LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS... welcome to the big top blog of Douglas McPherson, author of CIRCUS MANIA, the book described by Gerry Cottle as "A passionate and up-to-date look at the circus and its people."

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Jumbo - The Greatest Elephant in the World! Book review

I’ve just had a fantastic time reading Jumbo - The Greatest Elephant in the World by Paul Chambers. Jumbo was a literally huge celebrity in the Victorian era, both in England, as the main attraction at London Zoo, and in America, where the 11-foot-tall African elephant became the star of PT Barnum’s Greatest Show On Earth. In fact, so well known was the four-legged colossus that ‘jumbo’ entered the English language as a new word for anything big.

Chambers’ biography of Jumbo is deceptively compact, but it tells a big and compelling story in thrilling detail. The impeccably researched narrative traces Jumbo’s story back as far as Taher Sheriff, the African ‘Aggageer,’ or elephant hunter, who captured Jumbo as a young calf in the Sudan, and includes a bloody first hand description by explorer Samuel White Baker of how Sheriff and his fellow horsemen captured (and killed) their prey.

My drawing of
in Circus Mania
From there, Chambers offers fascinating insights into Jumbo’s relationship with his life-long keeper Matthew Scott and the many behind-the-scenes shenanigans involving Scott, London Zoo superintendent Abraham Bartlett and the great circus showman PT Barnum. The detailed descriptions of dramatic events, such as the protracted difficulties in removing Jumbo from the zoo, read like a novel and will have you on the edge of your seat as you read.

Sadly, Jumbo came to a tragic end, beneath the wheels of a steam train. But he surely left a bigger mark on the world than any other animal, as evidenced by the way his name lives on in our daily conversation more than a century later. As Chambers says, the next time you see a jumbo jet or eat a jumbo sausage, remember the original Jumbo - the greatest elephant in the world - after which it’s named.

Jumbo (published by Andre Deutsch) is a highly recommended read. But what of today’s circus elephants? Should the big top still have them, or are they cruelly treated? Before you make up your mind, read both sides of the argument in my book Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed Of Running Away With The Circus. Oh, and there’s even an original ink drawing of Jumbo in Circus Mania by author Douglas McPherson (That's it, above on the right!).

Circus Mania by Douglas McPherson can be ordered direct from:
Peter Owen Publishers
81 Ridge Road

London N8 9NP
Credit card orders can be taken during office hours on 020 8350 1775.

Or click here to order from Amazon.

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