Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer, the Evolution Debates, and the African Adventure that Took the Victorian World by Storm [NOOK Book]

Overview

In 1856, Paul Du Chaillu ventured into the African jungle in search of a mythic beast, the gorilla. After wild encounters with vicious cannibals, deadly snakes, and tribal kings, Du Chaillu emerged with 20 preserved gorilla skins—two of which were stuffed and brought on tour—and walked smack dab into the biggest scientific debate of the time: Darwin's theory of evolution. Quickly, Du Chaillu's trophies went from objects of wonder to key pieces in an all-out intellectual war. With a wide range of characters, ...

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Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer, the Evolution Debates, and the African Adventure that Took the Victorian World by Storm

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Overview

In 1856, Paul Du Chaillu ventured into the African jungle in search of a mythic beast, the gorilla. After wild encounters with vicious cannibals, deadly snakes, and tribal kings, Du Chaillu emerged with 20 preserved gorilla skins—two of which were stuffed and brought on tour—and walked smack dab into the biggest scientific debate of the time: Darwin's theory of evolution. Quickly, Du Chaillu's trophies went from objects of wonder to key pieces in an all-out intellectual war. With a wide range of characters, including Abraham Lincoln, Arthur Conan Doyle, P.T Barnum, Thackeray, and of course, Charles Darwin, this is a one of a kind book about a singular moment in history.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Explorer Paul Du Chaillu (1831?-1903) seemed inclined to remain obscure. To this day, the year and even the continent of his birth remain unknown. But even the dense equatorial wilderness of West Africa could not protect him from the fame and controversy that pursued him after he became enmeshed in merciless debates about the theory of evolution. His "discovery" of gorillas and pygmies brought him fame, but also ignominy. This groundbreaking biography by Washington Post journalist Monte Reel reveals some of the deepest secrets of this enigmatic man.

Library Journal
In 1856, explorer and amateur naturalist Paul du Chaillu undertook a treacherous expedition through West Africa, after which he brought back to England the first known specimens of the African gorilla ever seen there. Reel (The Last of the Tribe: The Epic Quest To Save a Lone Man in the Amazon) examines the colorful life and times of du Chaillu. He ably depicts how du Chaillu's hugely popular expedition chronicle, Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa, and his unnervingly humanlike preserved gorilla specimens ignited a storm of interest and controversy in the scientific circles of Victorian England. While Reel clearly admires his subject, he is also willing to address and evaluate du Chaillu's errors and exaggerations; he presents a balanced portrait of the enigmatic explorer, effectively combining du Chaillu's life story with related historical context on scientific debates about evolution. His detailed depiction of du Chaillu's detractors occasionally slows the narrative. Today's readers may find du Chaillu's penchant for killing gorillas repugnant, although he followed the standard scientific practice of the time. VERDICT Best suited to general readers interested in African exploration, gorillas, or the history of science in the Victorian age. They may also be interested in du Chaillu's original best seller, as well as Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, thought to be partially inspired by du Chaillu's adventures.—Ingrid Levin, Salve Regina Univ. Lib., Newport, RI
The New York Times Book Review - David Quammen
…intriguing…Reel's book is a busy one, dashing this way and that among a complicated aggregation of story lines, celebrity walk-ons, obscure but vivid eccentrics, cultural grotesqueries, big scientific ideas touched upon lightly and themes from the life of Du Chaillu himself. Although in the early chapters it seems a little scattered…once Du Chaillu and his poor stuffed apes have made their debut in London, it rattles along with fine, wacky momentum.
Publishers Weekly
Although he’s not well known today, Paul Du Chaillu was one of the Victorian era’s most famous explorers.He was the person who brought the gorilla to the attention of Europeans.In response to his fame, he was attacked mercilessly by competitors who claimed he was a fraud who fabricated his tales of African exploration.Reel (The Last of the Tribe) provides a robust intellectual history by embedding Du Chaillu’s story within the debate over evolution, the relationship among the human races, the rise of Christian fundamentalism, and the nasty backbiting that was common in the scientific arena of the time.He expertly probes the history of the enigmatic Du Chaillu, someone who purposefully shrouded his past from scrutiny, in large part, according to Reel, because his likely mixed race parentage would have scandalized upper-class British mores, destroyed his reputation, and turned him into an outcast. In Reel’s hands, Du Chaillu’s adventures in Africa, including his discovery of Pygmies and his part in a smallpox epidemic, were no less harrowing than his interactions with many of the world’s leading scientists and explorers. Agent: Larry Weissman, Larry Weismann Literary, LLC. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
“The gorilla’s very existence suggested—at just the time Charles Darwin was also suggesting—heretical ideas about the origin and nature of mankind. And the man chiefly responsible for bringing this animal to worldwide attention was Paul Du Chaillu, the central character and driving riddle of Monte Reel’s…tale of scientific buccaneering…Intriguing…Rattles along with fine, wacky momentum”
--The New York Times Book Review

"Engrossing....would go great with popcorn.....addresses big topics—evolution, abolition—but they remain in service of the narrative, providing context for colorful conflict."
--Wall Street Journal

"Using extensive historical research, Reel brings alive this expedition and a later one and describes what happened between the two journeys....sense of urgency compels the reader onward to find out what happened....Arresting"
--The Washington Post

"Gripping....Intellectually satisfying....Exciting"
--Salon 

"A lively and intriguing biography of the restless adventurer who first sees, studies and takes specimens of gorillas....thoroughly engrossing."
--Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Entertaining and provocative story of the life and adventures of explorer Paul Du Chaillu....[Reel] does a superb job of telling the engrossing story of Du Chaillu and tying it into the events and thoughts of the time, from the intense debate over racial differences in light of the theory of evolution to the habit of Abraham Lincoln’s political enemies of referring to him as a 'gorilla'....scrupulous in adhering to the facts....At the same time, it has the narrative flow and evocative language of a fine historical novel."
--St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"A supremely entertaining, enlightening and memorable read."
--Nature


"Reel paints each chapter of du Chaillu's life as a vivid scene worthy of the silver screen. They range in scope from the perilous adventures taking place within the jungles of Gabon to the equally tense academic battles waged by British high society. They are all rich with detail, dialogue and atmosphere thanks to the immense work Reel has put forth in researching du Chaillu's life. At times, the mind staggers to recall that this story is a work of nonfiction."
--San Antonio Express

"An admirable book for those who like epic tales of exploration.... Fascinating.... highlights once again the big issues that seem endlessly interesting to new generations of Americans, 'the evolution debate, racial discourse, the growth of Christian fundamentalism' in careful historical context and with a fine hand for thoughtful exposition."
--The Buffalo News

"Retelling his adventures opens a wonderful window, both magical and alarming, into what he [Paul Du Chaillu] saw and, ultimately, into who we are."
--The Free Lance-Star

"Reel provides a robust intellectual history by embedding Du Chaillu’s story within the debate over evolution, the relationship among the human races, the rise of Christian fundamentalism, and the nasty backbiting that was common in the scientific arena of the time. He expertly probes the history of the enigmatic Du Chaillu, someone who purposefully shrouded his past from scrutiny....In Reel’s hands, Du Chaillu’s adventures in Africa, including his discovery of Pygmies and his part in a smallpox epidemic, were no less harrowing than his interactions with many of the world’s leading scientists and explorers.”
--Publishers Weekly

"You’d half expect a Bela Lugosi mad scientist or a Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan to pop up in this Victorian-era drama, which travels from the London of Darwin and Dickens to unexplored Africa to Civil War-ravaged America."
--New York Post's Required Reading

"Before there was Jane Goodall, or even Tarzan and King Kong, the gorilla was a creature of mystery....Reel retraces his life and work with the spirit of curiosity and adventure that drove du Chaillu in the first place. What results is a celebration of accomplishments too far-reaching to be understood in their time."
--The Daily Beast

"Adventure, history, nature, big ideas—what more could you want?"
--Library Journal

"Fascinating....A lively footnote to the debate between science and religion and the exploration of the African jungle in the Victorian era."
--Kirkus Reviews

"Those unfamiliar with [Paul Du Chaillu] would do well to pick up a copy of Between Man and Beast, Monte Reel's new book about Du Chaillu's life and adventures in pursuit of this fierce creature... Although Du Chaillu's checkered life story is the bedrock of this book, Reel builds upon it fascinating sketches of England's leading intellectuals, explorers and freelance eccentrics of the day, detailing not only their personal achievements but their professional jealousies as well."
--Book Page 

“Monte Reel's BETWEEN MAN AND BEAST contains all the elements of an enthralling adventure story. But it is more than just a riveting tale; it is also a brilliant exploration of ideas that illuminate the very nature of humankind.”
--David Grann, New York Times bestselling author of THE LOST CITY OF Z and THE DEVIL AND SHERLOCK HOLMES

“From the moment explorer Paul du Chaillu had his first, fleeting glimpse of a gorilla, human understanding of this extraordinary animal began to change in a fundamental, irrevocable way. Reel tells du Chaillu’s story—a fascinating, wide-ranging tale that involves everyone from Charles Darwin to Thomas Huxley to even Abraham Lincoln—with a vividness that brings long forgotten events to startling life.”
 --Candice Millard, New York Times bestselling author of DESTINY OF THE REPUBLIC and THE RIVER OF DOUBT
 
"Between Man and Beast is a rip-snorting adventure story, shot through with intrigue and absorbing intellectual history. Monte Reel is a wonderful writer, and he makes an expert guide to Paul Du Chaillu's groundbreaking travels in the wilds of Africa and his equally treacherous journey through the scientific salons of 19th century London. By weaving Du Chaillu's pursuit of the gorilla with the debate over evolution, Reel has given us a true 'missing link' that connects exploration, science, and literature. Readers will embrace Du Chaillu and root for him every step of the way/"
-- Mitchell Zuckoff, New York Times bestselling author of LOST IN SHANGRI-LA

“Monte Reel has revived not only a lost world and a forgotten adventurer but a misunderstood monster.  While dissecting the complex motives of the first foreigner to set eyes on a gorilla—at the time believed to be humanity's closest relative—Reel plunges us into the vicious controversy his discovery unleashes in the urban jungle of London in the age of Darwin and Huxley.  In so doing, Reel has not only produced a page-turner filled with surprising details, connections and insights, but he has also forged the missing link between the perennially contentious Theory of Evolution and our equally durable fascination with King Kong.”
--John Vaillant, bestselling author of THE TIGER

"Part swashbuckling jungle story, part gaslit Victorian time capsule, Monte Reel's visceral, captivating book restores a forgotten hero to his rightful place in history."
--Benjamin Wallace, author of the New York Times Bestseller THE BILLIONAIRE'S VINEGAR

"Monte Reel’s BETWEEN MAN AND BEAST is a provocative, entertaining, and original adventure narrative."
- Laurence Bergreen, New York Times bestselling author of OVER THE EDGE OF THE WORLD and COLUMBUS: THE FOUR VOYAGES

Kirkus Reviews
Former Washington Post reporter Reel (The Last of the Tribe: The Epic Quest to Save a Lone Man in the Amazon, 2010) offers a fascinating sidelight on the perennial debate of man's origins. In the decade before the publication of Darwin's On the Origins of Species, evolution was already a hotly debated topic. The naturalist Richard Owen, a contemporary of Darwin, was considered the foremost British anatomist of his day. A proponent of the theory of evolution, Owen believed that the Creation was not a one-time event as reported in the Bible, but a continuous process. However, he opposed the notion that man was kin to primates. He compared the skulls of primates and humans, on display at the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in London, hoping to establish "taxonomical lines…between humans and apes." Reel weaves together the fierce contentions about the theory of evolution among leading Victorian scientists and the story of young African explorer Paul Du Chaillu. In 1852, Du Chaillu (an African claiming to be of French descent) was educated by American missionaries in Gabon. He subsequently traveled to America, where he obtained funding for an expedition to hunt African gorillas. When he returned to the U.S. with their preserved remains, the Civil War had begun and the financial support he expected was withdrawn. In 1861, after writing a book about his exploits, Owen invited him to London. There, his book was published and he became an overnight celebrity, for a time overshadowing Darwin in the popular imagination. Ultimately, Du Chaillu was accused of embellishing his account. A lively footnote to the debate between science and religion and the exploration of the African jungle in the Victorian era.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385534239
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/12/2013
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 296,228
  • File size: 6 MB

Meet the Author

Monte Reel is also the author of The Last of the Tribe. He has written articles and essays for the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s and Outside, and he is a former foreign correspondent for the Washington Post. He lives outside of Chicago with his wife and two daughters.
 

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Read an Excerpt

Prologue
He’d been hunting in the forest’s depths for months, but he’d never known such silence. No monkeys shook the leaves over-head, no birds cried, no insects droned. The only sounds seemed to come from within: the pulse throbbing in his temples and his own labored breathing.

The previous day the young man had hiked what he guessed was about eighteen miles before collapsing into sleep. But those trails hadn’t been nearly as challenging as this one—a muddy ribbon twisting up the forested mountainside, inset with loose boulders of granite and quartz. He was in good shape and just twenty-five years old, but each step took its toll. He fell behind his companions, whose bare feet gripped the slippery rocks better than did his leather boot soles. His blue cotton shirt and brown pants were streaked with mud.

Somewhere along the way—it was hard to tell exactly where it began—the gentlest of whispers broke through the enveloping hush. The higher he climbed, the louder it got: a breathy hiss that grew into a roar. Twisting through the overgrown vegetation, he found the other men standing on a broad, flat shelf of land. A scene like none he’d ever witnessed burst open in front of him: a vast pool of swirling water, fed by a majestic torrent that spilled down the angled slope for what looked like a mile. A mist rose from the tumult, obscuring everything in a gauzy veil: the swaying ferns, the logs slanting across the water, the trees ringing the banks. According to his calculations, they were about five thousand feet above sea level.

He paused to drink from the pool, but his rest was brief. A short distance uphill, one of his companions spotted footprints that didn’t belong to their own party. The feet that had impressed those marks into the mud were bare—but oddly round, with a big toe that seemed to jut away from the other four toes at a severe angle.
When he saw the prints for himself, the hunter felt his heart slam against his rib cage: this was the target he’d traveled so far to pursue, and it finally seemed within his reach.

Following the tracks, the men stumbled into what appeared to be an abandoned tribal village. Years earlier, the land had been cleared for huts that had since collapsed. Stray stalks of sugarcane pushed through the ruins. As the hunter broke off a stalk and sucked the grassy sweetness from its marrow, another of the men observed that some of the plants had recently been ravaged—violently torn up by the roots and mangled into pulp.
They looked at one another and grabbed the rifles they wore strapped across their backs.

More tracks led down a hill. The men carefully crossed a stream on a fallen log, and on the other side of the water they encountered a cluster of enormous granite boulders, some as big as small buildings. The tracks here were even fresher, filled with muddy water that hadn’t had time to settle.
The hunter circled to the right of the boulders, while a few of his companions walked to the left. He emerged from the granite blockade just in time to catch an obstructed view of four dark creatures fleeing rapidly into the dense cover of forest.

The figures disappeared as quickly as they had exploded into view. Running with their heads down and bodies bent forward, the woolly creatures appeared to him, he later noted, “like men running for their lives.”
Just minutes before, he might have sworn that the mountain torrent had been the most awe-inspiring sight he’d witnessed in his young life. But this blurred vision of bodies in motion—gone in the blink of an eye—blew it away. 
 
 

Chapter 1: Destiny
 Gabon, West Africa
(Ten years earlier)
 
 
Late in 1846,  near the end of the rainy season, a group of men reached the Atlantic coast of Africa after weeks of slogging through the waterlogged interior. They had followed no maps, because none existed for that broad swath of equatorial forest. As far as the outside world was concerned, they had emerged from terra incognita—a pure white void in the atlas of the world.

But these men had been exploring the territory all their lives. They were native African traders, and they regularly made long treks from their inland villages toward the largest coastal settlement in Gabon, drawn to the European merchant ships that occasionally dropped anchor to strike deals. On this day, in addition to shouldering the customary bundles of ebony and ivory, the traders carried something extraordinary: a scavenged totem of beguiling rarity.
The American missionary who lived on the bluff wouldn’t be able to resist its pull.

His name was John Leighton Wilson, a man of towering stature whose quick smile often got lost inside his fleecy white beard. He had come from South Carolina to the coast of equatorial Africa years before to save the souls of men, but a large part of his own soul had been captured by the wonders that surrounded him. He could spend hours marveling over the elaborate nests of driver ants, or measuring pythons, or trying to tame a porcupine scrabbling near the door of his hut. For all his preaching to the locals about the evils of black magic, false idols, and tribal superstitions, he’d always been vulnerable to the charms of the exotic. And when he spotted the tribesmen’s strange curio, he fell under its spell, offering to buy it on the spot.

It was a skull.

At first glance, that calcified mask seemed the product of a peculiarly demented artistry, a grotesquerie of sharp angles and shadowy apertures. When Wilson took it in his hand, it sat heavily, with none of the driftwood airiness of old sun-blanched bones. Its diameter easily exceeded that of a human skull, but there was a passing resemblance, and that’s what gave the skull its power to unnerve.

The jaw alone was colossal, framing a mouthful of teeth that seemed to bare themselves in a sinister smile. A quick count revealed thirty-two teeth, the same number as humans, but four of them boldly hijacked Wilson’s  attention:  the twinned  sets of upper and lower canines, the largest more than two inches long, curving like scimitars. Those fangs appeared worn, but from what he could only imagine.

From the mouth, the facial bones that stretched up toward the eyes sloped back at nearly a forty-five-degree angle, interrupted along the way by a gaping round nasal cavity. From under a menacing ridge of brow, two dark holes stared out where eyes were once socketed. The cranial dome itself was oddly flat, too small in comparison with the rest of the head, as if betraying a brute ignorance that only intensified the promise of danger. The fact that no flesh remained on the skull to provide a more complete picture of the unknown creature’s appearance made it no less intimidating: the absence of detail somehow accentuated its eccentricity, in the same way that the most vivid nightmares need darkness to make themselves seen.

The natives called it a njena.

Wilson, who for years had been compiling the first-ever diction-ary of the local dialect, was unable to translate the term. Whatever the creature was, no words existed for it in English, or in any other language.
 
Wilson  believed  in destiny. Everything and everyone had a place in this world—every grain of sand, the fish of the sea, the fowl of the air, all that creepeth. No matter how pathetic, desolate, abominable, or forlorn something might have seemed at first, its mere existence meant that it was an indispensable part of a divine plan. And God saw everything  that He had made, and, behold, it was very good.

His faith kept him rooted in West Africa, a place that most of the plantation owners he’d grown up with in South Carolina would have dismissed as an uninhabitable wasteland. In 1842, after a decade in Liberia, Wilson had established the first permanent Christian mission in Gabon. Other churches had staked claims all over Africa, but Gabon—straddling the equator, hanging on to the continent’s western edge—remained virtually untouched. European ships had been sailing past the coast for centuries, but the punishing ocean swells and rip currents near the shoreline scared most of them away. The few that risked disembarking never ventured far inland, because the terrain threw all manner of obstacles in front of would-be explorers. Beyond the narrow coastal plain, the land rose into green hills and then into rugged mountain peaks. The clouds that veiled the highlands dumped more than a hundred inches of rain on the lowland forests. The rivers were choked with mangroves. The mosquitoes were murder. The inland tribes were rumored connoisseurs of human flesh.

Wilson loved it. He built a six-room bamboo house on an airy bluff overlooking the estuary of the Gabon River. The place was called Baraka, a derivative of barracoon, the local word for “slave compound,” which is exactly what it had been until recently. Wilson hoped to cleanse the ground of its tainted history by doing the work of God. He believed he was fated to live in that very spot.

His wife, Jane, soon joined him. Together they established a Protestant school for the children of the Mpongwe, the ethnic group that populated the loose string of villages on the coast. He thrust himself into their language and their customs. He liked the natives, respecting their “pliancy of character” and what seemed to him a natural quickness of mind. According to Wilson’s reading of the Bible, these people were the “descendants of Ham,” a son of Noah, and they took a curse with them as they settled in northern Africa after the Great Flood. Whether or not they were cursed, he believed that their continued presence in that harsh landscape proved they were destined to fulfill an important role in history. Wilson tried to get a handle on his thoughts by grabbing a pen and paper:
 
 
That this people should have been preserved for so long a period in constantly increasing numbers, and that in the face of the most adverse influences, while other races, who were placed in circumstances much more favorable for the perpetuation of their
nationality, have passed away from the earth or dwindled down to
a mere handful, is one of the mysterious providences that admit of no rational explanation, unless it be that they have been preserved for some important future destiny.
 
Ever on the lookout for providence, Wilson one day in 1848 spot- ted a small group of Mpongwe tribesmen approaching his hut. They were accompanied by a diminutive  figure. He was a young man, a teenager. He looked like a waif who’d washed up on a mud bank somewhere upriver, which, according to the story the boy would tell, wasn’t too far from the truth. He had dumped his canoe, he said, and had staggered along the banks for four days before reaching Baraka. He was weak, hungry, and utterly pathetic, a shipwrecked soul in need of safe harbor.
His name was Paul Du Chaillu, and Wilson welcomed him with open arms. The missionary believed that the boy, like everyone else, had been born with a divine purpose. It was Wilson’s duty to help him discover it.

No one could have recognized it at the time, but when the seventeen-year-old crossed the  threshold of that  bamboo mission house, he was taking his first step into a new life, abandoning his old one like the canoe he said he’d let drift down current. Inside the house, Paul first heard about the monstrous skull that Wilson had acquired a little more than a year before. And in that moment, two destinies— the boy’s and the beast’s—collided and forever changed course.
Paul said  he was French, which made perfect sense. Gabon had been claimed as a colony by France just a few years before, a messy process that Wilson and Jane had experienced firsthand.

The captain of a French merchant vessel wandered ashore one day in 1842,  a brandy bottle in hand. He summoned King Glass, the local Mpongwe ruler whom the captain had previously met on a trading stop. After the two men drained the jug of brandy, the merchant unfurled a piece of paper and asked the king to sign it.

When the liquor wore off, the king told Wilson that he’d under- stood the paper was a simple commercial treaty to ensure that trade relations between France and King Glass’s monarchy were secure. But the very next day, a French warship fired a salute over Glass’s town, and a naval commander triumphantly emerged ashore to inform every- one that they were now officially French subjects. He had a signed agreement to prove it. The commander told them they shouldn’t hesitate to call upon the assistance of the French navy if any outsiders, particularly British outsiders, attempted to claim their land.

Wilson was away from the house when the commander arrived, but Jane spoke up.

“It is doubtful whether the territory was really ceded,” she told the commander, “and the mission does not desire or need French protection.”

Her protest, mild but brave, was ignored. The deal had already been done. What’s more, it had been replicated up and down the coast. In addition to obtaining the signature of King Glass, the French merchants had already collected signed treaties from his neighboring rulers. It was official: the French navy had been granted legal permission to construct military  or commercial outposts wherever it pleased in Gabon.

From the start, France’s interest was halfhearted, part of an official “foothold policy” designed to put the brakes on the rapid colonial expansion of England, its longtime rival. Early hopes of turning the coastal plain into a profitable agricultural  center quickly fizzled, and construction of a coastal fort was abandoned. The half-completed structure was left to rot in the scouring sea spray as a monument to the country’s apathy toward its latest acquisition.
By 1848, the most visible sign of French presence in Gabon was a trading station—the Maison Lamoisse of Le Havre. Paul told Wilson that he had recently arrived in the country from Paris, which was in the throes of a violent revolution, to join his father, who’d moved to Gabon a few years earlier to manage the trading post.

Wilson realized that he in fact had met Paul’s father, who had told him about his son a couple of months earlier. The trader, named Charles-Alexis Du Chaillu, had tried to get his son enrolled in a French Catholic mission school nearby, but the Jesuits had refused him entry. The elder Du Chaillu then asked if the Baraka mission might take the boy on, but Wilson couldn’t give him an immediate answer. So Paul spent his first months on the coast making short trade runs for his father, traveling upriver to collect goods from tribes that lived several miles inland. He’d been fetching a load of ebony and ivory when his canoe had overturned, he said, forcing him to trek back to Wilson’s house.
After their initial  meeting, Wilson agreed to take Paul into the school and teach him English, a skill that Charles-Alexis recognized as valuable for an up-and-coming merchant.

Paul leaped at the chance, trading a life that centered on his father’s household for one that revolved around the mission. He became a permanent fixture at the Wilsons’ house, moving into one of the boxy rooms that adjoined the “parlor,” which the couple had ennobled with an old Windsor chair and some gilt-framed pictures. It was as if Paul had traded his real father for a new one, nabbing a mother as a bonus in the bargain.

Jane Wilson  liked  the boy as much as her husband did,  and she welcomed his cheerful, almost elfin, presence in their home. He exuded energy and optimism and was always quick to dish out compliments—which must have delighted Jane, who proudly clung to a southern belle’s sense of style and etiquette. Every day, after she fin- ished tutoring the natives and Paul in their makeshift mission school, she busied herself with the same “delicate little attentions” that she’d observed growing up in Savannah, Georgia: she washed and fixed her hair, putting it up in the style that her husband liked best, and donned a freshly laundered calico dress. For years, she felt as if her husband had been the only person in Gabon to admire her efforts; she never expected the villagers with their square-cut robes to fully appreciate the refinements of a proper Christian lady. But now the unfailingly polite boy was like the doting son she and her husband had never had. Like everyone else, they called him by his first name—a familiarity that Paul would encourage his whole life, among all classes of people, in defiance of the formality of the age.
It wasn’t long before he made his feelings about the Wilsons crystal clear: he stopped addressing them as the Reverend and Mrs. Wilson, and he started calling them “Father” and “Mother.”
 
 
In the boy’s eyes, Wilson was a miracle: a white man who commanded universal respect among the coastal tribes without resorting to force or coercion, a stately presence who not only tolerated his equatorial surroundings but actually regarded them with a kind of devotional reverence. From the start, the boy looked up to Wilson, both literally  and figuratively: Paul, standing just over five feet tall,  was about a foot shorter than Wilson, whose paternal eminence had earned him a public stature on the Gabon River that rivaled King Glass’s for authority.

It wasn’t just a reasonable command of conversational English that Paul was picking  up from his newly adopted parents. A mix of constant contact and dazzled admiration made him particularly receptive to Wilson’s all-embracing immersion in the natural world around him.

Thanks to his trading jaunts, which took him farther inland than others dared, Paul in a few months had already acquired a working knowledge of the region’s natural life that far exceeded that of most common traders. But Wilson probably knew more about the flora and fauna of western Africa than anyone alive.

For years, the missionary had been compiling notes for a book that he hoped would chronicle everything worth knowing about western Africa. He’d been the first person ever to study and develop written systems for several of the tribal languages spoken on the coast. He diligently  transcribed the local lore, delved into the people’s superstitions, and untangled their systems of tribal governance. He mapped the region’s rivers and plains, faithfully  recorded weather patterns, and attempted to classify nearly every plant and animal he stumbled across, no matter how insignificant it might have appeared. Wilson seemed to affix a literal interpretation to Proverbs 6:6: “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.” Wilson’s entomological observations bore the stamp of an obsessive. He delved into the ants’ turreted mounds and dug down into their radiating burrows. He charted the times of day when white ants seemed most active (night), and he timed how fast a swarm of driver ants could consume a live horse or cow (forty-eight hours). He marveled at the way they built arched bridges from one plant to another using nothing but their own bodies and how they collectively formed “rafts” that allowed them to cross streams en masse. These weren’t tedious data entries documented with the duty-bound dispassion of a stenographer; they were celebratory appreciations of the diversity of life.

His enthusiasm proved contagious. Paul—whether the tendency was latent in him or planted there by Wilson—blossomed into a keen- eyed chronicler of the inexhaustible wonders that God had created for man. He was particularly fond of the fantastical stories the missionary could tell about the region’s more exotic fauna, like the boa constrictor that one day a few years earlier had grabbed one of the Mpongwe’s pet dogs. The snake, about halfway through with the process of swallowing the dog whole, had coated the poor mutt’s fur from the head down with slimy saliva before Wilson and a couple of tribesmen wrestled it away from the serpent.

“The dog experienced no injury,” Wilson said, “but it was several weeks before the varnishing he had got could be removed.”

Of all the stories Wilson told, however, none fascinated the boy more than the story of the njena. The creature was shrouded in obscurity, spoken of by the locals as if it were a mythical monster, not a real animal. The njena was a mystery just waiting to be solved.
 
 

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First Chapter

Chapter 1: Destiny

Gabon , West Africa
(Ten years earlier)

Late in 1846, near the end of the rainy season, a group of men reached the Atlantic coast of Africa after weeks of slogging through the waterlogged interior. They had followed no maps, because none existed for that broad swath of equatorial forest. As far as the outside world was concerned, they had emerged from terra incognita—a pure white void in the atlas of the world.
But these men had been exploring the territory all their lives. They were native African traders, and they regularly made long treks from their inland villages toward the largest coastal settlement in Gabon, drawn to the European merchant ships that occasionally dropped anchor to strike deals. On this day, in addition to shouldering the customary bundles of ebony and ivory, the traders carried something extraordinary: a scavenged totem of beguiling rarity.
The American missionary who lived on the bluff wouldn't be able to resist its pull.
His name was John Leighton Wilson, a man of towering stature whose quick smile often got lost inside his fleecy white beard. He had come from South Carolina to the coast of equatorial Africa years before to save the souls of men, but a large part of his own soul had been captured by the wonders that surrounded him. He could spend hours marveling over the elaborate nests of driver ants, or measuring pythons, or trying to tame a porcupine scrabbling near the door of his hut. For all his preaching to the locals about the evils of black magic, false idols, and tribal superstitions, he'd always been vulnerable to the charms of the exotic. And when he spotted the tribesmen's strange curio, he fell under its spell, offering to buy it on the spot.
It was a skull.
At first glance, that calcified mask seemed the product of a peculiarly demented artistry, a grotesquerie of sharp angles and shadowy apertures. When Wilson took it in his hand, it sat heavily, with none of the driftwood airiness of old sun-blanched bones. Its diameter easily exceeded that of a human skull, but there was a passing resemblance, and that's what gave the skull its power to unnerve.
The jaw alone was colossal, framing a mouthful of teeth that seemed to bare themselves in a sinister smile. A quick count revealed thirty-two teeth, the same number as humans, but four of them boldly hijacked Wilson's attention: the twinned sets of upper and lower canines, the largest more than two inches long, curving like scimitars. Those fangs appeared worn, but from what he could only imagine.
From the mouth, the facial bones that stretched up toward the eyes sloped back at nearly a forty-five-degree angle, interrupted along the way by a gaping round nasal cavity. From under a menacing ridge of brow, two dark holes stared out where eyes were once socketed. The cranial dome itself was oddly flat, too small in comparison with the rest of the head, as if betraying a brute ignorance that only intensified the promise of danger. The fact that no flesh remained on the skull to provide a more complete picture of the unknown creature's appearance made it no less intimidating: the absence of detail somehow accentuated its eccentricity, in the same way that the most vivid nightmares need darkness to make themselves seen.
The natives called it a njena.
Wilson, who for years had been compiling the first-ever diction-ary of the local dialect, was unable to translate the term. Whatever the creature was, no words existed for it in English, or in any other language.

Wilson believed in destiny. Everything and everyone had a place in this world—every grain of sand, the fish of the sea, the fowl of the air, all that creepeth. No matter how pathetic, desolate, abominable, or forlorn something might have seemed at first, its mere existence meant that it was an indispensable part of a divine plan. And God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good.
His faith kept him rooted in West Africa, a place that most of the plantation owners he'd grown up with in South Carolina would have dismissed as an uninhabitable wasteland. In 1842, after a decade in Liberia, Wilson had established the first permanent Christian mission in Gabon. Other churches had staked claims all over Africa, but Gabon—straddling the equator, hanging on to the continent's western edge—remained virtually untouched. European ships had been sailing past the coast for centuries, but the punishing ocean swells and rip currents near the shoreline scared most of them away. The few that risked disembarking never ventured far inland, because the terrain threw all manner of obstacles in front of would-be explorers. Beyond the narrow coastal plain, the land rose into green hills and then into rugged mountain peaks. The clouds that veiled the highlands dumped more than a hundred inches of rain on the lowland forests. The rivers were choked with mangroves. The mosquitoes were murder. The inland tribes were rumored connoisseurs of human flesh.
Wilson loved it. He built a six-room bamboo house on an airy bluff overlooking the estuary of the Gabon River. The place was called Baraka, a derivative of barracoon, the local word for “slave compound,” which is exactly what it had been until recently. Wilson hoped to cleanse the ground of its tainted history by doing the work of God. He believed he was fated to live in that very spot.
His wife, Jane, soon joined him. Together they established a Protestant school for the children of the Mpongwe, the ethnic group that populated the loose string of villages on the coast. He thrust himself into their language and their customs. He liked the natives, respecting their “pliancy of character” and what seemed to him a natural quickness of mind. According to Wilson's reading of the Bible, these people were the “descendants of Ham,” a son of Noah, and they took a curse with them as they settled in northern Africa after the Great Flood. Whether or not they were cursed, he believed that their continued presence in that harsh landscape proved they were destined to fulfill an important role in history. Wilson tried to get a handle on his thoughts by grabbing a pen and paper:

That this people should have been preserved for so long a period in constantly increasing numbers, and that in the face of the most adverse influences, while other races, who were placed in circumstances much more favorable for the perpetuation of their nationality, have passed away from the earth or dwindled down to a mere handful, is one of the mysterious providences that admit of no rational explanation, unless it be that they have been preserved for some important future destiny.

Ever on the lookout for providence, Wilson one day in 1848 spot- ted a small group of Mpongwe tribesmen approaching his hut. They were accompanied by a diminutive figure. He was a young man, a teenager. He looked like a waif who'd washed up on a mud bank somewhere upriver, which, according to the story the boy would tell, wasn't too far from the truth. He had dumped his canoe, he said, and had staggered along the banks for four days before reaching Baraka. He was weak, hungry, and utterly pathetic, a shipwrecked soul in need of safe harbor.
His name was Paul Du Chaillu, and Wilson welcomed him with open arms. The missionary believed that the boy, like everyone else, had been born with a divine purpose. It was Wilson's duty to help him discover it.
No one could have recognized it at the time, but when the seventeen-year-old crossed the threshold of that bamboo mission house, he was taking his first step into a new life, abandoning his old one like the canoe he said he'd let drift down current. Inside the house, Paul first heard about the monstrous skull that Wilson had acquired a little more than a year before. And in that moment, two destinies— the boy's and the beast's—collided and forever changed course.
Paul said he was French, which made perfect sense. Gabon had been claimed as a colony by France just a few years before, a messy process that Wilson and Jane had experienced firsthand.
The captain of a French merchant vessel wandered ashore one day in 1842, a brandy bottle in hand. He summoned King Glass, the local Mpongwe ruler whom the captain had previously met on a trading stop. After the two men drained the jug of brandy, the merchant unfurled a piece of paper and asked the king to sign it.
When the liquor wore off, the king told Wilson that he'd under- stood the paper was a simple commercial treaty to ensure that trade relations between France and King Glass's monarchy were secure. But the very next day, a French warship fired a salute over Glass's town, and a naval commander triumphantly emerged ashore to inform every- one that they were now officially French subjects. He had a signed agreement to prove it. The commander told them they shouldn't hesitate to call upon the assistance of the French navy if any outsiders, particularly British outsiders, attempted to claim their land.
Wilson was away from the house when the commander arrived, but Jane spoke up.
“It is doubtful whether the territory was really ceded,” she told the commander, “and the mission does not desire or need French protection.”
Her protest, mild but brave, was ignored. The deal had already been done. What's more, it had been replicated up and down the coast. In addition to obtaining the signature of King Glass, the French merchants had already collected signed treaties from his neighboring rulers. It was official: the French navy had been granted legal permission to construct military or commercial outposts wherever it pleased in Gabon.
From the start, France's interest was halfhearted, part of an official “foothold policy” designed to put the brakes on the rapid colonial expansion of England, its longtime rival. Early hopes of turning the coastal plain into a profitable agricultural center quickly fizzled, and construction of a coastal fort was abandoned. The half-completed structure was left to rot in the scouring sea spray as a monument to the country's apathy toward its latest acquisition.
By 1848, the most visible sign of French presence in Gabon was a trading station—the Maison Lamoisse of Le Havre. Paul told Wilson that he had recently arrived in the country from Paris, which was in the throes of a violent revolution, to join his father, who'd moved to Gabon a few years earlier to manage the trading post.
Wilson realized that he in fact had met Paul's father, who had told him about his son a couple of months earlier. The trader, named Charles-Alexis Du Chaillu, had tried to get his son enrolled in a French Catholic mission school nearby, but the Jesuits had refused him entry. The elder Du Chaillu then asked if the Baraka mission might take the boy on, but Wilson couldn't give him an immediate answer. So Paul spent his first months on the coast making short trade runs for his father, traveling upriver to collect goods from tribes that lived several miles inland. He'd been fetching a load of ebony and ivory when his canoe had overturned, he said, forcing him to trek back to Wilson's house.
After their initial meeting, Wilson agreed to take Paul into the school and teach him English, a skill that Charles-Alexis recognized as valuable for an up-and-coming merchant.
Paul leaped at the chance, trading a life that centered on his father's household for one that revolved around the mission. He became a permanent fixture at the Wilsons' house, moving into one of the boxy rooms that adjoined the “parlor,” which the couple had ennobled with an old Windsor chair and some gilt-framed pictures. It was as if Paul had traded his real father for a new one, nabbing a mother as a bonus in the bargain.
Jane Wilson liked the boy as much as her husband did, and she welcomed his cheerful, almost elfin, presence in their home. He exuded energy and optimism and was always quick to dish out compliments—which must have delighted Jane, who proudly clung to a southern belle's sense of style and etiquette. Every day, after she fin- ished tutoring the natives and Paul in their makeshift mission school, she busied herself with the same “delicate little attentions” that she'd observed growing up in Savannah, Georgia: she washed and fixed her hair, putting it up in the style that her husband liked best, and donned a freshly laundered calico dress. For years, she felt as if her husband had been the only person in Gabon to admire her efforts; she never expected the villagers with their square-cut robes to fully appreciate the refinements of a proper Christian lady. But now the unfailingly polite boy was like the doting son she and her husband had never had. Like everyone else, they called him by his first name—a familiarity that Paul would encourage his whole life, among all classes of people, in defiance of the formality of the age.
It wasn't long before he made his feelings about the Wilsons crystal clear: he stopped addressing them as the Reverend and Mrs. Wilson, and he started calling them “Father” and “Mother.”

In the boy's eyes, Wilson was a miracle: a white man who commanded universal respect among the coastal tribes without resorting to force or coercion, a stately presence who not only tolerated his equatorial surroundings but actually regarded them with a kind of devotional reverence. From the start, the boy looked up to Wilson, both literally and figuratively: Paul, standing just over five feet tall, was about a foot shorter than Wilson, whose paternal eminence had earned him a public stature on the Gabon River that rivaled King Glass's for authority.
It wasn't just a reasonable command of conversational English that Paul was picking up from his newly adopted parents. A mix of constant contact and dazzled admiration made him particularly receptive to Wilson's all-embracing immersion in the natural world around him.
Thanks to his trading jaunts, which took him farther inland than others dared, Paul in a few months had already acquired a working knowledge of the region's natural life that far exceeded that of most common traders. But Wilson probably knew more about the flora and fauna of western Africa than anyone alive.
For years, the missionary had been compiling notes for a book that he hoped would chronicle everything worth knowing about western Africa. He'd been the first person ever to study and develop written systemsfor several of the tribal languages spoken on the coast. He diligently transcribed the local lore, delved into the people's superstitions, and untangled their systems of tribal governance. He mapped the region's rivers and plains, faithfully recorded weather patterns, and attempted to classify nearly every plant and animal he stumbled across, no matter how insignificant it might have appeared. Wilson seemed to affix a literal interpretation to Proverbs 6:6: “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.” Wilson's entomological observations bore the stamp of an obsessive. He delved into the ants' turreted mounds and dug down into their radiating burrows. He charted the times of day when white ants seemed most active (night), and he timed how fast a swarm of driver ants could consume a live horse or cow (forty-eight hours). He marveled at the way they built arched bridges from one plant to another using nothing but their own bodies and how they collectively formed “rafts” that allowed them to cross streams en masse. These weren't tedious data entries documented with the duty-bound dispassion of a stenographer; they were celebratory appreciations of the diversity of life.
His enthusiasm proved contagious. Paul—whether the tendency was latent in him or planted there by Wilson—blossomed into a keen- eyed chronicler of the inexhaustible wonders that God had created for man. He was particularly fond of the fantastical stories the missionary could tell about the region's more exotic fauna, like the boa constrictor that one day a few years earlier had grabbed one of the Mpongwe's pet dogs. The snake, about halfway through with the process of swallowing the dog whole, had coated the poor mutt's fur from the head down with slimy saliva before Wilson and a couple of tribesmen wrestled it away from the serpent.
“The dog experienced no injury,” Wilson said, “but it was several weeks before the varnishing he had got could be removed.”
Of all the stories Wilson told, however, none fascinated the boy more than the story of the njena. The creature was shrouded in obscurity, spoken of by the locals as if it were a mythical monster, not a real animal. The njena was a mystery just waiting to be solved.

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Introduction

Prologue

He'd been hunting in the forest's depths for months, but he'd never known such silence. No monkeys shook the leaves over-head, no birds cried, no insects droned. The only sounds seemed to come from within: the pulse throbbing in his temples and his own labored breathing.
The previous day the young man had hiked what he guessed was about eighteen miles before collapsing into sleep. But those trails hadn't been nearly as challenging as this one—a muddy ribbon twisting up the forested mountainside, inset with loose boulders of granite and quartz. He was in good shape and just twenty-five years old, but each step took its toll. He fell behind his companions, whose bare feet gripped the slippery rocks better than did his leather boot soles. His blue cotton shirt and brown pants were streaked with mud.
Somewhere along the way—it was hard to tell exactly where it began—the gentlest of whispers broke through the enveloping hush. The higher he climbed, the louder it got: a breathy hiss that grew into a roar. Twisting through the overgrown vegetation, he found the other men standing on a broad, flat shelf of land. A scene like none he'd ever witnessed burst open in front of him: a vast pool of swirling water, fed by a majestic torrent that spilled down the angled slope for what looked like a mile. A mist rose from the tumult, obscuring everything in a gauzy veil: the swaying ferns, the logs slanting across the water, the trees ringing the banks. According to his calculations, they were about five thousand feet above sea level.

He paused to drink from the pool, but his rest was brief. A short distance uphill, one of his companions spotted footprints that didn't belong to their own party. The feet that had impressed those marks into the mud were bare—but oddly round, with a big toe that seemed to jut away from the other four toes at a severe angle.
When he saw the prints for himself, the hunter felt his heart slam against his rib cage: this was the target he'd traveled so far to pursue, and it finally seemed within his reach.
Following the tracks, the men stumbled into what appeared to be an abandoned tribal village. Years earlier, the land had been cleared for huts that had since collapsed. Stray stalks of sugarcane pushed through the ruins. As the hunter broke off a stalk and sucked the grassy sweetness from its marrow, another of the men observed that some of the plants had recently been ravaged—violently torn up by the roots and mangled into pulp.
They looked at one another and grabbed the rifles they wore strapped across their backs.
More tracks led down a hill. The men carefully crossed a stream on a fallen log, and on the other side of the water they encountered a cluster of enormous granite boulders, some as big as small buildings. The tracks here were even fresher, filled with muddy water that hadn't had time to settle.
The hunter circled to the right of the boulders, while a few of his companions walked to the left. He emerged from the granite blockade just in time to catch an obstructed view of four dark creatures fleeing rapidly into the dense cover of forest.
The figures disappeared as quickly as they had exploded into view. Running with their heads down and bodies bent forward, the woolly creatures appeared to him, he later noted, “like men running for their lives.”
Just minutes before, he might have sworn that the mountain torrent had been the most awe-inspiring sight he'd witnessed in his young life. But this blurred vision of bodies in motion—gone in the blink of an eye—blew it away.

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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Monte Reel, Author of Between Man and Beast: A Tale of Exploration and Evolution

When did you first stumble upon the story of Paul Du Chaillu?

In 2008 or 2009, I started reading a lot of Victorian travelogues, for no other reason than I found them addictively interesting. One of the books I read was Richard F. Burton's book Two Trips to Gorilla Land and the Cataracts of the Congo, about travels he undertook during the period of "gorilla fever" in the early 1860s, when that recently discovered animal burst into the popular imagination. There are several references in that book to Du Chaillu, a name that Burton assumed the reader would know. The name meant nothing to me, and I wanted to find out more.

Did you immediately know that Du Chaillu would become the subject of your next book? No, I just wanted to know who he was and how he'd encountered gorillas, but I discovered that it was hard to find two sources that agreed about the most basic details of his life. Some said he was born in Paris, others New Orleans, others Gabon. It was clear that he was a fascinating guy who had thrown himself into quite an adventure, and that his life was full of incident and intrigue. But it seemed that no one had really ever tried to piece his story together and tell it within the larger context of his era.

Since Darwin had just published On the Origin of Species, it's easy to see why Du Chaillu's discovery of the gorilla sparked debate within the scientific community. But what do you think it was about the gorilla that really took hold of the public imagination?

The image of the gorilla itself. This was a wholly new animal, and it seemed like a hugely terrifying monster - but at the same time it bore an unmistakable resemblance to man. I think that combination stirred up something deep and dark in the collective Victorian psyche, and Du Chaillu's descriptions of the animal in the wild certainly fed into that.

Did the book involve special research or travel?
Yes, the main trip was to Libreville and the Fernan-Vaz River region in Gabon. I visited some of the places that Du Chaillu described in his own writings, as well as a couple of research stations where primatologists are studying gorillas.

Describe your experience retracing Du Chaillu's steps in Gabon.

Obviously a lot has changed since the 1850s, but I was struck by how much is the same - essentially untouched. You don't have to travel very far inland in Gabon to find those areas. For example, I went out on a small boat with a guide, traveling up some of the tributaries Du Chaillu explored. Just a couple hours away from a coastal village, we could travel nonstop for a whole day without seeing even the slightest trace of another human being — just hippos, elephants, crocodiles, monkeys, tsetse flies and all sorts of other wildlife. In the villages scattered around the Fernan-Vaz, I tried to find people who had experience with gorillas in the forest. That usually meant they were hunters. The local folklore is full of tales of gorillas' supernatural strength and stealth. Some of their stories sounded just like the stories Du Chaillu heard during his travels. It was amazing to witness how powerful those myths truly are.

What was the single most surprising thing you learned over the course of your research and writing?

That's a very tough one, because there were so many surprises connected to the story. But the very first surprise, which I encountered before I began to write this book, was the simple fact that the great apes were discovered so recently in history. Maybe that wouldn't be news to others, but I had never considered the fact that in Shakespeare's England, for example, no one would have had any idea that chimpanzees or orangutans or gorillas even existed. Our relationship with these animals, relatively speaking, is brand new.

Who have you discovered lately?

At the moment I'm reading The Old Ways by Robert MacFarlane, a British writer who combines travelogue, history and literature in a pleasingly discursive way; I have a feeling I'll continue on to his previous books soon. And though I realize I'm pretty late to this party, I've recently been on a Charles Portis kick, eating up the post-True Grit novels that recently have been reissued.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 21 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 12, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    In the height of scientific expansion, exploration and experimen

    In the height of scientific expansion, exploration and experimentation of Victorian England, the establishment, Church and Society often clashed as theories were debated, proposed, proven and dismissed.  A fascinating study of the politics and societal tolerance (or lack thereof) of the day is provided with details of interactions and studies by luminaries of the scientific community.  Add to that a beautifully detailed narrative of the expedition into Gabon lead by Paul du Chaillu, in which he discovered the gorilla. 




    Paul du Chaillu is a name lost in history; the resistance met to his discoveries is detailed with exacting precision.  Reel has interwoven the narrative of his journey and discoveries with the discussions and debates in the scientific communities at the time, a particularly satisfying technique that helps the reader follow the ever changing landscape in both stories.  In each narrative, the scientific, personal and even religious prejudices all come into focus: du Chailu is particularly honest about his nervousness regarding his safety when surrounded only by natives. With du Chaillu’s discovery of the gorilla, the debate surrounding evolution became even more divisive and heated, requiring his return to validate his findings amid great skepticism and even greater obstacles to recognition.




    Monte Reel has created a compelling work that provides readers with a fully researched factual book that reads more like a novel, and provides readers with an interesting view into one of the great debates of the time, that still resonates today.  Additionally, the information that credits the expeditions and life of du Chaillu as inspirational for literary scions like Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack London, Edgar Rice Burroughs and even the film King Kong help to place du Chaillu into the mind of readers familiar only with Livingstone, Stanley and Speke.  




    I received an eBook ARC copy from Doubleday via Eidelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility. 

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2013

    I'm a fan of Lost City of Z, so when I saw the review from David

    I'm a fan of Lost City of Z, so when I saw the review from David Grann, I knew I had to read. This is a very different book (period, setting, characters) but just as gripping. Very well-written/researched. Filled with fascinating details and interesting intersecting lives (Charles Dickens, Lincoln, Sir Richard Burton). The scenes in the Gabon jungle are atmospheric, thrilling and heart-pounding, adjectives that can equally be applied to the sections taking place in Victorian London. The author moves through the issues that preoccupied scientists of the day and their vicious infighting, but also widens the scope to explore how the discovery of the gorilla pervaded popular culture at the time. The portrait of Paul--his fears and hidden motivations--and the issues of evolution and race are what tipped this over the edge for me and gave it lasting resonance. A thrill-ride with complex issues at its core.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2013

    Riveting narrative non-fiction. You feel like you're in the hear

    Riveting narrative non-fiction. You feel like you're in the heart of the jungle, but at the same time, this is not just an adventure story. As the subtitle says, Paul is an unlikely hero, and his past (deliberately shrouded in mystery) adds another layer of suspense. The Victorian scientific establishment's explosive reaction to his discovery , questions about Paul's background and the wider implications of both still reverberate today.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 14, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Interesting But Dry At Times

    In a time when the world seems to have shrunk and all corners are easily reached, when the bright light of science and technology seem to eliminate any dark shadows from our world, it is hard to imagine the mystery, anticipation, and indeed fear that surrounded the exploration of Darkest Africa. In the mid-eighteen hundreds most of the African continent was an unknown mystery to the people of Europe. It would be an age that spawned noted European explorers and scientists such as Stanley and Livingstone, Richard Burton and John Spence. Charles Darwin's theories were beginning to rock the foundations of science. One explorer who would contribute greatly to the opening of Africa and it's secrets was Paul Du Chaillu. While little known today, he had a great impact on adding to the knowledge of West Africa and more specifically on one species of animal in particular, the almost mythical gorilla. Scientists in Europe had never before had reliable specimens of the gorilla until Du Chaillu, who grew up in West Africa, brought more than a dozen carcasses to Europe and the United States. The story here lies not so much in his explorations, but in the uproar he caused in the scientific community. Many noted scientists chose not to believe Du Chaillu had actually explored West Africa and shot the gorilla's himself. After all many noted European explorers had tried and failed to bring back this legendary beast. He was alternately revered and ridiculed for years as he tried to convince everyone of the truth of his adventures. His detractors besmirched him not only in print by attacking his accomplishments, but also attacked him personally, casting aspersions upon his mixed heritage. This book is an interesting investigation into the life and trials of a man who rose from obscurity to the summit of the scientific community only to be reviled and forced into attempting to recover his reputation by returning once again to the land whose secrets he had helped reveal.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 20, 2013

    An excellent book, from start to finish. Don't let the size of i

    An excellent book, from start to finish. Don't let the size of it daunt you, half the bulk of the book is the exhaustive acknowledgements and references for the incredible amount of research that Monte Reel put into this book. From the moment I picked it up I was entranced, yes there may be some lengthy historical side trips and details, but that is what really puts in you the place and time of this novel. I say novel even though it is superb piece of non-fiction work, but it truly reads like an adventure novel and dramatic tale of discovery and loss. A glimpse into the world in the Victorian period of great scientific advances and a fair amount of the compelling back story to the drama that occurred with Darwin's release of Origin. The book is at once entertaining, informative, educational, and heartbreaking. Truly should be working it's way into a screenplay for those unwilling to lift a book these days. 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2013

    A gripping, cinematic account of one man's fervent desire for ad

    A gripping, cinematic account of one man's fervent desire for adventure, scientific fame and self-acceptance, set against the jungles of West Africa and Victorian London. The cannibalistic natives, poisonous snakes and of course, the "terrifying" gorilla are perfectly balanced by the underlying issues of race, science and identity. A lot of fun to read

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2013

    Great Scientific Adventure

    Great Scientific Adventure

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2013

    An unexpected tie in to Springheeled Jack

    Others will comment on the content of this book about the gorilla. I claim that this book is an excellent companion to Mark Hodder's Springheeled Jack series. As an American, I am less aquainted with the British 19th century notables. Reading this book makes the other series clearer to me, even it is steampunk fiction.

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  • Posted April 20, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    A quick and engaging read. I'm not quite finished with it (about

    A quick and engaging read. I'm not quite finished with it (about 30 pages still to go), but Paul du Chaillu fit the bill as an underdog full of spirit and determination. You could say he was destined to gain recognition in England, having no success displaying his gorilla specimens in the U.S. and considering the recent publication of Darwin's book. Of course there were numerous detractors and some did all they could to discredit him, so back to Africa he went for a more scientific, facts-and-figures oriented mission that was a fiasco in terms of relations with the native tribes. Will finish it today!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2013

    Rather sloggy at times but worthwhile

    I found the well-reseached sociological Victorian descriptions of the day fascinating, as well as the post-mortem forensic evidence as to Paul du Chaillu's past plausible. After reading "The Devil Drives" (a far more exciting book about a far more exciting character), Paul comes across as the milk toast of African explorers. Yet, his discovery of the gorilla as well as many other specimens of African flora, fauna and geography were remarkable. Monte Reel's (how's THAT for a great name for the biographer of an explorer?) thorough research takes us through Paul's many ups and downs as he struggles for recognition by the scientific and geographical societies of the day. Be patient. The payoff is worth it.

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  • Posted April 10, 2013

    This true story almost reads like a novel. I read approx 3 to 4

    This true story almost reads like a novel. I read approx 3 to 4 books a week & this is one of the best I've read in a long time!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2013

    Hello

    Sounds goos but what age??????????

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 17, 2013

    I would have thought gorillas were well known by the 1800s (prim

    I would have thought gorillas were well known by the 1800s (primates in general were familiar by then) but imagine the awe these specimens must have inspired, looking somewhat like man, especially in the wake of On the Origins of Species. The timing made Paul duChaillu's discoveries a perfect storm for all the issues of evolution to rise to the surface and lends a lot of drama to the unknown explorer's attempts to establish himself as a serious scientist.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2013

    A fantastic tale of scientific infighting and jungle adventure.

    A fantastic tale of scientific infighting and jungle adventure.
    Paul du Chaillu claimed French ancestry but grew up in Gabon, where he came across an animal skull that bore some resemblance to man. He decided that he'd leave his mark on the world by finding this beast (basically considered Gabon's Big Foot, even by the natives) and goes on a harrowing adventure. But when he brings it back to London, things get really interesting. Darwin has just published Origins and the scientific community is in the midst of one of the most volatile debates of the day--one that continues to reverberate today. Paul and his gorillas became pawns in these debates. The book is fast-paced, accessible but filled with fascinating details about race, class and of course, evolution.

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  • Posted March 15, 2013

    first-rate non-fiction that reads like a novel

    first-rate non-fiction that reads like a novel

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    Posted May 23, 2013

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    Posted March 12, 2013

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    Posted October 6, 2013

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    Posted January 9, 2014

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    Posted April 12, 2013

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