Elephants have captivated the human imagination for as long as they have roamed the earth, appearing in writings and cultures from thousands of years ago and still much discussed today. In Thirty-Three Ways of Looking at an Elephant, veteran scientific writer Dale Peterson has collected thirty-three essential writings about elephants from across history, with geographical perspectives ranging from Africa and Southeast Asia to Europe and the United States. An introductory headnote for each selection provides additional context and insights from Peterson's substantial knowledge of elephants and natural history.
The first section of the anthology, "Cultural and Classical Elephants," explores the earliest mentions of elephants in African mythology, Hindu theology, and Aristotle and other ancient Greek texts. "Colonial and Industrial Elephants" finds elephants in the crosshairs of colonial exploitation in accounts pulled from memoirs commoditizing African elephants as a source of ivory, novel targets for bloodsport, and occasional export for circuses and zoos. "Working and Performing Elephants" gives firsthand accounts of the often cruel training methods and treatment inflicted on elephants to achieve submission and obedience.
As elephants became an object of scientific curiosity in the mid-twentieth century, wildlife biologists explored elephant families and kinship, behaviors around sex and love, language and self-awareness, and enhanced communications with sound and smell. The pieces featured in "Scientific and Social Elephants" give readers a glimpse into major discoveries in elephant behaviors. "Endangered Elephants" points to the future of the elephant, whose numbers continue to be ravaged by ivory poachers. Peterson concludes with a section on fictional and literary elephants and ends on a hopeful note with the 1967 essay "Dear Elephant, Sir," which argues for the moral imperative to save elephants as an act of redemption for their systematic abuse and mistreatment at human hands.
Essential to understanding the history and experience of this beloved and misunderstood creature, Thirty-Three Ways of Looking at an Elephant is a must for any elephant lover or armchair environmentalist.
Book I: Cultural and Classical Elephants
Chapter 1: The Meaning of Elephants
Chapter 2: The Origin of Elephants
Chapter 3: War Elephants
Chapter 4: Aristotle's Elephant
Chapter 5: Pliny's Elephants
Chapter 6: Beasts of the Book
Book II: Colonial and Industrial Elephants
Chapter 7: Killers and Heroes
Chapter 8: Industrial Killers
Book III: Working and Performing Elephants
Chapter 9: To Break and Tame
Chapter 10: A Mother's Love
Chapter 11: Jumbomania: A Circus Story
Chapter 12: Death and the Circus
Chapter 13: Cutting the Chain
Chapter 14: Abusing Captive Elephants in India
Book IV: Scientific and Social Elephants
Chapter 15: Individuals
Chapter 16: Families
Chapter 17: Green Penis Disease
Chapter 18: Sex
Book V: Emotional and Cognitive Elephants
Chapter 19: Joy
Chapter 20: Triumph and Grief
Chapter 21: Big Love
Chapter 22: A Concept of Death
Chapter 23: The Secret Language of Elephants
Chapter 24: Elephant in the Mirror
Chapter 25: An Interest in Ivory and Skulls
Book VI: Empathic and Endangered Elephants
Chapter 26: The Good Samaritans
Chapter 27: Rescuing the Antelopes
Chapter 28: Scents and Sensibilities
Chapter 29: Blood Ivory
Chapter 30: In Praise of Pachyderms
Book VII: Fictional and Literary Elephants
Chapter 31: The Faithful Elephants
Chapter 32: A Mahout and His War Elephant
Chapter 33: "Dear Elephant, Sir"
Translated into nine foreign languages, Dale Peterson's books have been named Best Book of the Year by Boston Globe, Denver Post, Discover, The Economist, Globe and Mail, Library Journal, and Village Voice. Two titles have been named Notable Books of the Year by the New York Times. Peterson is the author of the definitive biography Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man, as well as The Ghosts of Gombe: A True Story of Love and Death in an African Wilderness, The Moral Lives of Animals, Giraffe Reflections, Chimpanzee Travels: On and Off the Road in Africa and Visions of Caliban: On Chimpanzees and People, which he coauthored with Goodall. He is on the executive board for PEN New England. He lives in Arlington, Massachusetts.