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Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer,…
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Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer, the Evolution Debates, and… (edition 2013)

by Monte Reel

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128None97,526 (3.8)None
Member:Ronrose1
Title:Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer, the Evolution Debates, and the African Adventure that Took the Victorian World by Storm
Authors:Monte Reel
Info:Doubleday (2013), Hardcover, 352 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:non fiction, adventure, explorers

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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 by Monte Reel

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It seems difficult at times to appreciate how slowly knowledge grew and was shared prior to the 20th century. Africa, "The Dark Continent", remained mysterious to the enlightened Western mind,and largely unexplored well into the 19th century. When the opportunity to gain understanding did appear, prejudice, arrogance, and ignorance arose quickly to put out the light. While there was much I found interesting, it fell short of capturing the imagination or suspense of what each new discovery would bring. Likewise, the perspective and impact the explorer's work has on the arguments that rage on to this day, especially evolution, was disappointing. ( )
  lanewillson | Feb 21, 2014 |
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. ( )
  MarkBeronte | Jan 8, 2014 |
Excellent book. The explorer Paul Du Chaillu usually isn't given much attention today but for a time he was the ultimate great white explorer and hunter. There were other African explorers besides Stanley, Livingston and Burton. Reel doesn't merely recount Du Chaillu's memoirs, but shows how his "discovery" of the gorilla had a wide (and weird) impact on culture and science of the time. A well constructed book that brings the period alive with a deep and multidisciplinary view of the mid-19th century. ( )
  Stbalbach | Dec 1, 2013 |
Summary: Paul Du Chaillu was not a typical explorer of the Victorian age, but he did have a distinction that no other explorer of his age could claim: he was the first white man to see a gorilla. In the 1850s, orangutans and chimpanzees were familiar to naturalists, but the gorilla was at best a fragmented tale passed among African natives of giant man-eating beasts that lived deep in the continent's interior jungles, backed up by a few skulls that had made their way to Europe. Paul Du Chaillu grew up in coastal Gabon, and mounted an expedition to the tribes of that jungle, where he finally saw (and shot) the rumors made flesh: a gorilla. His discoveries barely made a stir in America, but they caused a sensation in England, catapulting Du Chaillu into the spotlight. However, Du Chaillu's discovery came at a time shortly after the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species, when man's relation to the rest of the animal kingdom was a subject of hot debate, and the revelation of an ape with so many human-like qualities set the scientific community abuzz.

Review: This was a great book; exactly the kind of history I love. I love stories of adventuring and exploration, so we've got that. I love the history of science, particularly in the Victorian era, with cabinet museums and scientific lectures being the fashionable places for the upper class to be seen. And finally, of course, I'm always interested in the history of evolutionary thought. I'd heard Du Chaillu's name before, as the discoverer of the gorilla, but I didn't really know much if anything about him. His is a fascinating story, from his origins which he tried so hard (and successfully, during his lifetime) to keep hidden, to his travels in Africa, America, and England, his rise and fall from grace, and the personalities of the era with which he interacted. So this book managed to tie a lot of my interests together into one very readable package.

Reel does an excellent job telling his story, particularly in terms of balancing Du Chaillu's biography with a pretty comprehensive view of what was going on in the British scientific community at the time, and explaining why Du Chaillu and his gorillas caused the stir that they did. His prose is very readable; he neatly walks the fine line between keeping the story lively and personal without prefacing everything with a hypothetical, or speculating too far afield from his primary sources in terms of what people were thinking or feeling. It's really one of the best historical biographies I've read, in terms of keeping things moving, interesting, and in context, without having an obtrusive authorial presence or engaging in unwarranted speculation. It really feels like half adventure story and half history of science, and was just really engaging, informative, and fun to read. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: If you like history of science, African exploration stories, biographies, or gorillas, I'd definitely recommend picking this one up. ( )
1 vote fyrefly98 | Jun 24, 2013 |
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.
( )
  IamIndeed | Mar 29, 2013 |
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(Prologue) He'd been hunting in the forest's depths for months, but he'd never known such silence.
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.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385534221, Hardcover)

The unbelievably riveting adventure of an unlikely young explorer who emerged from the jungles of Africa with evidence of a mysterious, still mythical beast—the gorilla—only to stumble straight into the center of the biggest debate of the day: Darwin's theory of evolution

In 1856 Paul Du Chaillu marched into the equatorial wilderness of West Africa determined to bag an animal that, according to legend, was nothing short of a monster. When he emerged three years later, the summation of his efforts only hinted at what he'd experienced in one of the most dangerous regions on earth. Armed with an astonishing collection of zoological specimens, Du Chaillu leapt from the physical challenges of the jungle straight into the center of the biggest issues of the time—the evolution debate, racial discourse, the growth of Christian fundamentalism—and helped push each to unprecedented intensities. He experienced instant celebrity, but with that fame came whispers—about his past, his credibility, and his very identity—which would haunt the young man. Grand in scope, immediate in detail, and propulsively readable, Between Man and Beast brilliantly combines Du Chaillu's personal journey with the epic tale of a world hovering on the sharp edge of transformation.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:32:49 -0400)

Documents the story of mid-19th-century explorer Paul Du Chaillu, who after three years in the equatorial wilderness of West Africa emerged with definitive proof of the existence of the mythical gorilla, only to be swept up by the heated debate about Darwin's theory of evolution.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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