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Ghost of Tsavo

Ghost of Tsavo

3.5 4
by Phillip Caputo

1898, Tsavo River Kenya, the British Empire has employed 140 workers to build a railroad bridge. The bridge's construction comes to a violent halt when two maneless lions devour all 140 workers in a savage feeding frenzy that would make headlines›and history—all over the world. Caputo's Ghosts of Tsavo is a new quest for truth about the origins of these


1898, Tsavo River Kenya, the British Empire has employed 140 workers to build a railroad bridge. The bridge's construction comes to a violent halt when two maneless lions devour all 140 workers in a savage feeding frenzy that would make headlines›and history—all over the world. Caputo's Ghosts of Tsavo is a new quest for truth about the origins of these near-mythical animals and how they became predators of human flesh.

Editorial Reviews

In March 1898, two maneless male lions began preying on East African workers building a railroad bridge over Kenya's Tsavo River. Perhaps first attracted by the unburied dead, this fierce pair of predators feasted on the largely defenseless laborers, killing and eating perhaps as many as 140 workers in the next nine months before a squad of imported sharpshooters caught up with them. Now bestselling Pulitzer Prize winner and National Book Award finalist Philip Caputo provides an original narrative that presents this incident in fresh light. Bristling with visceral detail and scientific insight, Ghosts of Tsavo stands as the best account yet of a harrowing episode.
Eric Wargo
In 1898 a pair of large, maneless male lions killed and ate 135 workers hired by the British to build a bridge over the Tsavo River in what is now Kenya. Some scientists think these two cats (now stuffed and mounted in Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History) belonged to a different breed of lion—a missing link to the big cats that once feasted on our prehistoric ancestors. Throughout East Africa, maneless lions' reputation for man-eating is notorious, and Caputo's at-times riveting book opens with several blood-chilling accounts that make these animals seem more like feline Hannibal Lecters than the lazy cats familiar from nature specials. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist ventures into the field with several scientists, some bent on debunking the notion that Africa is home to an elusive, homicidal living fossil. Although his narrative is inconclusive—the riddle of the maneless lions remains unsolved—Caputo manages to stir the embers of our primal fears.
Publishers Weekly
In a reasoned, researched account, Caputo (A Rumor of War; Horn of Africa; etc.) lays out the myths and scientific evidence surrounding a variety of maneless male lions in East Africa that prey on human beings. Two such lions gained infamy in 1898 when they devoured well over 100 Indian and African workers enlisted by the British to help construct a bridge over the Tsavo River (the 1996 movie The Ghost and the Darkness was based on the same subject). The book's most remarkable asset is that, given the alluring subject matter, Caputo keeps things on an even keel. That doesn't mean, though, that the writing doesn't bring home the real terror of considering a complex human being, with a unique identity, with hopes, ambitions, and desires just like yours, reduced by a creature with a brain slightly larger than your fist to nothing more than a few fragments of bone and a bloodstain on the grass. Caputo travels with two different sets of scientists on either side of a theoretic divide: is the lack of manes on these males to be explained by environmental pressures, or are they genetically distinct from the lions in the rest of Africa? The latter would be a stunning development as there are currently only two recognized species of lion in the world. Caputo doesn't aim to solve the mystery here. Rather, he methodically provides the arguments on both side while taking readers on a virtual safari as he observes the scientists at their work. The result is an engrossing book that mixes high-quality travel writing with an intriguing mystery and an in-depth look at the scientific process that tries to grapple with it. (June) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In 1898, two maneless male lions killed and devoured 135 Indian and African workers constructing a railroad bridge over the Tsavo River in Kenya. It took Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson, the engineer in charge of the project, nine months to hunt and kill the beasts, an ordeal recounted in his 1907 book, The Man-Eaters of Tsavo, and later the subject of two films, 1952's Bwana Devil and 1996's The Ghost and the Darkness. A century later, the story of Ghost and Darkness still fascinates and terrifies. Were they just rogue lions, or were they the "missing genetic link" between the prehistoric cave cats who hunted early humans and the modern African lion? Novelist Caputo (The Voyage) seeks answers to this intriguing question as he accompanies two separate expeditions to study the maneless lions of Tsavo. Unfortunately, the resulting book is a frustrating mix of personal travel narrative and scientific speculation, with no definite conclusions. Admitting his ambivalence, Caputo writes: "I feel divided, half of me hungry for scientific truth, the other half seeking to embrace the mythic. It occurs to me that I haven't come close to solving the mystery of Tsavo's lions, probably because my heart hasn't been in it." Still, Caputo's muscular prose vividly captures the beauty and dangers of Africa, and there will be demand because of his name. For larger adventure and natural history collections. Wilda Williams, "Library Journal" Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

National Geographic Society
Publication date:
Adventure Press Series
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.00(d)

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Ghost of Tsavo 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
80% of the the book addresses lions, wildlife, Africa, history, the safaris, the science, the adventures and the interesting characters. When reading that 80%, I found myself enjoying page after page. However, the other 20% philosophically addresses such hardly-related subjects as cloning, human suffering and telephones. It was during the other 20% that I easily put the book down. In the end, I find myself knowledgeble, awed and very interested in Africa and lions.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Hmmm. Someone above falts Caputo for not writing like Capstick? Well, buy Capstick, for goodness sake. Caputo's body of work stands on its own without comparison to a great white hunter. This is a thoughtful and well-written piece, the best of the bunch of recent African books. It is a physical safari and an intellectual, scientific safari. Caputo pays his dues by walking the talk and his career as a novelist and journalist shows in the writing and the reporting. Capstick is great. But Capstick couldn't have written this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When Caputo describes other people's adventures he comes close to being Capstick, whom he is perhaps unconsciously imitating. Otherwise, ones gets impatient with him as he is impatient with the scientists in his company.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although lion research might not be the most important issue in the world right now, as Philip Caputo points out in this book, it certainly has it's place in the lore and appreciation of our natural world. This book expounds on a paticularly chilling leoine topic: Why do lions occasionally single us out for lunch? Are we but mere food in the eyes of the king of beasts? This book opens with an account of hunting down the largest maneating lion ever recorded. From there, it goes on and explores the subject of maneless male lions, who seem to be responsible for much of the maneating among lions. Mr. Caputo then spends most of the book describing two trips he took to Tsavo National Park in Kenya, East Africa, where the most famous account of maneating lions ever recorded took place. Other people on these trips were noted researchers from the Field Museum of Natural History (Owners of the Tsavo Maneaters) and the Lion Research institute. In the course of the book, many interesting incidents and even harrowing adventures that one might encounter when doing research in Africa are recorded. Two major schools of thought concerning Tsavo-area lions are compared and contrasted by the two different groups of researchers. Although no conclusions are drawn (Nor can they yet be drawn), enough material is presented to encourage the reader to learn more for themselves. The author takes his time to share some of his own thoughts and opinions on this subject without spending too much time discussing them. The book closes with a review of a recent paper by the Field Museum of Natural History explaining why the maneaters of Tsavo may have behaved as they did. As a person who has personally extensively researched the Tsavo Maneaters story, I can give this book a very good recommendation. It ties together almost all the research that has been done on this incident, and on maneating lions in general, in the last several years.