Barnum with much controversy, was killed by a train. Barnum then toured with Jumbo’s “widow” for two seasons before she perished in a fire. Topsy was famously electrocuted by Thomas Edison after a lifetime of abuse and mistreatment. And Big Mary, famous for “playing baseball,” was hanged by a railroad crane for killing her incompetent trainer. Finally, Tobias looks at the more recent treatment of elephants, at the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee and the Los Angeles Zoo. This book is a vital history lesson on the myriad ways elephants have permeated American culture, from Taft to Dumbo; readers should be advised, however, that it includes graphic depictions of animal cruelty. (Oct)
Marc Bekoff
Behemoth is a fitting title for this most welcomed book about elephants — huge, magnificent, and sentient beings with legendary memories — who have captured the hearts of innumerable people. Ronald Tobias’s book is a wonderful read, packed with detailed information about these iconic animals.”
David Hancocks
Behemoth reveals in devastating detail the 200-year history of the elephant in America. . . . Ronald Tobias’s meticulous research should encourage us to make the future for these animals a brighter, more respectful, and more caring episode.”
John Heminway
“Carefully researched and elegantly written, Ronald Tobias’s book brings shape and color to America’s longstanding tradition of hucksterism-this time, at the expense of the world’s largest land animal.”
Dr. Rob Atkinson
“In his unique book Behemoth, Ronald Tobias brilliantly weaves the story of captive elephants into the very fabric of America’s history, revealing the glory and the grief until the reader hangs his head and vows that they shall never again suffer as they have and, disturbingly, still do.”
Ed Stewart
Behemoth is an astounding collection of everything elephant in America: the most magnificent animals on earth against small, exploitive humans. The battle continues, and the elephants are losing.”
The Boston Globe
“A thoroughly entertaining history.”
Kirkus Reviews
A personable exploration of how the pachyderm has impacted America since its arrival in 1796. Former Discovery Channel producer and natural history filmmaker Tobias chronicles the history of the world's largest living land animal from its arrival on American shores when market trader Jacob Crowninshield commissioned a young female calf to be transported by sea from Calcutta to New York. Crowninshield greatly profited from the gargantuan animal's public exhibition and swift sale, as would a long line of others, including entrepreneur-turned–circus man Hachaliah Bailey and curiosity museum curator P.T. Barnum. Tobias highlights others who have benefitted, as well, including Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party, who began using elephants as its branding symbol since its formalization in 1874. The author also tracks the performance "careers" of monstrous circus elephants, like mid-1800 ringmasters Raymond and Waring's "Hannibal," who registered at nearly 12 feet tall and 15,000 pounds; Tusko, dubbed "the World's Meanest Elephant"; and Jumbo, Barnum's lucrative cash cow. The accidental (and rage-induced) trampling of handlers, trainers and spectators, the author observes, created a fearfulness that inevitably led to their historically cruel but responsibly necessary euthanasia. Still, audiences remained transfixed by the sheer heft of these animal oddities, as did farmers and collectors. In lighter chapters, Tobias taps the pachyderm's connection to Shakespeare, the birthing and mothering of their offspring, and he provides a compassionate piece dedicated to Hohenwald, Tennessee's Elephant Sanctuary, a humanitarian refuge for "old, sick, and abused elephants" where virtual visitors can enjoy and interact with the animals remotely via 14 mounted surveillance cameras. Intermittently fascinating, comprehensive reading on the giants of the big top and beyond.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062244857
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/8/2013
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 801,070
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Ronald B. Tobias is a professor of science and natural history filmmaking in the School of Film and Photography at Montana State University. He was a producer for the Discovery Channel for fifteen years and has produced, written, and directed more than thirty natural history films, many of which have appeared on the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 28, 2014

    'Behemoth' can be viewed almost as a complement to 'Topsy: The S

    'Behemoth' can be viewed almost as a complement to 'Topsy: The Startling Story of the Crooked Tailed Elephant, P.T. Barnum, and the American Wizard, Thomas Edison'.  If the latter illustrated the human ignorance and greed through the story of a single elephant, Mr. Tobias cast the net wider by introducing us to various elephants, whose encounters with early Americans usually didn't end well. Take the case of "Murderous Mary", whose torturous and agonizing hanging by crane provided entertainment for the hordes of people. It's also interesting how much people project their own perceptions and prejudices onto these poor animals. For example, Jumbo was tragically killed while trying to escape an oncoming train, but the papers portrayed it as a contest between machine and beast. The book ends with the present where people have become more aware, but it's clear that the fate of elephants hangs in precarious balance. I have a soft spot for elephants, and Mr. Tobias did a good job educating us about the suffering of these animals at the hands of people who neither understood nor had the inclination to learn about them. 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2014

    Thought this might be about the big ones found right in illinois

    We had one at dupge forest preserve by hinsdale as usual our dear AA has removed all doubt if this is what we would like to read h h is replaced and again saved by a in depth review

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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