NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK
The remarkable story of James Howard “Billy” Williams, whose uncanny rapport with the world’s largest land animals transformed him from a carefree young man into the charismatic war hero known as Elephant Bill
In 1920, Billy Williams came to colonial Burma as a “forest man” for a British teak company. Mesmerized by the intelligence and character of the great animals who hauled logs through the jungle, he became a gifted “elephant wallah.” In Elephant Company, Vicki Constantine Croke chronicles Williams’s growing love for elephants as the animals provide him lessons in courage, trust, and gratitude.
Elephant Company is also a tale of war and daring. When Japanese forces invaded Burma in 1942, Williams joined the elite British Force 136 and operated behind enemy lines. His war elephants carried supplies, helped build bridges, and transported the sick and elderly over treacherous mountain terrain. As the occupying authorities put a price on his head, Williams and his elephants faced their most perilous test. Elephant Company, cornered by the enemy, attempted a desperate escape: a risky trek over the mountainous border to India, with a bedraggled group of refugees in tow. Part biography, part war epic, Elephant Company is an inspirational narrative that illuminates a little-known chapter in the annals of wartime heroism.
Praise for Elephant Company
“This book is about far more than just the war, or even elephants. This is the story of friendship, loyalty and breathtaking bravery that transcends species. . . . Elephant Company is nothing less than a sweeping tale, masterfully written.”—Sara Gruen, The New York Times Book Review
“Splendid . . . Blending biography, history, and wildlife biology, [Vicki Constantine] Croke’s story is an often moving account of [Billy] Williams, who earned the sobriquet ‘Elephant Bill,’ and his unusual bond with the largest land mammals on earth.”—The Boston Globe
“Some of the biggest heroes of World War II were even bigger than you thought. . . . You may never call the lion the king of the jungle again.”—New York Post
“Vicki Constantine Croke delivers an exciting tale of this elephant whisperer–cum–war hero, while beautifully reminding us of the enduring bonds between animals and humans.”—Mitchell Zuckoff, author of Lost in Shangri-La and Frozen in Time
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Vicki Constantine Croke has been chronicling animal life for more than two decades—tracking polar bears, Tasmanian devils, and Madagascar’s top predator, the fossa. She now covers animal issues for WBUR-FM, Boston’s NPR news station, on air (Here and Now) and on WBUR’s The Wild Life online. Her work there earned a 2013 regional Edward R. Murrow Award. She is the author of The Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China’s Most Exotic Animal,and The Modern Ark: The Story of Zoos—Past, Present and Future. Croke has worked on nature documentaries for Disney and for the A&E channel and anchored The Secret Life of Animals on NECN-TV. She also wrote The Boston Globe’s “Animal Beat” column for thirteen years, and has contributed to The New York Times, The Washington Post, The London Sunday Telegraph, Time, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, Gourmet, National Wildlife, and Discover magazine, among others. She lives in the Boston area.
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Excerpted from "Elephant Company"
Copyright © 2015 Vicki Croke.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing Group.
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Table of Contents
Part 1 The Making of an Elephant Wallah
Chapter 1 The Shoulders of a Giant 3
Chapter 2 Into the Jungle 9
Chapter 3 Meeting the Boss-and the Elephants 25
Chapter 4 Initiation Rites 33
Chapter 5 How to Read an Elephant 58
Chapter 6 The Fairest Tusker of Them All 69
Chapter 7 The Burning Boss 76
Chapter 8 Sex, Cricket, and Blue Cheese 81
Chapter 9 School for Men and Elephants 86
Chapter 10 Drunk on Testosterone 96
Chapter 11 Master Class in Trust and Courage 103
Chapter 12 The Jungle Family has No Wife 113
Chapter 13 "The Murder of Me" 118
Chapter 14 Bandoola: Hero Or Rogue? 124
Chapter 15 A Murder Investigation 132
Chapter 16 Rebels and Reunions 136
Part 2 Love and Elephants
Chapter 17 Tiger Hour 151
Chapter 18 The Cannibal Islands 166
Chapter 19 Sunlight and Shadow 174
Chapter 20 Into the Cauldron 185
Part 3 War Elephants
Chapter 21 Fleeing Burma 205
Chapter 22 No. 1 War Elephant 218
Chapter 23 The Making of Elephant Bill 231
Chapter 24 Elephant Company Hits its Stride 240
Chapter 25 A Crazy Idea 252
Chapter 26 The Elephant Stairway 269