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Elephant Trails

A History of Animals and Cultures

Nigel Rothfels

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Why have elephants—and our preconceptions about them—been central to so much of human thought?

From prehistoric cave drawings in Europe and ancient rock art in Africa and India to burning pyres of confiscated tusks, our thoughts about elephants tell a story of human history. In Elephant Trails, Nigel Rothfels argues that, over millennia, we have made elephants into both monsters and miracles as ways to understand them but also as ways to understand ourselves.

Drawing on a broad range of sources, including municipal documents, zoo records, museum collections, and encounters with people who have…

Why have elephants—and our preconceptions about them—been central to so much of human thought?

From prehistoric cave drawings in Europe and ancient rock art in Africa and India to burning pyres of confiscated tusks, our thoughts about elephants tell a story of human history. In Elephant Trails, Nigel Rothfels argues that, over millennia, we have made elephants into both monsters and miracles as ways to understand them but also as ways to understand ourselves.

Drawing on a broad range of sources, including municipal documents, zoo records, museum collections, and encounters with people who have lived with elephants, Rothfels seeks out the origins of our contemporary ideas about an animal that has been central to so much of human thought. He explains how notions that have been associated with elephants for centuries—that they are exceptionally wise, deeply emotional, and have a special understanding of death; that they never forget, are beloved of the gods, and suffer unusually in captivity; and even that they are afraid of mice—all tell part of the story of these amazing beings.

Exploring the history of a skull in a museum, a photograph of an elephant walking through the American South in the early twentieth century, the debate about the quality of life of a famous elephant in a zoo, and the accounts of elephant hunters, Rothfels demonstrates that elephants are not what we think they are—and they never have been. Elephant Trails is a compelling portrait of what the author terms "our elephant."

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Elephant Trails

Nigel Rothfels

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Reviews

Reviews

[Rothfels] captures the ache and cruelty of colonization and enslavement; it is, at times, a gruesome read but a sobering one. This book will appeal to those fascinated by the mythology and legacy of elephants, as well as animal lovers who fight for the liberation of all living creatures.

Why do we think about elephants the way we do? Nigel Rothfels burrows deep into this question, exploring elephants both real and imagined across a sweep of places and narratives, from stately museums and wild thickets to lurid circuses. The result is that rarest of beasts in the scholarship on animals and society: a page turner.

This is a beautiful book. It is as wise and gentle and enduring as (our fantasies impose on) elephants. A monumental work.

An extraordinary book. Rothfels draws upon archival work, field research, and deep personal reflections to explore the human encounter with elephants. The results are convincing, artful, and often breathtaking.

Nigel Rothfels's brilliantly written and empathic account of the largest living land mammal shows how the enlivening presence of elephants helped humans to make sense of the world around them.

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About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
256
ISBN
9781421442594
Illustration Description
45 b&w illus.
Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction. Blind Men's Elephants
Chapter 1. First among Monsters
Chapter 2. Afraid of Mice
Chapter 3. A Serpent for a Hand
Chapter 4: The Most Friendly Creature
Chapter 5: A Descendant

Acknowledgments
Introduction. Blind Men's Elephants
Chapter 1. First among Monsters
Chapter 2. Afraid of Mice
Chapter 3. A Serpent for a Hand
Chapter 4: The Most Friendly Creature
Chapter 5: A Descendant of Mastodons
Chapter 6: The Last of Its Kind
Chapter 7: Trails of History
Notes
For Further Reading
Index

Author Bio
Nigel Rothfels
Featured Contributor

Nigel Rothfels, Ph.D.

Nigel Rothfels is a professor of history and the director of the Office of Undergraduate Research at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. He is the author of Savages and Beasts: The Birth of the Modern Zoo and the editor of Representing Animals.