ZOO STORY: LIFE IN THE GARDEN OF CAPTIVES
The cynosure of humanity’s current angst about the natural world is the modern zoo. Are they sanctuaries or prisons? French superbly captures the paradoxes of our thinking about them, by centring on the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Fla. He offers an intriguing cast of characters, especially Lowry’s two alpha males—Herman the chimp and Lex Salisbury the zoo director—and mesmerizing storylines that range from the tragedies of the alphas to a very funny mass monkey escape. Then there are French’s constant sly reminders that we are not all that different from the creatures we keep jugged up for our entertainment and, increasingly, for their survival. Consider his critique of the arriving public, seen as just another zoo exhibit: couples brushing dirt and lint off each other are engaging in “classic precoital grooming behaviour.”
All the humans-as-animals treatment makes the animals-as-humans tales that much easier to accept. In the case of Herman—raised from a baby by humans, he reserved all his sexual display for female keepers, especially blonds, especially blonds in tank tops—there’s no way to avoid acceptance. His too-tame-to-survive-anywhere-else predicament is one aspect of the zoo debate, while the 2003 relocation of 11 elephants from Swaziland to Lowry (and the San Diego Zoo), the spine of French’s story, is another. The Swazi elephants had overwhelmed their two fenced reserves, systematically deforesting them, wiping out habitat crucial to other endangered species. Soon they would have to be culled—herded by helicopters into kill zones and shot with high-powered rifles. Until, that is, the zoos made an offer—$12,000 each for what’s always a top draw—that appealed to the Swazis but appalled animal-rights groups, who argued it was better the elephants should die than live in captivity. “Co-authored by Darwin and Dickens” is a lovely description French applies to Herman’s life story. As the author subtly unpacks the ironic twists of the elephant battle while it played out in the real-world situation of Lowry, the same could be said of his marvellous book.
– BRIAN BETHUNE
HIGH FINANCIER: THE LIVES AND TIMES OF SIEGMUND WARBURG
The British historian has made a name for himself by insisting on the vital role of finance—equal to that of war or even the state—in the history of the modern world. Quite rightly, too: how could Western nations have created the wealth we now enjoy, paid for the great wars of the last century, or established welfare benefits without it? More to the point, as Ferguson adds in his biography of London’s dominant 20th-century banker, if we are now going to blame the financial crisis of 2008 on the folly and greed of financiers, we will have to credit them with some of the earlier good times. And given that the core of Warburg’s character (and his success) rose from adherence to his mother’s maxim that “happiness in life consists in fulfillment of duties and not of desires,” Ferguson is also right to note, “if ever there was a time to learn from a true high financier, this is surely it.”
Warburg, who described his profession as la haute banque, was as haute bourgeoisie as they come. A descendant of a German-Jewish banking dynasty, with branches in Sweden and America, he was quick to see the menace of Hitler. Safe in London by 1934, Warburg pioneered hostile takeovers after the war (injecting competition into the cozy world of British merchant banking), and kick-started the market for Eurobonds. That innovation was crucial in keeping London a world financial centre, something that, as Ferguson points out, would hardly have seemed possible in the bombed-out, exhausted city of 1945.
Through it all Warburg was as concerned with his bank’s moral capital as its money, and constantly worried over cash flow and too-quick expansion—the very things financiers were blithely ignoring in 2007. And the very things his own successors paid little heed to: after his death in 1982, his bank weakened itself by hasty expansion and in 1995 was bought up by a rival. By 2002 even the Warburg name was gone. Add Siegmund’s own family to the list of those who could learn something from his life.
– BRIAN BETHUNE
TO WIN AND DIE IN DIXIE
James Douglas Edgar is the most famous golfer none of us has ever heard of. In his heyday, the English player set a mark for winning margin—16 strokes at the 1919 Canadian Open—that is golf’s oldest unbroken record. If that wasn’t enough, Edgar also invented the modern golf swing, the result of coping with a recalcitrant hip that wouldn’t let him swing in the standard fashion. A life of accomplishments, considering Edgar was only 36 when he bled to death in an Atlanta street in 1921.
Eubanks ties the strands of his story—the evolution of golf, a mysterious death, the massive post-First World War changes to the socio-economic landscape—in a way that will engross even non-golfers. (Although the game’s countless obsessives will like it most of all.) The social history aspect is crucial to explaining why Edgar’s death was at first ascribed to a hit-and-run accident: cars were mushrooming on North American streets in 1921, appearing at a rate far faster than people could absorb their impact. Other than literally, that is: according to a contemporary New York Times article, one person every 42 minutes was being killed by a car in America, many of them pedestrians who fatally underestimated their speed.
But the evidence didn’t add up to an auto accident, not to the reporter who discovered the dying man. Eubanks follows Comer Howell’s hunt as he picks up threads linking Edgar to an Asian crime syndicate, a Japanese prostitute and a prime suspect. There was never much of a police investigation, though, and vehicular homicide remains the official explanation. But if Eubanks can’t solve the mystery nine decades later, he has no trouble at all showing why Edgar’s Atlanta tombstone reads, “One of the Greatest Golfers of the Age.”
– BRIAN BETHUNE
SLIDING INTO HOME
When Hugh Hefner asked Kendra Wilkinson to be his girlfriend, she said “Um, okay.” In her new memoir, Wilkinson is similarly colloquial as she details her path into and out of the Playboy mansion. Expressions such as “Damn right!” and “Hell no!” appear regularly to underscore her feelings about everything from a preteen Ouija board encounter that correctly predicted she would one day have “big boobs” to more recent rumours circulating on the Internet about her love life. These outbursts are in keeping with Wilkinson’s party-girl persona on the E! series The Girls Next Door, a reality TV show about Hef and his live-in ladies. But, as Wilkinson points out in the book’s introduction, there is more to her story than Jello shots and raunchy photo ops.
Perhaps most strikingly, there is the fact that she managed, at age 16, to call off a three-year relationship with cocaine, stop dating dangerous criminals and return to—and graduate from—high school. She recreates her druggy days so vividly you can practically taste the thin air of the steep cliff over which her future was hanging.
Little in Wilkinson’s record of her five years at the mansion will surprise readers. She didn’t relish the nights in Hef’s bedroom with a gaggle of other gals and mandatory minute of sex. There was considerable competition between Wilkinson and the other two women over their “boyfriend,” and, perhaps more importantly, air time on The Girls Next Door. Wilkinson was frustrated by her 9 p.m. curfew and the constant surveillance by Hef’s people, especially after she met her future husband, NFL player Hank Baskett. This was what finally compelled her to leave, though the decision was not without angst; life at the mansion had been mighty comfortable, and what if things didn’t work out with her beau? They did, of course, and the couple married at the mansion in June 2009 (Wilkinson considered having Hef give her away, but ultimately opted for her younger brother). Six months later, their baby, Hank Jr., was born. The three of them now star in another E! reality show called Kendra, which just wrapped its second season. Would Wilkinson, now 25, say life is good? Hell, yeah!
– Dafna Izenberg
BARNUM BROWN:THE MAN WHO DISCOVERED TYRANNOSAURUS REX
Lowell Dingus and Mark A. Norell
The names of the great theorists—Darwin, Wallace, Owens and others—of the 19th-century revolution who established the age of the Earth, and the waves of very different creatures who once flourished upon it, are well known. But the indispensable foot soldiers, like fossil hunter Mary Anning, who had the eye to spot a three-dimensional animal in a crushed skeleton, have only lately received the credit they’re due. Now it’s the turn of Barnum Brown, the bone hunter who discovered T. rex in Montana in 1902. It was merely the apex moment in a life spent finding fossils in some of the most inhospitable places on Earth, with generous amounts of gambling, drinking, womanizing and spying for the U.S. government thrown in.
Dingus and Norell, paleontologists at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the institution on whose behalf Brown laboured, have access to the records they needed to describe a driven man and his achievements. The AMNH had no dinosaurs at all in 1900, when Brown found its first in Wyoming; by 1915, largely because of him, it had the world’s leading collection. No fewer than 22 skeletons that still grace its halls came from the Alberta badlands, where Brown was one of the pioneers of what’s known as the Canadian Bone Rush of 1910 to 1916. He roamed all over the world, from Ethiopia to Burma and the Greek isles, turning up prizes that included a prehistoric bison—with the Paleolithic spear point that killed it still lying by its side—and information on arms dealers during the Greco-Turkish War of 1919 to 1922 that was of interest to Washington.
But Brown will always be known in his chosen field as the man who unearthed the iconic dinosaur. He had found “the bones of a large carnivorous dinosaur not [previously] described; I have never seen anything like it,” he wrote to New York, before using dynamite to blow out a hillside scar 10 m deep and sending home fossils that, reconstructed, still dominate the museum’s Cretaceous Hall.
– BRIAN BETHUNE
ARCHIE: THE BEST OF DAN DECARLO
The 26 stories in this book represent more than some funny comic books from 1958 through 1969: it’s the first Archie Comics collection celebrating the work of an individual artist. It’s also a vindication of sorts for DeCarlo, who was the main artist on Betty and Veronica from the late ’50s until 2000, when he sued the company demanding more credit and compensation, and promptly got fired.
Now Idea & Design Works (IDW), in consultation with Archie Comic Publications’ editors, is sort of making it up to DeCarlo by giving him equal billing with Betty, Veronica, and their inexplicable decades-long feud over the clueless Archie. All these stories were published without credit at the time, but the table of contents gives full credit not only to DeCarlo, but writer Frank Doyle, who wrote the witty dialogue in all but three of the stories.
Comics fans might disagree with some of the story choices though not the presentation, which beautifully reproduces the original art and colours. Seeing DeCarlo’s art away from fading comic books, we get a better sense of his very individual style: the cartoony faces, the eye for fashion, and above all his ability to draw female figures that the characters themselves describe as “Va-va-voom.” For a company that spent years trying to downplay the importance of individual artists, it’s an admission that DeCarlo—who caricatures himself in at least two of the stories—was more important than the characters he drew.
Still, signs of the old feud linger. IDW’s biographical note on DeCarlo, who died in 2001, follows Archie Comics’ corporate policy by calling him “the first artist to visualize Josie and the Pussycats,” even though his lawsuit demanded recognition as the actual creator of those characters. But never mind what the courts said; in the words of one of the stories, “The reader knows best.”
– JAIME J. WEINMAN