One can have the benefits of a first-class education these days and still be oblivious to the name and exploits of the Victorian-era explorer Paul Du Chaillu. He was the man who plunged into the jungles of Gabon, West Africa, in 1856 and, three years later, brought back—first to America, then to England—the skins and stories of a theretofore legendary creature: the gorilla. Those unfamiliar with the man would do well to pick up a copy of Between Man and Beast, Monte Reel’s new book about Du Chaillu’s life and adventures in pursuit of this fierce creature.
Returning from his travels the same year Charles Darwin published his Origin of Species, Du Chaillu’s own origins were murky—and remain so today. He was probably born on the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar, the illegitimate son of a French father and a mixed-race mother. While still in his teens, he came under the care of an American missionary in Gabon, who taught him English and eventually helped him get a job teaching French at a seminary in New York. During his tenure there he wrote a series of newspaper articles about his time in Africa. The articles eventually attracted the attention of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, which agreed to sponsor his 1856 expedition.
Du Chaillu’s written account of his travels—buttressed by the physical evidence supporting it—quickly became a bestseller in England and catapulted the author into the center of scientific and religious debates about man’s relationship, if any, to other primates. It also exposed his shortcomings as a scientific observer, deficiencies which he was determined to mend by leading a second expedition into the same harsh territory.
Although Du Chaillu’s checkered life story is the bedrock of this book, Reel builds upon it fascinating sketches of England’s leading intellectuals, explorers and freelance eccentrics of the day, detailing not only their personal achievements but their professional jealousies as well. And he has plenty of tales about how “gorilla mania” saturated English culture via the publicity attending Du Chaillu’s discoveries. Through it all, Du Chaillu stands as a sincere, endlessly curious but often naÃ¯ve witness to the human folly that surrounds him.Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.
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