The Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China's Most Exotic Animal

The Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China's Most Exotic Animal

by Vicki Constantine Croke
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The Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China's Most Exotic Animal by Vicki Constantine Croke

Here is the astonishing true story of Ruth Harkness, the Manhattan bohemian socialite who, against all but impossible odds, trekked to Tibet in 1936 to capture the most mysterious animal of the day: a bear that had for countless centuries lived in secret in the labyrinth of lonely cold mountains. In The Lady and the Panda, Vicki Constantine Croke gives us the remarkable account of Ruth Harkness and her extraordinary journey, and restores Harkness to her rightful place along with Sacajawea, Nellie Bly, and Amelia Earhart as one of the great woman adventurers of all time.

Ruth was the toast of 1930s New York, a dress designer newly married to a wealthy adventurer, Bill Harkness. Just weeks after their wedding, however, Bill decamped for China in hopes of becoming the first Westerner to capture a giant panda–an expedition on which many had embarked and failed miserably. Bill was also to fail in his quest, dying horribly alone in China and leaving his widow heartbroken and adrift. And so Ruth made the fateful decision to adopt her husband’s dream as her own and set off on the adventure of a lifetime.

It was not easy. Indeed, everything was against Ruth Harkness. In decadent Shanghai, the exclusive fraternity of white male explorers patronized her, scorned her, and joked about her softness, her lack of experience and money. But Ruth ignored them, organizing, outfitting, and leading a bare-bones campaign into the majestic but treacherous hinterlands where China borders Tibet. As her partner she chose Quentin Young, a twenty-two-year-old Chinese explorer as unconventional as she was, who would join her in a romance as torrid as it was taboo.

Traveling across some of the toughest terrain in the world–nearly impenetrable bamboo forests, slick and perilous mountain slopes, and boulder-strewn passages–the team raced against a traitorous rival, and was constantly threatened by hordes of bandits and hostile natives. The voyage took months to complete and cost Ruth everything she had. But when, almost miraculously, she returned from her journey with a baby panda named Su Lin in her arms, the story became an international sensation and made the front pages of newspapers around the world. No animal in history had gotten such attention. And Ruth Harkness became a hero.

Drawing extensively on American and Chinese sources, including diaries, scores of interviews, and previously unseen intimate letters from Ruth Harkness, Vicki Constantine Croke has fashioned a captivating and richly textured narrative about a woman ahead of her time. Part Myrna Loy, part Jane Goodall, by turns wisecracking and poetic, practical and spiritual, Ruth Harkness is a trailblazing figure. And her story makes for an unforgettable, deeply moving adventure.

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375759703
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/13/2006
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 288,691
Product dimensions: 5.19(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Vicki Constantine Croke has been exploring animal life for more than two decades—tracking the fossa in Madagascar, polar bears in the Arctic Circle, and Tasmanian devils in, of course, Tasmania. She now covers creatures great and small for WBUR-FM, Boston’s NPR news station, on air and as The Animalist 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, The Modern Ark: The Story of Zoos—Past, Present and Future, and Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II. 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 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.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China's Most Exotic Animal 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When I first picked up this book, I thought to myself, how cool is that? The first women to bring back a live panda! But once I started the book it just slowly went downhill. To start, in the beginning it wasn¿t even about her, it was about her husband on the quest for the first giant panda. But once he passed away, she took up his hunt in china, and fell in love with her Chinese tour guide. But she did manage to bring back the panda. I found the book to have very slow parts to it and had way to much detail that was not needed. Like in the first few chapters talking about her drinking thought the night and her lunch plans and getting new acquaintances. It could have all been summed up very easily. But overall I probably would not read the book over, it was much too long. But I did enjoy how in the end she did get her giant panda with all of its glory, and found a new man along with the hunt.
Panda-Lover More than 1 year ago
The three top reasons I loved this book include: (1) it's based upon true history of a female pioneer, (2)the descriptions were so real I could imagine my foot stepping on the bamboo and then hearing it crack! (3) It is a soulful and uplifting read. In sum: Being a professor, I enjoy historical reads, especially ones that reveal so much about the women who came before us. This is an absolute fabulous read which stimulates the brain. Too, the pathos within the covers of this book reached my very soul. I laughed. I cried. And, I got so angry at the poachers, I could have thrown the book against the wall. Finally, I could never throw the book anywhere because I just could not put it down. No kidding. I read it from cover to cover without stopping. I felt unbelievably positive and hopeful when I finished reading. Purchase this for yourself or give this to anyone who loves life and adventure. Read this to boost your hope for the future!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As an animal lover, I picked up this book for the story about the bond between and women and a panda, but instead experienced a story of a woman explorer who sets out to find the “animal of the century”. Someone should read this if they are looking for a good adventure story. It gives the reader insight to the Chinese culture and how this woman falls in love with it. The story did start off very slow but had a great amount of detail that put a clear picture in the reader’s head. With this great amount of detail of Ruth Harkness travels, the story supported many themes and messages. One of the main themes was the bond between an animal and a woman. Many of the other themes are subtle like, fulfilling dreams, not giving up and how will people with doubt you. This nonfiction story was interesting and the writer did a great job using the letters of Ruth in the book with other information. I felt like it was many stories within a story because of all the things Ruth experienced. The detail was great but I felt the story could have left out a few details because it made the adventure story slow. Overall I would give this book 3 stars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago