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Exotic animals have entranced and inspired us and this book explores their remarkably influential role in history as among the most advantageous diplomatic gifts, the most cherished royal treasures and the most impressive symbols of power and learning. How did these creatures come to make or break rulers and help shape the definition of what it means to be civilized? These questions are explored through a chain of stories, beginning in ancient Alexandria and traveling through imperial Rome, Renaissance Florence, Aztec Mexico, baroque Prague, Napoleon's France, the robber barons' America, up to the present day, when two sets of giant pandas helped warm frosty relations between two superpowers.