The legend of some dangerous, near-mythical beast--the gorilla--galvanized Westerners in the 1850s, when Paul Du Chaillu headed to equatorial West Africa to see what he could see. Three years later, he emerged with amazing stories and amazing specimens, which landed him in the midst of the heated debate about Darwin's theory of evolution. Du Chaillu's mysterious background started some whispers, too. Adventure, history, nature, big ideas--what more could you want?[Page 59]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
In 1856, explorer and amateur naturalist Paul du Chaillu undertook a treacherous expedition through West Africa, after which he brought back to England the first known specimens of the African gorilla ever seen there. Reel (The Last of the Tribe: The Epic Quest To Save a Lone Man in the Amazon) examines the colorful life and times of du Chaillu. He ably depicts how du Chaillu's hugely popular expedition chronicle, Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa, and his unnervingly humanlike preserved gorilla specimens ignited a storm of interest and controversy in the scientific circles of Victorian England. While Reel clearly admires his subject, he is also willing to address and evaluate du Chaillu's errors and exaggerations; he presents a balanced portrait of the enigmatic explorer, effectively combining du Chaillu's life story with related historical context on scientific debates about evolution. His detailed depiction of du Chaillu's detractors occasionally slows the narrative. Today's readers may find du Chaillu's penchant for killing gorillas repugnant, although he followed the standard scientific practice of the time. VERDICT Best suited to general readers interested in African exploration, gorillas, or the history of science in the Victorian age. They may also be interested in du Chaillu's original best seller, as well as Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, thought to be partially inspired by du Chaillu's adventures.--Ingrid Levin, Salve Regina Univ. Lib., Newport, RI[Page 87]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Although he's not well known today, Paul Du Chaillu was one of the Victorian era's most famous explorers. He was the person who brought the gorilla to the attention of Europeans. In response to his fame, he was attacked mercilessly by competitors who claimed he was a fraud who fabricated his tales of African exploration. Reel (The Last of the Tribe) provides a robust intellectual history by embedding Du Chaillu's story within the debate over evolution, the relationship among the human races, the rise of Christian fundamentalism, and the nasty backbiting that was common in the scientific arena of the time. He expertly probes the history of the enigmatic Du Chaillu, someone who purposefully shrouded his past from scrutiny, in large part, according to Reel, because his likely mixed race parentage would have scandalized upper-class British mores, destroyed his reputation, and turned him into an outcast. In Reel's hands, Du Chaillu's adventures in Africa, including his discovery of Pygmies and his part in a smallpox epidemic, were no less harrowing than his interactions with many of the world's leading scientists and explorers. Agent: Larry Weissman, Larry Weismann Literary, LLC. (Mar.)[Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC